When I talk to people about the challenging question of how to engage young adults in the life of the church, I encourage them to look beyond “church maintenance.” Certainly we need people in the pews to pay the bills and run the committees. When we see our congregations greying and the lack of young leadership coming forward to replace the old guard, it’s tempting to despair – or to disparage those who aren’t there.
We want our churches to thrive and survive. So we can easily slip into a mindset of “church maintenance”: the turn inward to focus on the activities of being church. We get swept up in the busyness and the basics – who will pay for the new furnace? who will staff the nursery? who will serve on the parish council? – and we neglect the world outside the stained glass windows.
We lose sight of the vision, the creative Spirit that cares for God’s creation both inside and outside the church. We forget why we are doing what we are doing: that we are called, chosen, and gifted to respond to God’s call as a church. We forget the living, breathing witness of Jesus Christ who challenged comfort and the status quo, who embraced sinners and strangers, who loved and served and preached and taught and healed and forgave – all to draw people closer to the God of love.
So, too, with parenting.
Many days I am distracted by “child maintenance,” by the basics and the busyness of raising a small one. The never-ending meal preparation, towering piles of laundry, endless diaper changes, tired repetitions of “no, don’t touch that,” countless readings of Goodnight Moon. I want my child to thrive and survive; thus much of my energy and patience is invested (and exhausted) in making sure he doesn’t tumble down stairs or go without dinner. But there is much, much more to parenting than this.
I need to be reminder of the wider vision, the broader view beyond mere “child maintenance.” Why am I doing what I’m doing? What is the ultimate goal, the greatest good? What is our mission as parents and as a family?
Making sure S is clean and dry, fed and clothed, is part of my responsibility as parent, certainly. But I am also called to nurture his mind, his spirit and soul. I am called to give him the loving and steady foundation he needs to be able to turn outward and see the world, to understand its beauty as well as its flaws, and to respond with his gifts to the needs that others bring.
I have sympathy for congregations that are consumed by church maintenance. It’s hard enough to deal with the small world within our parish walls – or under the roof of our family home – without pausing to consider the wider vision that may overwhelm us. But as our visions narrow, our hearts and mind constrict as well. We focus only on the needs, wants, complaints, and urges of those right next to us. We lose sight of why we started this work in the first place.
Tonight, as a howling October wind whips around our house, I’m reminded of the power of listening and remembering the world outside our door. We ignore the Spirit at our peril if we forget why we became church – or family – in the first place: not merely to maintain, but to serve, to inspire, to educate, and to love.