Stephanie Remington says Lent is a time when Jesus is trying to disrupt us with new possibilities, whether it’s new ways of thinking about human potential, money, or how we best communicate with people.
I can still see the cartoon drawing from my children’s storybook of Jesus riding stately into Jerusalem on a donkey. However, Matthew’s version of the Triumphal Entry articulates an image of Jesus straddling two donkeys. And not two equally-sized donkeys, but two of different heights — a donkey and a foal. Humbly indeed. How awkward. Imagine trying to draw that in a children’s book.
This sort of straddling seems almost nonsensical to us today. The idea of riding two animals at the same time is not something most of us would try. I have always found Jesus’ life and witness an invitation to both/and versus either/or. It is a calling not to get stuck on one thing, but to open ourselves to imagining various possibilities. Lent is a time to reflect on whether are we so self-absorbed that we are missing where God is leading. So, what can we, as the church, take from Jesus opening our eyes to expanding our possibilities?
I’m not talking about the benefits department. I’m talking about humans as resources. Human capital is almost always an organization’s most valuable resource. While the church should be careful about viewing people as merely resources for output, we can understand that God in Christ is fully invested in each and every life in this world. The church’s job is to bear witness to that. The work we are doing for the church is at times mundane. For example, cleaning up the building or lawn is not exciting work. Yet, it is this very mundane work that helps us to receive others in our space so that we can bear witness to God. It is easy to get caught up in the monotony of our everyday existence, even at the church, and miss how the small things we do bear witness to God.
Most companies are for-profit entities. Their primary objective is to make money. Churches are different in that money is not the outcome for which we strive, but it can serve as an important means to living into our mission. The church needs money, but at the same time is seeking to be mission-minded. It is important to develop financial goals with missional outcomes in mind. This means discerning and articulating the bigger picture of what we are trying to accomplish, who we are seeking to reach, and what kind of message we want to send to the world. Generosity is born out of inspiration. Most of us are excited to invest in something we believe in. We need to be able to see that the outcome will make a difference. It Is not about churches getting money but about developing a missional mindset.
Across the board, companies and institutions are ever chopping away at the task of how to improve methods of communication. While the Information Age has opened many opportunities for effective communication, marketing at its heels often causes them to close. If it looks like junk mail, the envelope will not be opened. If the phone number on caller ID is not recognizable, the phone will not be answered. If the email looks like spam, the smart mailbox will filter it out of sight. Mass text or social media seems to be where it’s at for the moment, but often this isolates all those folks in our pews who have rejected the complicated smart phone.
For these reasons, no one method of communication can be as effective as sticking with multiple forms to keep everyone in the loop. That being said, the importance of keeping communication consistent cannot be underestimated. Make sure the information conveyed through multiple methods — websites, email blasts, texts, worship slides, newsletters, flyers on the backs of bathroom stall doors — all contain the exact same information. The value of image branding — using a distinct image to represent an upcoming or ongoing event — also cannot be underestimated. We live in a visual world. Pictures draw eyes and stimulate memory better than words. The bottom line is people need to see the same information multiple times before they will respond.
Losing to gain
This one is a tough one because to some it feels like the antithesis to progress. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Right? Sometimes a company’s loyalty to its most stable product limits the company’s capacity to grow and thrive.
The church’s aspirations should be much higher than simply keeping its head above water. The dependability of the liturgical year and the traditions that come with our cyclical year are important to the identity of the life of the church. At the same time, it’s okay to try some new things. This is not an invitation to skip Lent. But if recruiting volunteers for the community Easter Egg Hunt is like pulling teeth, people aren’t inspired and it’s time to try something else. If the Fall Bazaar has always been your biggest fundraiser but it’s been waning for the last three years, this is a sign that the demand for the product you’re selling has been satiated and it’s time to assess the needs of the community. If nobody comes to your Bible study, either it’s not very good or people just don’t have time. Perhaps try an online chat group or evening video call through WhatsApp. The point is: Don’t be afraid to trade in something good for something better. Capitalize on momentum while you still have it instead of waiting for all the energy to fizzle out.
Picturing Jesus riding on two donkeys can be challenging. Yet, it can open our eyes to exploring possibilities we never considered. Lent is a time when we can take a hard look in the mirror and decide if we only see what is easy. Jesus may be trying to disrupt us to see new possibilities.