I have always heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Is that the same for the church? Are we, as the church, beyond learning new ways of relating to our communities? Are we too old to share God’s love with one another and with the people around us?
I remember a story told by Fred Craddock. He said he had never been to the greyhound races, but he had seen them on television. He said:
Running, Running, and Running…
They have these beautiful, big old dogs. I say beautiful, but they are ugly old dogs. These dogs chase that mechanical rabbit around the ring. They run and run, exhausting themselves chasing that rabbit. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, and if anybody wants one for a pet, they can have it. Otherwise, they are destroyed.
I have a niece in Arizona who can’t stand that ad. She goes and gets one every time. Big old dogs in the house. She loves them.
I was in a home not long ago where they had adopted a dog that had been a racer. It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, laying there in the den. One of the children in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older child had his head over on that dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. That old dog just seemed so happy. I watched the children and the dog for a few minutes.
Then I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”
He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”
I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”
He said, “No.”
“Well, what’s the matter? Did you get too old?”
“No, no, I still have some race in me.”
“Well, did you win anything?”
He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”
“Then what was it? Did they treat you badly?”
“Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”
I said, “Then what was it? Did you get hurt?”
He said, “No, no.”
He said, “I quit.”
He said, “Yeah, I quit.”
“Why did you quit?”
And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit. And I quit.” Craddock said the dog looked at him and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing wasn’t even real.”
Craddock finished by saying, “If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”
Is it the same for the church? If we trust God, can we learn new ways of loving our neighbors?
Chase What is Real
Our culture is going through some massive changes. These changes are shaping our values regarding how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. The changes we are experiencing are complex and coming at lightning speed. As a result, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique.
In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what do we need to learn to step into the future? How will we make an impact in our communities and the world?
Let’s stop chasing what is not real and begin to chase what is real.
So, what is real?
Develop faithful, trusting relationships with Christ, within the congregation, and in your local community.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about adding more activities to keep people busy. We’re busy enough!
When I started in ministry 45 years ago, the focus was upon the “7 Day a Week Church.” The idea was to have some form of activity in the church building every day. There was to be no “white space” on the church calendar. This activity form of ministry was based on getting people into our church buildings. Although it created lots of opportunities, we did not develop what was real. Our focus was on activity and getting people inside a building. We did not focus on developing relationships with people.
All the activity has worn us out.
We have three types of relationships that need to be nurtured: our relationship with Christ, relationships within the congregation, and relationships in the community. If one of those relationships is missing, the other relationships suffer.
Our relationship with Christ and with one another in the congregation can always deepen. Often, we fail to see the community right outside our doors. The people who live in our communities who do not have a relationship with Jesus or a church continues to grow.
Go outside the church building and into the community. Get to know the people who live in your city, neighborhood or town. Listen to their stories, their dreams, and their needs. One of the greatest gifts you can offer to others is your time. As you take the time to nurture relationships, you’ll also have the opportunity to embody the love of Christ to others.
What would happen if we were less mesmerized by numbers and more involved in developing relationships Christ, the congregation and your local community?
Be intentional in strengthening your inner life and bringing together your personal faith and your missional participation in the community. John Wesley called it personal piety and social holiness.
You are a child of God, free to serve in God’s love. As God’s love takes root in your life, serve the community, neighborhood, or city in God’s love.
Be the person God created you to be. As a responsible representative of God’s love, you are free to take initiative to test your thoughts, to honor your intuition, to see what requires doing, and to accomplish it. At the same time, you are free to trust God and the people around you. You can be faithful in your living because you believe God is faithful to you. When you face anxious times, your inner life allows you to test your wisdom, your patience, and your hope. You draw courage, trusting God’s grace and the relationships you have developed with God’s people.
Knowing and trusting your relationship with God through Jesus, you are free to model God’s love. You know that God is with you. Others will come to trust God’s love because they see and experience God’s love in and through you.
What would happen if we were less concerned about looking good and more concerned about being centered upon the well-being of others, loving as we have been loved?
Be the person God created you to be both in what you say and what you do. Model integrity by living the life that produces the behaviors of love. When you are in Christ and are moved by the Spirit, the unexpected acts of Christian love will come in response to God’s grace.
What would happen if we were less focused upon being successful and more focused upon developing lives of love from the inside out and living lives of love, both inside and outside the church building?
I think we could teach an old church new ways of living and loving.
Let’s chase what is real!