I confess–I can’t help it. In the last post, I was content to share my fix-it rules and leave it at that. Writing the post helped pass the time while the glue on the Fitbit repair dried (it is still holding). But I am a teacher and a preacher as well as a fixer–and most of my ministry has been spend working for an organization that always needs fixing. Given that no church has ever been perfect and there will never be a perfect church until we all come together as perfected beings in heaven, there is always something that needs to be fixed in the church. So, I am going to take a simple post written while fixing a Fitbit and turn it into a pastoral illustration about fixing churches.
But there, however, are some important differences between what I do with lawn mowers, broken furniture and Fitbits. One of the first and most significant differences is that in the church, I am not just the fixer–I am also part of the problem. I am generally involved with churches as pastor–but that doesn’t change the fact that I bring my own flaws and difficulties to the church.
When I approach the church, I need to make sure that the thing I think I am called to fix isn’t more my problem than the church’s problem. I also need to make sure that the fix I think I am called to apply isn’t coming from my needs and flaws and not the church needs and flaws. Basically, the first rule of fixing in the church is that we are all in need of some fixing at some point. If I forget that rule, I just might fix the church into a worse mess than it was before. Unfortunately, the history of the church shows that too many of us who have tried to fix the church have forgotten our own need to be fixed.
The second rule of church fixing comes from the fact that sometimes the things that actually need to be fixed aren’t that easy to see, or some relatively minor need covers a much deeper and much more serious need. In the kind of small churches that I work with, there are always some obvious things that new pastors think should be fixed. Most people prefer to sit near the back, making it hard for them to hear. A lot of pastors spend a lot of energy trying to fix that by getting people to move up to the front.
But where people sit is something of a distraction for deeper, more serious problems that have a more serious effect on the long-term health of the church. I have learned to ignore the distraction and focus on the seating pattern, which sometimes reveals the underlying problem of tensions and factions in the church, something that is very serious and which actually needs to be addressed–carefully and sensitively and patiently–but still needs to be addressed much more than whether people sit at the back or not.
But for me, the biggest difference between fixing a broken chair leg and fixing a church has to do with the fact that when I fix a chair leg or a Fitbit or a lamp cord, I am on my own. Sure, I can talk to friends, check my home repair books, look things up on the internet–I can even sidestep the whole process and hire someone to do the work. But even with all that, I am in charge of the repairs. I decide what to do, what not to do, what rules to follow and which ones to ignore.
In the church, though, I am not alone. I work with the church in the process. The Fitbit doesn’t know or care that I am trying to fix it–it has no input on what I do. But the church does–I need their permission and cooperation in the process. It is not me, the expert, fixing them, the problem. It is us, a collection of flawed individuals seeking to use our collective gifts and abilities to address our collective issues. In the church, we are all fixer and fixee.
And as well, we aren’t on our own–all our fixes and repairs need to be done with the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit. I don’t see the need on my own; I don’t develop the fix process on my own; I don’t implement it on my own. We, the church, open ourselves to each other and the Holy Spirit who shows us where we need fixing, guides us to the proper fix and helps us in the process.
May the peace of God be with you.