It was a dark and rainy Wednesday night at the church.
OK, it wasn't.
It was the normal bland and chaotic night of mid-week programming at the church. Adults shuffling through the required routines, children screaming delight as they run aimlessly, sometimes screaming just to hear it echo off steel rafters, a lone staff person weaving through it all, juggling expectations and volunteers in a barely watchable circus act.
The solo minister is approached by a Deacon. . .
"Hey there, Matt."
"Oh hey, Donnie."
"I was wanting to talk to you about the youth this summer."
"Ok, it's February though."
"I know. We were just talking about Vacation Bible School this summer."
"We were thinking the teens might not need a class this summer, you know, they're getting kind of old for it--"
"I couldn't agree more, Donnie."
"Well, you think the older teens could help out then with the younger VBS classes, you know, like be assistants and help the older teachers?"
"I was thinking the same thing! I think the teens are ready for something like that."
"So you don't have a problem making that happen?"
"Not at all Donnie, I think it's a great idea."
The following Sunday morning was dark and rainy.
Ok, it wasn't.
It was the normal rhythm of a practiced people, an intermittent parade of sincerity, intentions, plaid shirts and patterned blouses. The organ drew them into their reverent stupor, calloused hands ceasing greetings, hard candy being reached for, and restless children already seeking the confines of imagination only found on the church carpet below the pews.
This Sunday, however, was Nominating Sunday, a particularly Baptist custom, run by the Nominating Committee--which of course, makes absolute practical Baptist sense. Nominating Sunday consisted of the Nominating Committee announcing who had accepted the nominations for the various volunteer positions in the church for the coming year: everything from the Ushers to the Sunday School Teachers, the Senior Saints director to the Holiday Decorating Committee. Unveiled before the church in awkward glorious display came the vast network of ministry labor leadership, a creatively stretched minority of the flock, a select few spirits whose sacrificial demeanor made them perennial favorites of servitude--or targets, depending on your perspective.
Deacon Donnie, chairman of the Nominating Committee, stood shifting from foot to foot, expelling name after monotonous name, waving the fuzzy-headed microphone like a lollipop long bereft of flavor or joy.
I sat in my pew, ready to poke out my ear drums with a carefully pointed offering envelope, but opted instead to grab the hymnal in order to find weird words in random verses of forgotten songs. I never did find "mine Ebenezer", for Deacon Donnie's voice pierced my trance as I heard the following words--
"And we're real excited this year about our Vacation Bible School, our VBS director this year is Matt Orth."
The youth pastor sat stunned for a moment, the hymnal falling from my grasp in slow motion, not unlike the scene in an action movie when the hero's partner (or girlfriend, etc.) is shot by the bad guy and the camera zooms in on their hand releasing the gun/necklace/flower, etc.
Donnie and I made eye contact across the golden-harvest-colored pews, his look letting me know what our conversation had been about and surely I knew that, right?
I laughed, bending over to gather to my wits, and stood dramatically, bursting forth from the rows to stand in majesty with the rest of the assembled ministers, a mismatched crew of excitement and duping. I thought it appropriate that I stand next to the Person Who Counts The Money This Year and the Family Life Center Scheduler, thinking in my heart that perhaps their conversations were something like mine (Do you like money? Good. Have you ever used a calendar? Excellent.) and maybe we were soul mates in the unpredictable world of volunteerism.
The Nominated turned into the Dedicated as Deacon Donnie blessed us with a prayer chock full of KJV pronouns for the "upbuilding of the Lord's earthly Kingdom" during the next twelve months.
I directed VBS that year and I don't remember much about it. I'd guess finger jello, catchy four note songs, and church adults poorly dressed as Bible characters were involved somehow. Oh yeah, and popsicle sticks. I bet there were a bajillion popsicle sticks.
Over the years, the Nominating Sunday became symbolic to me of what eventually I named the "Warm Body Mentality" in many congregations. The Warm Body Mentality (WBM) is where a church decides what needs to happen program-wise in their church Body life and then they just find any ole Warm Bodies to make it happen. Calling, Gifting, Genuine Needs and intangibles like Faithfulness, Fruit of the Spirit, and Relevance don't enter into the equation of acquisition. What matters is a YES and a Warm Body making whatever the desired event or programming is actually happen.
I firmly believe it is one of the reasons we often sense a lack of vitality in our
fellowship and concurrently a reason why so many young people often leave the
flock never to return. . .
In the next post we'll cover some sources and dangers of the WBM, as well as some counter-cultural alternatives to combat it. . .