The Parallax View

parallaxWe can see different things according to our viewpoint.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of parallax. That’s when it looks like a difference or displacement of an object when you view it from two different lines of sight.  If you go to the Wikipedia page on a parallax, you see a diagram looking at an object from two different viewpoints.  In one view it looks like the object has a blue background, but from another view, it’s in front of a red background.

I’ve been thinking about myself and the church I serve at in terms of parallax. My church is a very small church, with a shrinking budget in a broken down building.  Looking at this from one point it appears the church is ready to close.  But if you look at it from another vantage point, you would see a church that is active, a church looking at what it’s future can be.  Two vantage points.  Is one the real choice or are both true?

My own take is that both can be true.  The church looks vulnerable and it is.  If the boiler blows that could spell doom for the congregation. But the other view, where there is still hope for the future is also true. I don’t think it has to be an either/or, I think it can be a both/and.

(I could have used my other physics think piece which is my favorite- Schrödinger’s cat.)

I think about Disciple congregations in Minnesota that have closed.  Now, there are a lot of reasons why churches close.  But I have to wonder, did they get to a point where one vantage point was no longer visible?  Did they get to a point where there was no other way to look at the longevity of the church? What does it mean that First Christian- St. Paul can still see things from two places?

I’ve been thinking about parallaxes because of a sermon by Disciples pastor Doug Skinner.  In his final sermon at First Christian Church in McAllen, Texas he writes about the state of the denomination and its state right now isn’t very great.  He notes when he was ordained in 1979, the Disciples were 1.2 million strong.  Forty years later, the denomination numbers 450,000. This is just par for the course for what is happening to churches across America, but it’s happening faster in the DOC.  He then shares an interesting story about the pastor of a “big steeple church:”

I knew a minister in one of our tall steeple churches back in the day who, when his church was building their annual budget, after all of the pledges had been calculated, and all of the revenue streams had been fully taken into account, and they had a good fix on their projected income for the coming year, insisted that another 10% be automatically added to the bottom line.  He called that extra 10% “the faith quotient.”  He liked to say that he didn’t become a minister to raise churches’ budgets but to grow people’s faith, and he said that the added 10% “faith quotient” was just a concrete way of reminding himself ,and his people, that God was able to do things in them, and through them, that they couldn’t even see yet.  So, what do you think?  Was this a foolish or a faithful thing for him to do?

Did his “faith quotient” make sense?  I think it did.  As Doug shares, this pastor wasn’t interested as much in growing budgets as he was in growing the faith of the members.

I’m not as interested in the quotient as much as I am in the role of the pastor.  He took what was a common everyday thing, a church budget and used it as an instrument to grow people’s faith.

Sometimes we pastors get caught up in things like budgets or building maintenance, or political action.  We get caught up in all these things…things people do.  What we don’t do as well at times is having faith.  Faith is in many ways parallaxed: if you look at things from a vantage point that is only focused on what we see, we can see things one way.  But if we stand from another vantage point, the vantage point of faith, we will see things in a different way.

I sometimes wonder in many churches if we have forgotten that congregations are supposed to be places where faith is formed.  Someone once told me that in many Disciples churches the congregations have become clubs and not communities of faith. Pastors are trying to grow people’s faith and the people in the pews are not thinking about faith. We see things from only one vantage point.  I’m as much caught up in this way of looking at things – worried about how we can afford the church budget.

Our church is having their stewardship drive as we think.  I wonder what would happen if I added 10% to the bottom line.  How would people respond? How would I respond?

I want to be the kind of leader that wants people’s faith to grow, to want my own faith to grow and to trust where God might be leading.  Not in an uneducated way; but in a way that is knowledgable and also faithful.  One where we can see where God is leading and follow even if we don’t know the entire journey.

I hope to God we can be church that looked at things from the vantage point of faith.

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