Friday, August 9, 2013

Shelf Maintenance

Shopping is not one of my favorite pastimes.  But, it remains one of life's necessities, particularly for those of us who still want to eat.  The other day I found myself in Wal-Mart looking for some kind of fancy juice thing my youngest grandson loves to guzzle.  A clerk was working on the aisle where I was searching.  As I searched for the apple banana juice, I watched her as she  straightened up merchandise on some shelves consumers had wreaked havoc.  Meticulously she was gathering together all the same products and arranging them in good order.  Her boss would have been proud.  So, not finding what I needed, I asked, "Where is the apple banana juice?"  Without making eye contact or stopping her re-arranging work she said, "All the labels are facing out now.  You should be able to find it."  She kept on with her shelf maintenance.  I looked another moment and left exasperated that my search for the apple banana juice was fruitless.
As I walked away, I kept thinking about this clerk who was so busy with shelf maintenance she could not really respond to someone's need right in front of her.  It was nothing new.  I have seen it happen too many times in a lifetime of ministry in the church.  The church is a spiritual community known as the body of Christ, but it is also an institution which demands a steady diet of shelf maintenance.  Those of us in leadership as well as the average participant who warms a pew have become masters at doing the maintenance ministries which keep the institution well fed and thriving.  Staying busy, paper work, reports, endless committee meetings, maintaining a building, and constant navel gazing at every action keep us busy with shelf maintenance.  At times we even pervert the Great Commission as we allow it to become the justifying mandate to get new members at any cost.  Instead of being dismayed at the paltry number of baptisms, we take delight in all the folks who give us membership numbers from other churches. 

Yes, we really do the shelf maintenance thing well.  I know.  I have seen it.  I have even participated in it.  In the beginning of ministry, it did not seem so obvious, but the larger churches toward the second half seem to amplify the problem until not seeing it happening was impossible.  Staying focused on our identity as a spiritual community and living as one is one of the real challenges of our church in this age in which the secular society keeps saying, "Do it my way!"  When we do, we end up like the clerk moving things around at the expense of those seeking a moment with a transcendent and all powerful God.

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