There are two things I know that can help improve congregational morale and lead to significant investment in a congregation’s future. They do not come easy and can be learned only by unlearning some of our current practices in the church.
The first thing is the five mile rule. It comes from the parable of the two monks who were walking through the countryside [as told by Dr. Anthony T. Evans, in Guiding Your Family in a Misguided World]:
“They were on their way to another village to help bring in the crops. As they walked, they spied an old woman sitting at the edge of a river. She was upset because there was no bridge, and she could not get across on her own.
“The first monk kindly offered, ‘We will carry you across if you would like.’ “’Thank you,’ she said gracefully, accepting their help.
“So the two men joined hands, lifted her between them and carried her across the river. When they got to the other side, they set her down, and she went on her way.
“After they had walked another mile or so, the second monk began to complain. ‘Look at my clothes,’ he said. ‘They are filthy from carrying that woman across the river. And my back still hurts from lifting her. I can feel it getting stiff.’ The first monk just smiled and nodded his head.
“A few more miles up the road, the second monk griped again, ‘My back is hurting me so badly, and it is all because we had to carry that silly woman across the river! I cannot go any farther because of the pain.’
“The first monk looked down at his partner, now lying on the ground, moaning. “’Have you wondered why I am not complaining?’ he asked. “’Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. But I set her down five miles ago.’”
I suggest that you and your congregation adopt the five mile rule because more often than not we in the church are like that second monk who cannot let go.
Do what you need to do to complete a project and then go on to the next. Do not rest on the laurels of your past accomplishments. If you become bitter along the way you cannot produce effective, creative ministry. Yesterday is dead and gone. Now is the time for new beginnings in congregational life.
The second thing I know that can help improve congregational morale and lead to significant investment in a congregation’s future is for a congregation and its leadership to go deep sea diving. Too much of what we do is surface religion and surface spirituality. It is so thin that it sticks to nothing and nothing or no one sticks to it. Demographics of decline and the perception that the church lacks relevancy to today’s world tell it all: no one invests in a sinking, irrelevant church. Thus the need for a revival of deep sea diving in the church.
What do I mean by a revival of deep sea diving in the church? I mean that the church must make a course correction that steers itself away from the shallow, light, and fluffy of toe-tapping, quick fix, everybody-loves-me-and-I love-everybody-religion to a religion of relevance that acknowledges that there is something amiss in the world. Our ‘I’m-Okay-and-Your-Okay’ religion and spirituality needs a serious adjustment because ‘I’m-Not-Okay and Your-Not-Okay’ until every everybody, every living thing, and all the earth is Okay – and we’ve got a long way to go until we get there.
Peter Schwendener once offered some thoughts that can steer us into the deep: “Everyone I know, including my parents, shows distinct signs of having embraced, consciously or otherwise, the once exclusively bohemian idea that meaning, values, and all of those other tricky things tend not to float lazily on the surface but are obtainable only by various forms of deep-sea diving.”
Five Mile-ly and Deep Sea Diving-ly yours,