Part of the work I do in ministry involves working with congregations in transformation, and I’ve found that the work of transformation is not that different from the work of learning a musical instrument. Both take time, patience, persistence and desire. Both require practice.
More than once, I’ve been approached with a request that goes something like this: “I’ve just bought a guitar, and I want you to come over some evening show me what you know.” Sometimes I chuckle; sometimes I just shake my head. I think to myself, “You expect me to compress the years it’s taken to learn what I know (which is still not all that much) into two hours.”
A few years ago, I worked with a congregation that saw themselves as aging and declining. They felt that if they did nothing, the death of the congregation was inevitable. They wanted my help to change course.
In several conversations, the chair of the church board kept pressing me, looking for the magic formula, the book or program that would turn everything around. He was convinced that I had the secret and was holding out on them.Â During one of our meetings he asked, “If you were the king of France and could have us do anything you wanted, what would you have us do?”
I wasn’t quick enough then, but if he asked me today, I’d say, “I’d have everyone in the congregation take up the guitar or some other musical instrument.”
The individual practices being Christian; the congregation practices being church. I’ve known several congregations that are highly skilled in the work of the committee, but they often find themselves lacking in the work of being community. They’ve mastered the art of making decisions but have lost the practice of making disciples.
Being church involves becoming skilled in the art of community. The art of community is painted on a canvas of listening and hospitality. The congregation that practices being church practices these skills. They hone their skills in listening to one another. They develop new skills of listening to scripture. They discover that as they listen, they begin to detect what God is already up to.
To think that a book or program, like magic, will instantly inject transformation into the congregation is like believing that you can pick up a guitar and instantly play Blue Smoke. Transformation, the art of becoming the church, takes practice and a willingness to start simply, learning the equivalent of the root position C chord and building up from there.
This worthwhile work of transformation requires practice, persistence and patience. Perhaps Jesus’ instruction to take up the cross and follow daily is not that different from the need to pick up the guitar and play daily.