Gymnastics I learned a new lesson in humility this week.
When I was twelve years old, 4 out of 5 Knetsch kids started a 10-week program in gymnastics offered once per week by Ole Pederson in my hometown. The decision my mom made to place us in that little program changed our lives. Practices quickly went from 1 day a week to 3 or 4. I eventually competed at the provincial level and coached for years. My parent’s basement turned into a gym with rings hanging from the ceiling with a homemade pommel horse. Gymnastics was a huge part of my life; however, my journey with gymnastics ended when I was 19.
In Holly Springs there is a competitive gymnastics club called Sonshine Gymnastics, and I have applied for a part-time job to continue coaching 14 years later. For two hours this past Tuesday evening, my job was to shadow coaches already working there to see if I have the ability to connect with kids. It was like a two-hour job interview as I felt eyes watching me from all different directions. Coaches, kids, parents were scrutinizing my every move.
The head coach asked me to shadow three different female coaches working with 6-8 year old girls. I politely introduced myself to these three high school teens during the 15 minute warm up: “Hi! My name is Mark and I’ve been asked to shadow you and to watch how you coach.” Two of the students are seniors who are getting ready to enter college. The other student will continue high school. I asked them if they had ever participated in gymnastics. The reply was, “Nope. I just applied a few years ago and got the job. I love it!”
During warm up, I introduced myself to the other coaches. I asked the only teenage male coach if he’s still in school.
“Yup,” he says, “I go to Holly Springs High.” “Oh yeah? You enjoy it?” “Sure. I just ran for student body president, but I didn’t get it.” “Bummer, man. I would have voted for you!” “I don’t think so. You look like you’re well out of high school. How old are you anyway?” “Thirty-three.” “No way,” he replies. “How old do I look?” “Boy, I would have thought 24-25.” I immediately liked this kid (grin)!
So as I metaphorically sit at the feet of these teenagers, I gulp my pride and simply enjoy the simplicity of sport. I encourage one little girl to point her toes, and another to keep her legs straight doing a pull-up on the bar. It was a “blast from the past” and a blast altogether. Fortunately, after further conversation with the head coach, I was encouraged that I made a good impression. I was offered the job of working a couple of shifts throughout the week, starting in mid-August. The head coach is aware of my intentions of starting a new church, and as a Christian herself (hence, Sonshine Gymnastics), she is excited to have an experienced male coach available during working hours and evenings.
This contact with the gym is an indescribable opportunity for church planting! Hundreds, if not thousands, of kids use this facility annually. Parents fix their eagle eyes on their future own little Nadia Comăneci as she learns a cartwheel. It’s an immediate venue for me to begin making connections in the Holly Springs community.
But let’s focus on the purpose of my blog: humility. Humility often feels like embarrassment. Man, did I ever stick out standing with those teens! But as odd as it looked and felt, it was also an invigorating experience. My love for ministry with kids and teens was reignited. To learn from them--especially after teaching and mentoring them for the past 6.5 years in Hamilton--taught me that church planting is a daily dying to self, and rising with Christ. It was an honor and privilege to sit at the feet of those young people. They may not have been gymnasts, but I can still learn from their coaching techniques and their buy-in to the vision of this gymnastics club.
What I continue to learn is that to be like Christ is to give up oneself for the sake of the Gospel. As Philippians 2 teaches us, Christ did not consider equality with God something to hold on to, but made himself nothing and took on the position of a servant. That model, my friends, is how God became flesh. As a member of the Body of Christ in 2013, I am called to model that level of humility as well. It is tough though, isn’t it? As challenging as it is, how are you modelling the incarnation in your life? How have you learned humility, and in what ways have you praised God for that lesson of humility?
So goes the chorus of U2’s song from the first single off of Rattle and Hum from 1988. The song describes how desire comes in all shapes and sizes, affecting both drug addicts and preachers, and how they will pursue drugs, lust, and money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money, money. For those of you who know the song, you’ll get that. The music video is mixed with images and slogans. In one scene, the words “Jesus defeated Satan” is seen spray-painted on the hood of a black car. The camera then zooms out and reveals that the car is parked out in front of a theatre promoting it’s ‘product’: “Good time girls, hot blonds.” These provocative images show a contrast between the truths of the Kingdom and the desires of this world. This U2 song popped in my head a few times as I read Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. One main point of the book is that human beings are primarily not thinkers or even believers. Saying the human person is simply a thinking thing denies biology. Smith says that if a person is just a thinking thing, than “we could describe this as ‘bubble head’ Christianity, so fixated on the cognitive that it assumes a picture of human beings that look like bobble heads: mammoth heads that dwarf an almost nonexistent body” (pg. 42). Smith also says that the human person is more than a believer: “I find that the person-as believer model still tends to operate with a very disembodied, individualistic picture of the human person. The beliefs that orient me still seem quite disconnected from the body, and with little or no attachment to the things I do as a body, and so with little attachment to the others that my body bumps into, embraces, hugs, and touches… If I bump into a ‘thinking thing’ and a ‘believing thing’ on the street, I don’t think I’d notice much difference” (pg.45).
Smith thus describes the human person this way: I am what I love. The human person, Smith says, is a lover. Human as thinker and believer captures slices of what it means to be a human, but human as lover captures what it means to be human from the gut as opposed to the head. Smith writes, This Augustinian model of human persons resists the rationalism and quasi-rationalism of the earlier models by shifting the centre of gravity of human identity, as it were, down from the heady regions of the mind closer the central regions of our bodies, in particular, our kardia- our gut or heart… This model of the person as desiring creature also contests the earlier models by articulating a more dynamic sense of human identity as both unfolding and developing over time (a process of formation), as something characterized by a kind of dynamic flow. The human person is the sort of creature who can never be captured in a snapshot; we need video in order to do justice to this dynamism (pg.47). I’ll stop quoting Smith now and simply reflect on how this book has impacted me. Every seminarian and pastor needs to read this book! Few books have impacted me more. In fact, I cannot think of another book that has challenged the way I live the every day. If I am a creature of desire, than what I desire is obviously important. Desiring the Kingdom is more than living ethically. Desiring the Kingdom means I want God’s intent for this creation here and now. It doesn’t escape reality; it allows true reality to penetrate our current existence. Thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven is something that can happen already.
