Twice this week thick, paper phone books have been thrown onto my driveway, just as they have arrived each year of my life. For the last 10 years I have been chucking them straight into recycling. I find them irritating, irrelevant and a complete waste of paper. I have no way of opting out. I can’t think of an up-cycled craft to use them for.
As I chucked the second one in the bin, I thought about what the old fashioned phone book could teach me about church ministry. What irrelevant, wasteful things are we holding on to? While each church is different, I invite us to imagine new ways of doing ministry that don’t leave us sitting on the curb a few short steps away from the recycling bin. Let’s instead imagine ministries that are personal, relevant, and community oriented.
Personal: The biggest problem with phone books is that I have no need for them. Someone assumes that I do, clearly, yet I have no way of communicating with them that I don’t. As we plan our fall ministries, are we giving children, youth, adults and families an opportunity to provide input into their faith formation experiences? If people are opting out do we try to find out why or do we keep throwing the same thing on their driveway year after year? When there is relationship, we can tailor our ministries to individuals and families rather than throwing them a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all package they won’t open.
Relevant: I have no need for the information in the phone book (since there is that thing called the internet). What I am looking for, and I believe many people are looking for, is a way to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. There are answers to important questions I cannot find on the internet. How do we balance school, activities and faith? How do we pray when we are struggling or have never prayed before? Where can we find God? How does the Gospel shape our lives? How does the love of God inspire us to love and serve others? Church ministries must be relevant, engaging us in the quest for meaning and understanding as we live life’s tough questions.
Community Oriented: Let’s say that I want to find a new place to eat. I could look in the phone book and get a list of nearby establishments, pick one off the list and try it out. Or, I could ask my friends online or in real life for suggestions. The phone book can only provide names and phone numbers. My friends will suggest things I might like and give me their opinions. Perhaps through conversation we will even make a date to eat together at a place we both might like. Chances are I will have a better experience at the restaurant suggested by my friends, especially if we find common interest and enjoy each other’s company. The same is true for faith. If we provide information that flows only in one direction, we deny ourselves connection. We miss the rich opportunity to learn and grow together as people of faith.
As I stooped over to pick up the phone book, muttering under my breath, I began to think about the ministries that I lead. Are they personal, relevant and community oriented? If not, they may be headed for the recycling bin.