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The Great Chocolate Giveaway!

It’s that time of the month for another blog entry. When you write a blog, there’s always a sneaking suspicion that nobody ever really reads it. So I’m going to try a wee test this month. I will give a chocolate bar of your choice (excluding giant ones) to the first 3 people who get in touch with me to let me know that you have read these very words. And to make you read right through to the end, you have to quote the special codeword that I give you later in the article. You’re going to have to work to earn that chocolate folks! Sadly, if nobody gets in touch then it will confirm my worst suspicions.

Last year I was reading a book by a chap called Eugene Peterson. He wrote a modern version of the Bible called The Message. Many years ago, he was employed as the minister of a church in a new housing estate in America. As part of his job, he had to send monthly reports to his head office in New York City. The first part of the report was a bunch of statistics about the numbers of people engaging in church, while the second part was all about his reflections on pastoral ministry. Over the months, Eugene had a hunch that nobody was actually reading the second part of his reports. So he decided to start his own test to see if this was true. Over the coming months, he wrote about how he was sliding into a deep depression, then developing a drink problem, and even having an affair with a leading member of the congregation. All of it was total fiction on his part, crowned by his description of trying to enliven communion by the introduction of magic mushrooms! He actually had great fun making up such ridiculous stories, but the sad truth is that this went on for 3 whole years! At the end of that time, Eugene had a meeting with the head office and they asked him how he had appreciated their support over the period. He challenged them that they had never read beyond the first part of his monthly reports. In response, they swore that the reports were always read in great detail and taken very seriously. “How then”, responded Eugene, “did you never think to challenge me or to offer pastoral support for my affair, or my embezzlement of the church funds, and so on?”. It was blatantly obvious that nobody had ever read a single word of his reports.

Well hopefully that’s not true of this blog, although maybe I should follow Eugene’s example and start introducing some juicy stories here and there? I guess the only way that Eugene and I know whether people read our carefully chosen words is to run a test (and by the way, my special codeword is ‘tangerine’). My tenuous link for this month is to suggest that we need to have exactly that attitude in our churches. Where we’re not afraid to test things out just to see if they’re actually working or hitting the mark with people. Its all too easy as Christians to get comfortable with what we’re doing – to keep on sending out the monthly reports or blogs without every really questioning whether they achieve anything. I think we’re in an age now where we need to be much more nimble and responsive, to try new things and if they don’t really work, give it up and try something else. In church over the coming weeks, we’re going to try serving tea and coffee to people in their pews before the service. Its just a minor example, which some people will like and other people might not like. But it’s about taking small steps of change away from that Presbyterian mindset that says: “we’ve aye done it like that”. Maybe we did back in the day when the Kirk was overflowing with members, but we just can’t afford to indulge that mentality any longer. Let’s not be afraid to take small tests of change together to see what kind of an impact we’re actually having as a church.

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