Columns, Community Voice

The key to the business of church

The film Jerry Maguire follows the story of the successful, then failed, and finally redeemed sports agent Jerry Maguire as he reframes his career and life. After Jerry introduces his epiphany that he and his colleagues should be paying more attention to and really caring for their clients, he loses his job, all but one client, his clout in the sports world, his fiancée, and most of his friends. As Jerry navigates these new realities, he recalls the counsel of his mentor — “the late, great Dicky Fox” — that “the key to this business is personal relationships,” and begins to redefine success as really caring for the people around him and allows these genuine, significant relationships to transform his life.

The beginning of the third chapter of Mark follows Jesus as he goes into the synagogue and sees “a man with a shriveled hand.” The Pharisees in the synagogue also see the man and his hand, but instead of appreciating his suffering, “they watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.”

“Jesus looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

Jesus’ interaction with this man — how he pays attention to, how he cares for this one person — reveals a God more concerned about the lives of actual people than about the adherence to religious tradition that caused the established leaders of the synagogue to condemn Jesus’ restoration of a suffering man within their midst. Within this story, Jesus calls us, liberates us to give up our preoccupation with the structures and strictures of our religion, with our sense of right and wrong and how things should be or once were, and to begin to redefine church as witnessing to a God who is love by caring for people in a way that risks transformation of our own lives.

The key to this business of church, Jesus seems to be showing us, is personal relationships:

Growing up, I experienced church as a place, a community in which I encountered God’s love. It wasn’t because I found a particular worship style or Sunday School curriculum or the church’s mission and values statements so compelling. I came to know God’s love through relationships with people I knew and cared about who knew and cared about me.

My first pastor — also my dad — helped established my experience and expectation of church as a lived encounter of God’s grace. He will soon be concluding his time with the congregation he has served for over 20 years. As I read through tributes from members of the church, I began noticing that very few of the messages referenced his professional capacities as a pastor. Instead, as they anticipated his departure from their community, members expressed their abiding appreciation for who he is and how he witnesses to God’s love through his care and concern for the people around him and his openness to new and life-changing encounters with others.

In the first scene of Jerry Maguire, Jerry observes, “So this is the world, and there are almost six billion people on it. When I was a kid, there were three. It’s hard to keep up.”

At the time of Jesus’ birth, there were roughly 200 million people on earth. A lot has changed in the past 2,000 years, and even within the last 50 years. But the key to this business of being disciples of Christ remains the same — “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

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