My Reflections on Mexico City (Part Two) Crock pots and Microwaves
When it comes to home cooked meals in the Gianopulos' household, here's the deal for those who don't know my family - I'm the cook in the house. I've cooked every meal Beth and I have had since the day we were married almost 13 years ago. In the course of those 13 years I have figured out which cooking methods I love (grilling out) and those I avoid (any dish with a prep time of over 10 min). One method I love the results of but hate the time involved is the crock pot. I mean really, what could be easier then dumping a bunch ingredients into a pot and letting it cook all day so come dinner time it's ready. Who doesn't love the smell of walking into your house with the aroma of said ingredients filling your home? But as much as I love the results of the crock pot I hate the process, or more specifically I hate the waiting.
Then there's my friend the microwave. Pop in a dish, push a few buttons, then presto it's meal time. Sure there are some drawbacks, no aroma, food may or may not be the same temperature all the way through, and sometimes it just doesn't taste that good. But it's fast and it still gets the job done.
I thought a lot about crock pots and microwaves while in Mexico. And it had nothing to do with the fact that I saw neither the whole time I was there. It had more to do with how I'm wired and how that relates to the church I'm at and the churches I've been at. (and maybe the church I'm designed to be at)
We've (as in the Christian community) been taught over and over that relationships take time. Like a crock pot. If we pour in the ingredients (people) and allow enough time (years not hours) at just the right temperature (look, talk, and think the same, oh and play nice together) then eventually your meal (small group, bible study, Sunday school class) will be done.
If you should happen to a part of or have been a part of a small group/bible study/Sunday school class where the planets and stars all align then the results are great: Deep, intimate friendships where life is shared and all is perfect even when life isn't.
Here's the big secret no church leader, small group leader, church curriculum author, or church material publisher wants you to know: Relationship crock pots rarely work out that way.
In the long haul, life always gets in the way. People move, kids are born, jobs change, schedules changes, someones feelings get hurt, couples divorce, or any other possible life changing circumstance that can alter your crock pot/small group. Sure there are those rare groups of folks that can stick together and make every other small group in their church green with envy at how well things are going for them. But those groups are the exception, not the rule.
For the past 15 years of ministry I have tried every small group crock pot method under the sun. I have read countless books on the subject and attended way to many seminars and conferences to count that swear the ONLY way the church grows and the ONLY way people can be reached and discipled is through small groups. And in 15 years I have never seen a small group connect, grow, and disciple people the way they are being advertised.
Now don't get me wrong, they haven't all been flops. Several of the groups in my churches met for a long time and sustained a pretty consistent core of folks who created life-long friendships that continued long after the group disbanded. And if the purpose of small groups is that, to bring together a group of believers to share life together, then mission accomplished. But I think God wants a lot more from us then just finding people we can relate to and spend a bunch of time discussing life's biggest mysteries with them.
I think God's cool with crock pots. In certain area's of life crock pots are needed and even necessary.
I just don't think God intends for life to be a crock pot all the time. Sometimes God needs microwaves.
I'm a microwave. At least I'm wired to be a microwave. Unfortunately I've spent the past 15 years trying to be a crock pot in a crock pot church world and I can't do that anymore.
The revelation that I'm a microwave and that Jesus is a big fan of microwaves hit me during that week in Mexico City. I led a group of 14 from our church. Some of the 14 were friends before the trip. Some were acquaintances, and some were complete strangers even though they attend the same church together ever week and have done so for a few years now. This group was the most diverse group I have ever taken on an adult mission trip. From age (20-62) to spiritual upbringing (Catholic, Methodist, Wesleyan, Baptist, and even a former witch) to mission trip experience ( first timers to people who have been on over 20 mission trips).
What happened to that diverse group of people during that week was supernatural. They may have left as friends, acquaintances, and strangers but that came home as brothers and sisters. God did more in way of closeness and intimacy in one week for those folks then if they had sat next to each other in the same small group or Sunday school class for 10 years. The reason why? They were put in a position where all they had to lean on was God and each other. They saw each other at their most intimate and vulnerable. The went to bed together, woke up together, ate together, sweated together, cried together, and truly experienced life together. No living room or classroom on the planet can come close to duplicating that.
That week was a microwave for relationships.
When Jesus was gathering up his disciples, He didn't get them all together and say, "Ok, I'm glad you're all here. Now before we begin our ministry together lets go around the room and introduce ourselves. Hey I have an ice breaker question for ya? Now let's discuss how we all feel about following me. Peter what did you think when I said "follow me". John what do you think being a fisher of men looks like exactly? Great group this week guys. Let's all meet back here by the dock next week and we'll share how we saw God during the week"
Even as I'm typing this it seems more and more stupid that we actually expect God to do great things in our lives in setting like that.
"Oh well you can't microwave relationships. Building relationships takes time, years even."
Really? Tell that to Maria, or Ricardo, or Angel, or any of the other kids we met while at the orphanage in MXC. I built deeper, longer lasting relationships with those kids in one week then I have with the children back here in our children's ministry that I've seen once a week, every week, for 2 to 3 years. Why? Because God's into microwaves.
So where does that leave me? I know a lot of die hard small group and Sunday schoolers that will defend their crock pot relationship cooking method til the day they die. And that's fine for them. But for me I want more. I want more for myself then just talking about what a life that really follows Christ should look like. I want to live it. I want more than sitting around with a bunch of like minded believers pondering what God's will may or may not be for us. I want to be part of a group of people that get out of the boat, walk on the water, sink, climb back in the boat, then try to figure out what the heck just happened instead of just staying in the boat drowning in "what ifs".
When it comes to following Jesus and living the life God intended for us we have two choices:
1) Take our time, crock pot it, ponder every possible choice we could ever make in life while never making any, and at the end of our lives have a bunch of small group/bible study/Sunday school hours logged and no real ministry to show for it.
2) We climb out of the crock pot and into the microwave. We serve first then ask questions later. We follow Jesus (last time I checked follow was a action word) and actually attempt to do what He ask us to do and in the process allow Him to teach us what we need to be taught.
God needs more microwaves and less crock pots.