Missing the boat (and then swimming after it)

Published 12:19 pm Saturday, September 5, 2015

by Andrew Book

Eating healthy is a good thing. Most people agree that we should eat healthy food and some of us even try to shape our diets around the foods that are good for us. Of course, you need to be paying close attention to know what it is that is considered “good for you” today. Eggs are infamous for moving back and forth from being “good for you” to being “unhealthy” every few years. The debate between butter and margarine is similar. The current “healthy” trend involves reducing or eliminating gluten consumption, despite the fact that there is no evidence that a gluten-free diet is more healthy for the average person. If you go back to the 1920s and ‘30s, you can even find many people (assisted by the doctors speaking for tobacco companies) who believed smoking was good for your health!

Of course, we know now that cigarettes are not part of a healthy lifestyle. As we came to realize this reality, many of the people who had been smoking as part of a “healthy lifestyle” quit (including one set of my grandparents). There are times in life when we realize that we are “missing the boat” despite our best intentions and the result is that we need to make changes to how we are living in order to jump in the water and catch back up. The need to constantly be questioning, learning and changing our habits and choices is part of living the fullest lives possible.

The key to being willing to swim after the boat is rooted in purpose rather than method. If our purpose is to live a healthy life, then the method is only useful so far as it helps us reach that end. However, in our lives we easily get attached to the methods by which we are living rather than the purpose, so that we become people of habit even when our habits are no longer useful!

Organizations do the same thing as individuals. We adopt a method out of the hopes that it will help us achieve our purpose, but the methods easily take on a life of their own and become “the way we do things” regardless of whether they truly help us to achieve what we set out to do in the first place. Kodak is a great example of a company that fell prey to this trap. They were so committed to print photography that they refused to invest in digital photography, which led to the company’s collapse. All companies and organizations have to fight against this trend, and the church is no exception.

In order to prioritize purpose over method, the first question we (as individuals) and the organizations we are a part of need to ask, “What is my purpose or goal?” This can be a hard question to answer, but we need to take the time to answer this honestly and well. For the church I serve, the answer to this question is our vision statement: “Courtland United Methodist Church seeks to lead all of God’s children to become fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”

Once we know our purpose, we need to make sure that our methods are helping us to achieve that purpose. As individuals, we need to look at how we are spending our time, and as organizations we need to look at our programs, ministries, finances and staffing to ask “are these methods helping us achieve our purpose?” When we are able to make an honest assessment, there will always be places in our lives and organizations where we have to say that our methods are not helping. Regardless of why those methods are in place, we need to be able to make changes to fulfill our purpose.

At Courtland UMC, we are in the midst of making some changes to how we spend our Sunday mornings. Currently, the children leave after the beginning of worship to have Sunday School in age-specific groups, but research shows it is important for children to have faith experiences with their parents and to have a place of ministry in the church if they are going to grow as followers of Jesus Christ. Since our purpose is to help all of us grow as followers of Jesus Christ, we are going to be inviting the children back into worship and giving them a place of ministry to help us lead worship. The result will be what we are calling “Family Worship,” which will be a time of worship geared toward helping people of all ages have an encounter with God. The children will be a big part of this service because that helps them to grow and, frankly, when the children are following Jesus, the adults are eager to catch up. The children will have age-specific Sunday School before worship to help them seek God with their peers, and that time will be coordinated so that the kids are in a good spot to encounter God in worship.

I share these details with you as a way to illustrate what it looks like to make our methods serve our purpose. If we can do it as a church, you can do it in your life! I am sure we will have some bumps along the road, but as long as we are bumping in the right direction, it is something to celebrate If you are interested in finding out more about what is going on at Courtland UMC, feel free to join us on Sept. 13 as we worship at 11 a.m. and then have our Fall Kick-Off with cook-out, bounce house, and more. Our new worship schedule with Sunday School for all the kids at 10 and family worship at 11 a.m. will begin on Sept. 27.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.