Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wasting Time

Earlier today, I had a wonderful visit with an older church member who is not able to attend worship very often. We had the most delightful conversation, such that an hour passed in what seemed the blink of an eye. This person knew I had another appointment, and upon realizing that our allotted time was over and then some, apologized profusely for "wasting my time."

Church congregations are supposed to be and do many things. We are to proclaim the gospel, nurture people in the faith, worship God, and more. And in today's gospel, we are commanded by Jesus to "love one another," to be a community of love. Earlier in John's gospel Jesus says this love for one another is what will make us known as his followers. As the song says, "They'll know we are Christians by our love."

I'm not sure that world knows us Christians primarily by our love. Congregations are often better known for their buildings, their children or youth programs, music program, or a special ministry or mission. At times, sadly, we are known for our fighting and bickering. Now some of our programs and ministries are about love, but it is easy to get caught up in our culture's focus on productivity and efficiency. And so today was far from the first time I've had a church member apologize for wasting my valuable time, time that I could surely being using more productively than just sitting and talking with them.

I told that church member today what I have told others. Moments like the time we shared are the very best part of this job. I could have added that in addition, they are an absolutely essential part of this job, time that can't be evaluated by typical measures of efficiency or productivity. That time, time without agenda or goal to be completed, time simply to be with someone, seems to me essential to being a community known for and rooted in love.

But there is often so little of this sort of time. So much conspires to prevent it. Sunday mornings, the time when I see the most members of the community, is least conducive to spending time with anyone. Sometimes I get so focused on getting the sermon right, on preaching and leading the worship service, I scarcely notice the people around me until they are shaking my hand on the way out.

Perhaps this is why large congregations, who are able to do some things much better than smaller ones, must work very diligently if they are to be communities of love. It is difficult to scale up the sort of loving that can happen in a smaller and more intimate community.

Meanwhile - and I say this as an introvert - I just wish a few more people would "waste my time."

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