Back in 2005, I attended a “church growth” seminar in Dallas, Texas. The keynote speaker was Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg United Methodist in Ohio, one of the larger and faster growing UM churches in the country. He shared an experience that sticks with me.
That church had a “Cookie Patrol” that takes cookies to first time visitors. So, every Sunday afternoon, a group of people would meet down at the church to bake fresh cookies to be delivered to potential members.
One day, a member of the church came to Rev. Slaughter and told him, “I just love to bake, and I want to help with the Cookie Patrol. I’ve got a great kitchen at home, so let me tell you what I’ll do. I’ll make several dozen cookies each Sunday and bring them to the church. I just don’t have time to spend at church on Sunday afternoons.”
Pastor Mike responded, “You don’t understand. We don’t need your cookies. We need you.”
He knew that the reason the Cookie Patrol was a worthwhile ministry was not simply the cookies taken to potential members but the relationships that developed among those who joined together in the church kitchen on Sundays. “Stuff” is not all that important; people are.
We live in a society in which the only thing that seems to matter is efficiency. The end result, as quickly as possible, is of utmost importance; there seems to be little emphasis on the journey itself AND the people we journey with. When we complete a task, it is good to celebrate the end result, but what do we really remember? Is it not the people, the things we did, and the lessons learned in the process of completing the task?
Think about it: when Jesus started his ministry, what was one of the first things he did? He found companions to serve with on his journeys. These guys were not all that efficient. On many occasions, they should have been fired, and yet, Jesus sent them out in pairs to preach, heal, and serve. Notice that he did not send them out as individuals, and when they finished, they all came back together as the entire group to debrief and celebrate their journeys and accomplishments.
Jesus went to the cross himself, but I don’t believe that was his intent. “If you want to be my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” Jesus says in the midst of his journey (see Mark 8:34). The goal is not to do the work of God alone.
Wouldn’t it have been more efficient for Jesus to go quickly from town-to-town healing people as quickly as possible? Yet, we see again and again that he stops to teach and preach; he stops to share a meal or conversation with people who are known sinners, enemies, and friends.
With all of this in mind, I have come to believe that life in the church, in the community of faith, is not all about efficiency. It isn’t just about the stuff or the end result. It is about bringing people together in relationship in a way that may not be the most efficient but includes the most people, creating relationships and fostering love. Let us remember, “Where two or more are gathered,” there is Jesus. When we care for “the least of these,” we care for Jesus. It may not be the most efficient way, but it is the most Christ-like.
We don’t need your cookies. We need you.
Rev. Troy Sims is an ordained Deacon in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church and received his M. Div. from Brite Divinity School at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. Currently a stay-at-home dad, he volunteers with Capitol Hill UMC in Washington, D.C.
Image: Platter of cookies, robcocquyt  / Shutterstock.com