As both Bono and Smith point out, we desire wrong things, of course. Sin is misdirected, confused, wrong, and evil desire. Even the word desire is often associated with sin. Redeeming the word desire in the context of God and his Kingdom capture what Jesus asks us to do in the Sermon on the Mount: Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). To seek is a verb tied to the eyes, which is the organ connected to our kardia.
So as we begin a new church, I do so thinking through what it really means to love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbour as myself. As you consider how you are as creature of desire, which desires in your life seek the Kingdom first? Which ones don’t? Is your Kingdom desire clear, and can people spot it in you? How does the lens of desiring the Kingdom challenge the way you view the image of God in yourself and others?
These are important questions to answer in our culture of false desires. In our culture of comforts filled with many desire idols, it’s important to redeem the passionate, intentional, and godly word desire. A person with desires directed in line with the Kingdom is a person drunk on the Spirit and the Fruit He gives us.
For the first time earlier this week I met with a group of local church planters from the Research Triangle area. I eagerly look forward to meeting with them again next month. Our discussion was deeply theological, specifically practical, and intensely personal. The topics of conversation focused on leadership development and multiplication. One of the participants is an intern at a church plant in Raleigh and manages a local Chick-Fil-A™. He said that he’s learned more about servant leadership development through his training as a Chick-Fil-A™ manager than anywhere else. His statement confirmed that this chain has a lot to teach church planters.
For you Canadians out there, Chick-Fil-A™ is a popular southern fast food restaurant. It’s famous for inventing the original chicken sandwich along with the endearing ‘cows’ campaign. As church planters, here are some lessons we can learn:
1. Strong Welcoming and Enfolding Committee: Yesterday my son and I went to Chick-Fil-A™ for lunch. The rain was pouring like crazy, and as Markie and I were running through the rain from our car, we were welcomed by a Chick-Fil-A™ worker with a massive umbrella willing to walk us the rest of the way to the door. I was in shock. The lady is simply standing at the door with an umbrella in hand willing to risk getting wet in order to serve new costumers. Another example of hospitality that made us feel welcome was the free News and Observer newspapers on the condiments counter, which were available to the public. Yes, it was yet another nice touch of hospitality.
2. Excellent Assimilation Process I use the word assimilation “tongue in cheek”, because I find it such a funny word. Still, when you sit in a Chick-Fil-A™, you can’t help appreciating the ways in which they make you want to belong. During our short lunch yesterday, we were approached a few times with questions of hospitality: “Do you need more ketchup?” “Would you like a refill?” “Can I help you with something?” One server noticed Deacon, my younger son, dropped his pacifier. She came over, picked it up, and gently placed it on the table beside Heather, my wife. After dinner, one server came over and picked up our trash and threw it away for us. I was compelled to leave a tip for such warm hospitality.
3. People of the book Heather and I asked Markie what he liked best about Chick-Fil-A™. His answer did not consist of the indoor playground or the great food. He simply answered, “I get books!” For each kid’s meal, Chick-Fil-A™ gives books to children. Chick-Fil-A goes against the cultural grain and hands out safe, educational, entertaining books. 4. Fun Kids Programming As I already have mentioned, most Chick-Fil-A’s™ restaurants contain a children’s indoor playground. Every Tuesday night from 5:00-7:00, Chick-Fil-A also offers Arts and Craft times for children. They also offer free plastic sheets that stick on to the table so that kids don’t need a plate, or, in Deacon’s case, we can cover the corner of the table that he’s prone to lick at this stage in his life.
5. Great Food! At the end of the day, people don’t go to Chick-Fil-A™ for any of the reasons I listed above. They go for the food. They go to eat a great yet affordable chicken sandwich. Without the food, all the service would be pointless. Simply put, the food is addicting. 6. Great Music! Additionally, Chick-Fil-A™ dubs out the vocals of popular Christian music as their background music! It’s true! We find ourselves humming to a Chris Tomlin song as we eat. Yes, Chick-Fil-A™ franchises are owned by Christians.
7. Effective Outreach Chick-Fil-A created Winshape. The website gives this vision statement: The WinShape Foundation was created by Chick-Fil-A founder, S. Truett Cathy, and his wife, Jeannette, in 1982. The simple vision then, as it is today, was to strengthen families and bring people closer to God and each other. Each ministry within the WinShape Foundation is committed to equipping Christ-centered servant leaders who live life on purpose; with purpose; from children to college students, families, couples, business leaders and others in need around the world. Enough said.
What’s my point? As a church planter, I respect Chick-Fil-A’s™ attempt to open their doors to all types of people to eat their original chicken sandwich. One can learn a million practical tips from church planting conferences, but quality run businesses also have much to teach. No, Chick-Fil-A™ isn’t the church, but the two possess intersecting principles.
See, Christians are a people of the Book, too. The Church also offers food to eat. However, unlike Chick-Fil-A’s™ original chicken sandwich, the food offered at the Lord’s Supper will fill you more than just physically. The type of food and drink Jesus offers points to the spiritual realities of new life, salvation, forgiveness and love. It’s in Christ that we find true fulfillment.
Chick-Fil-A is like a parable whose message tells us how to do church well. We are learning ways to build a church here in North Carolina from a plethora of quality sources.