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Twice a year, all of the Reformed churches in my geographical region send a minister delegate and an elder delegate to a gathering. The assembly made up of these delegates is known as a Classis. Sometimes the meetings take an entire day, which can pose a challenge as elders who work during the day need to try and take time off in order to participate.
At this particular meeting, we had the opportunity to have a significant conversation. The agenda wasn’t set for us. We were simply asked to share what we hoped our Classis could accomplish, what things we thought were most important for us to address. The elders dreamed up a list, and the ministers dreamed up another list. Each group whittled down their lists until we came up with one thing to present to the whole group.
The experience of corporate discernment and listening was encouraging and fascinating to me. And then we brought both groups together to share and continue the conversation. When the pastors wondered aloud if we ought to move our meetings to the weekend in order to better accommodate work schedules, one of the elders said this: “Well, I’ll be honest. Today, I could be out haulin’ corn for a guy. But, I’m here instead. This is more important…it’s just a different kind of corn.”
It’s just a different kind of corn.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since he said it, and I think he’s right on. The problem is, a lot of the harvest in the church is intangible. The fruit we are cultivating isn’t visible. We come. We sit. We listen. We share. We go out into the world and give what we have away. We come empty handed, and we leave empty handed…at least if we’re talking about physical things. Sometimes it even looks like we leave with less than what we brought with us.
I came to the Classis meeting with a stack of papers, agendas, and reports. I left with the same stack of papers, and a handful of notes.
In terms of things I could write out on a list, my day was unproductive.
But, I also left with hope.
I left inspired.
I left with the invisible markings of having encountered God at work.
Because being a part of the Church is like haulin’ corn…but it’s a different kind of corn. When we go to work at our jobs, or stay home with our children, or whatever it is that we do for the majority of our days, we can look back on it and see what we’ve done. We know how much corn we hauled, how many diapers we changed, how many people we visited, or how many errands we finished.
When we get together to worship God, what do we have to show for it? What tangible take-away do we have?
When we read the Bible and pray, does it feel like we accomplished much?
As we walk along our journeys of faith, does it look like we’ve traveled anywhere new?
We live in a society that focuses on outcomes. When we attend something, we want to know what’s in it for us. We want to know the cost and sacrifice required up front so that we can make sure the outcome is worth it. I really think this is one of the reasons why many churches find themselves in decline. It isn’t because they are irrelevant as much as it is that the results of belonging to a faith community are intangible and hard to define.
I think this is one reason why the Bible talks so much about the importance of having eyes to see.
When we look at things on the surface, we see a strange collection of people doing things that seem culturally outmoded. We sing old songs, read from an old book, pray prayers that were first said 2,000 years ago. We sit in rows and use words that no one says anymore.
It all seems irrelevant because it’s strange. It’s old, and we have trouble with things that are old. And yet somehow we believe that these ancient traditions, these ancient words, these customs from a world long gone can enter into our present day and transform the world.
If we had eyes to see, we’d notice that we came to worship full of pain, and left with the load a little lighter.
If we had eyes to see, we’d see that though we came feeling depleted of love, we were sent back out with hearts so full that there’s enough to share.
If we had eyes to see, we’d be able to believe that even though spiritual work is intangible, it is the most real work there is.
If only we had eyes to see.
Yes, life in the Church is a lot like haulin’ corn. If only we had the eyes to see.