Do you remember the story of the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew? Jesus suggests that he and the disciples ought to feed the people, all of them. It is a monumental project, the feeding of so many people in the middle of nowhere. Such meals are huge deals today, just ask anyone trying to organize a wedding with 100 guests how they would like to handle the logistics of what Jesus was proposing. The fellas respond, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” (Matt 14:17). They, like us, only see one way forward and, as it happens, that path is closed.
Far too often that is how we approach congregational life. We look at the world in black and white terms and harden our stances when the pressure mounts. We are good at identifying a problem (and maybe not so good at knowing which problems to leave alone) but we aren’t nearly as good at realizing that, as they say, there are many ways to skin a cat. Maybe we want too badly to rely on ourselves or to win acclaim for our clever solutions to difficult problems and so we have a hard time humbly listening to God and looking to Jesus for the way forward.
Partly we struggle because at some point we found a good and clever way to overcome an obstacle, in some cases we may even have found the best way for that time, just as the disciples thought they knew the way to feed 5000 and they knew it wasn’t going to work at the moment. These old ways of doing things had merit, and sometimes still do, but that is not the same as saying they are the only way or the right way for today.
As times change, as lifestyles change, as musical tastes change, as generations move from being the youngers to being the olders, as leaders change from being the up-and-comers to the have-arrived and then retired, as new folks enter churches and become the regulars, things in our churches need to change as well, space needs to be made. The church belongs to, and in some sense is the responsibility, of everyone, not just those that have been there longest. This is true whether we like it or not. Doing things as they have always been done is to make a choice just as much trying something new is, the difference is that one recognizes the living nature of God and the organism that is the church, a living breathing, shifting entity.
I am not writing about a particular topic or to complain about particular inflexibility I see today. I am writing because this close mindedness of the disciples struck me today as I walked my dog, and because we are a people living in grace but also living in challenging and interesting times. To see the world and the path in black and white is to miss out on all the colors. And this much I know: plenty of people are seeing the colors, and lots of shades of grey between them.
Next time Jesus asks you, or your church to do something impossible, make space for him to talk and to show you the way to accomplish the thing he is asking. Who knows, you just might be able to feed 5000 people if you do.