Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nice Getting to Know You ...

Embarrassing story of father-failure. Brace yourselves.

My youngest son was fired not too long ago. Well, “fired” is a harsh word for something that was actually done with unusual politeness. The Asian manager of the donut store where he’d been working for three weeks let him know at the end of his shift that, “Uh, it was really nice getting to know you, but you don’t need to come back next week.”

Hmm. Okay then.

Elders in Retreat

Let me pause to tell you where I’m trying to get to here. Recently I spent a few days at a retreat with a group of elders and Christian workers. I’m neither (unless you count anonymous blogging, in which case I suppose I might be able to slide in under a very low bar as a “stealth worker” of some sort). Doesn’t matter; they all made me very welcome and the Bible teaching was tremendous.

One of the subjects was equipping the next generation of elders and workers, so we batted around things like platform ministry ‘dos and don’ts’ and so on.

And it got me thinking ...

Watch Those Fingers!

Right, sorry, back to my story.

My son, at least to the best of his estimation, did okay on night shift, where his job consisted largely of mopping up, pouring coffee and making sandwiches. Things began to go south when he was asked to work the breakfast rush, handed a great big knife and tasked with cutting and toasting bagels.

Major failure ensued, and it was mostly mine, not his. You see, my son had never cut a bagel before, or much of anything for that matter.

Why, you ask? Good question. Maybe it’s something about being the baby of the family, or just being a very likable kid. People always just did stuff for him. If he wanted breakfast, somebody made it for him. If he was having trouble cutting his steak, somebody leaned over his shoulder and chopped it up.

Maybe it’s because everybody else could do these little things quicker and better than he could, so they just kept doing it and doing it and doing it, his father included.

What’s Your Problem, Kid?

Now, truly, is cutting a bagel really that hard? Maybe not for you and me, but unless mom happens to pick them up fresh from the bakery section of the grocery store, these days most of them come pre-sliced in a plastic bag. Furthermore, there are $10 bagel slicers in every restaurant I’ve ever seen. Who takes a big honking bread knife and cuts bagels manually in a high-traffic fast food outlet?

Well, that’s how these folks did it, so my son had to learn the job with an irritated middle-aged Slavic lady clucking at him and a lineup of busy worker bees hollering for their orders to be filled. So he cut bagels at an angle. He mangled and tore them. He cut his fingers. He put the thick wedges in the toaster, where they got stuck and caused a fire.

Yeah, it could’ve gone better.

So Who Screwed Up Here?

Let me state the obvious: it could’ve gone a LOT better if his father had gotten him more involved in making his own meals at home years earlier.

You see where I’m going in this, of course. It’s all well and good to say, “Hey, where’s that next generation of elders gotten to? They seem to have gone missing.” To ask the question is to condemn ourselves as bad father-figures.

The Lord Jesus equipped eleven men in about three years to change the world. He taught them, he showed them and then he turned them loose to do it themselves. In doing so he did not cease to lead them, and doing the work themselves did not suddenly make them his “equals” in the eyes of the people, to whom they remained the teacher and “your disciples”. But my point is that he let them do much of the same work he was already doing under his impeccable supervision. I’m almost sure they didn’t do it perfectly. I guarantee the Lord could have done it far, far better himself.

But he didn’t. He let them hack up the bagel, cut their fingers and set the toaster on fire.

“They Could Not Heal Him!

For obvious reasons, existing elders will almost always be better at their jobs than younger men who have never tried their hand at serving as shepherds and overseers of the flock. Sure, the young firebrands may have enthusiasm and be able to speak well, but they don’t necessarily understand the complexities and subtleties of family problems, interpersonal relationships and church squabbles. They may not know when to speak and when to listen. They may be solid on biblical principles but weak on how and where to apply them with grace. They may misdiagnose problems they haven’t encountered before and prescribe the wrong spiritual “medication”.

In short, they might mess things up as badly as the Lord’s disciples did at times. “I brought [my son] to your disciples, and they could not heal him.”

Oops, our bad, Lord.

But the only way younger men can really learn those things is by doing them, even if they make mistakes the first dozen times out, and even if they need help finishing the things they’ve started. It’s also the only way they will ever get deeply personally invested in the spiritual work that needs to be done.

The Danger

There is a pressing need to get our young men involved in the real work of serving Christ, to get them involved early and — as hard as this may be — to keep them involved continuously through the years in which fathers and husbands are usually busy raising families and establishing themselves in their careers. If we don’t, most often the gift with which the Lord has blessed his people will atrophy in the pews ... or chairs, or somewhere deep in the bowels of the church building. Less commonly, it will drift off to a seminary and eventually end up full-time on the platforms of denominational churches. That gift will certainly be used there, though perhaps in ways the Head of the Church never intended.

What about those that don’t leave? We can either let them make their mistakes now, right in front of us, where they can be corrected, encouraged, tweaked and molded in their service for Christ, or we can let them sit on the sidelines or teach Sunday School year after year until they rot on the vine. Eventually — always assuming they’ve got any enthusiasm or will to serve left in the tank when the existing church leadership finally becomes so aged and sclerotic it can no longer function — they may find themselves drafted into service by a desperate church looking for new leadership.

At that point, let’s hope their tentative, flailing efforts are not met with, “Uh, it was really nice getting to know you, but ...”

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