Friday, July 28, 2017

Why the Church Doesn't Get "Total Member Involvement"

I knew it was bad when they chose the acronym "TMI."  Actually, that may be all the illustration we need for what's wrong in our midst.

The idea is a good one--who could object to total member involvement?* Who doesn't want every hand possible being used to reach our world for God? But when you're willing to call your program TMI, and you either don't know or don't care that it means something else, there's a problem.

I have bad news for the church.  No matter how much our publications push that acronym, it will always mean "too much information" (as in, "please stop") to the younger demographics.

And the saddest part is that I don't really think this issue failed to come up when the title was being vetted.  My guess is that it just didn't matter enough to those who made the choice.  They figured we would adapt.

This is exactly the problem.  Our church is very willing to use everyone, if it can fit them into our blueprint.  Women are welcomed, as long as you stick to potlucks and teaching children.  Young people are welcomed, as long as you can help us do what we've always done.  And we are bewildered if you bring us a talent or a plan we're not used to.

TMI may have some success--I genuinely hope it does. Please don't get me wrong. I want members to be able to contribute in meaningful ways.  I want the world to hear about the love of God. I certainly wouldn't ask a program to fail in these worthy goals because it was badly titled.

But even so, the name and its needlessly distracting acronym are always going to be a symbol that someone up there doesn't "get" young (or even young-for-church-people) adults.  And if we can't understand and adapt to young people, we will never get total involvement.  If we cannot handle women with the gifts of leadership (except maybe as head deaconess), we're going to limp along crippled into eternity.

(These, by the way, are cupcakes decorated for a birthday party.)

Since I'm in the middle of packing for a move, I'll conclude this blog with a field trip of sorts, so I can avoid the usual "homework."  This is a script I wrote for a short skit we used with a sermon on using everyone's gifts for God.  I call it . . .


A panel of 3 judges sits behind a table, holding clipboards and looking official and important. A sign leaning against the table says “Church Talent Show Auditions.” Judge 1 is our kindly “front face” of the operation, Judge 2 is a little more stiff and proper, and Judge 3 is a bit goofy.

A young woman named Mary is auditioning.

Judge 1 (standing): Next!

Mary walks onto stage and stands in front of them.

Judge 1: Welcome to our try-outs (reads from a clipboard) Mary Smith—right, that's your name? I do have the right person?

Mary: Yes, that's me!

Judge 1: Very well, you may begin.

Mary: All right. [strikes a pose and looks into the middle distance] Hey everybody, good to see you here tonight, looking so good. You know, I almost didn't make it. I was having an interpersonal conflict. Yeah, me, the red light, and the traffic cop just didn't see eye to eye. I suggested mediation--

Judge 2—Wait, stop! What are you doing?

Judge 1—Is this your opening illustration? Are you giving a Bible study on law and grace? I don't get it.

Mary—No. No, I'm doing a comedy routine. That's—that's my first joke.

Judge 3—I didn't get it.

Judge 2—We DO NOT do comedy here.

Mary—But this is a talent show. That's my talent.

Judge 1—No, no. This is a CHURCH talent show. We're looking for church talents. Do you have any church talents young lady?

Mary—But I prepared my whole routine. You want me to come up with another talent? What's a church talent, anyway?

Judge 2—You know, churchy things. Can you give a Bible study? I still think that story could be about law and grace . . .

Mary—But it isn't. And I can't do Bible studies. How do you even do a Bible study in a talent show, anyway? Isn't a talent show supposed to be about entertainment?

Judge 2 (shocked)--Not around here!

Judge 1—What we are trying to say is, do you have any talents that are church talents? Of course you don't have to give Bible studies. We need more than one kind of talent in the church, after all, don't we? [Looking at other judges who nod and smile encouragingly]

Mary—I can ride a unicycle.

Judge 3—Blindfolded?

Judge 1—No, no—church talents. Can you sing? That can be a church talent.

Judge 2—As long as you don't sing too fast or too loud.

Judge 3—And as long as you don't do that funny thing where your adam's apple goes up and down.

Mary—I don't sing. I can play the harmonica.

Judge 1—We do take instruments, as long as you can lead the singing with them. Piano works, or guitar. Sometimes stringed or wind instruments for backup.

Mary—Harmonica is a wind instrument, isn't it?

Judge 1 (flipping to another page on clipboard and looking)--I'm afraid it's not on our list.

Mary—You have a list of “church instruments”?

Judge 2—Well, of course! How else can you remember?

Judge 1, (trying to cut in and redirect the conversation)—Okay, so no music, but I'm sure you're very talented. Can you teach children?

Mary—On stage? For a talent show?

Judge 3--”Church talent” show

Mary—Okay, so what you're saying is that if my talent isn't on your list, then I can't use it here?

Judge 1—No, no, of course not! The church needs all kinds of talents. After all, God created all of us with talents to use! The church needs all our talent to get by. How do you look in a Bible costume?

Mary (annoyed)—I look fine, but that's not my talent.

Judge 3—Oh, and we need someone to mow the lawn! The last guy who did that is moving away.

Mary—Are you serious?

Judge 2—Organize a potluck?

Mary (throwing up hands)—I give up! [Walks off stage]

Judge 1 (looking at the others)—Well, that was too bad. She seemed like a bright, talented young lady.

Judge 2—It's kind of sad the way young people don't want to serve the church these days.

Judge 3 (shrugging)—I blame those smartphones.

Judge 1 (looks at his list)—Next!

Next person walks on stage holding a bagpipe.

All three judges exchange a glance.

Judges 1, 2, and 3 (in unison)—Next!!

[If you would like to use this skit in your church or local setting, please feel welcome to the script.  I only ask that you keep my name attached to it, and send others to this site rather than distributing copies of the script outside your own cast.]

*Except, of course, when the program becomes an excuse not to encourage women to pursue ministry.  As in, "Look, you don't have to be ordained to work for God.  We have ways to use you as a volunteer instead."

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