I’m sitting in the ‘Coffee Nook’ of the local YMCA like I do every Friday night. We arrive at about 5 p.m., and after my eldest son runs off to his soccer practice, and I get my other two kids to their respective childcare spots, I usually grab a cup of Java and find a comfortable place in this ‘kids free zone’ haven they have carved out near the lobby. I plug my headphones in, throw my iTunes Party Shuffle on, and settle in to spend some quiet time preparing for our Sunday morning up/rooted teaching times.
Tonight as I was paused for a minute (trying to get someone who had a clue to let me know if their WiFi was working), I took notice around me at something that I hadn’t really paid much attention to before: all around me passed people of various ethnicities and ages—all here for different reasons. For some, the Y holds a place where they can unwind after a long day’s work. For others, it is a place to meet up with friends for a game of racquetball or basketball. Some come to pursue greater health in their lives. Still others hang out at the soccer fields or around the pool—visiting with friends and acquaintances they will likely not see apart from this weekly practice pilgrimage. Others come, like me, to find a quiet spot to enjoy a semi-decent cup of flavored coffee and read a book, the day’s news, or tie-up some loose ends for work.
I think the reason all of this struck me in particular tonight of all nights is that it dawned on me how diverse the YMCA is compared with the church where I gather each week to worship with my fellow spiritual travelers. The similarities are many…
- Different people come for different reasons, each looking for fulfillment of some individual wish/desire in their lives.
- They have “joined” together at a place that is there to provide balance in their lives. (Although it might be argued that the Y does one better than the church in approaching spirituality in a holistic way—married with the physical, emotional, and mental parts of our being.)
- Some come once a week, others are involved in much greater detail, from several times a week, to daily, and more.
It’s a warming thought to me, for some reason. I think the Y has it right (not that I’m arguing that we should all just skip our weekly worship times and head to the Y together for a workout). They understand that although the “picture” is the same for all—a balance in all aspects of who we are—how that is accomplished is different for each person. Should everyone be told, “If you really want to be healthy, you’ll join that step aerobics class. It worked for me, after all!”? What if everyone who stepped through the doors here were given a “guide” to ideal health, complete with appropriate steps to take (in sequential order, of course)? Start with learning to use the cardio equipment. Then, move on to the weights. Once you become really focused, you should step into one of the “Step Aerobics” groups. Then pick racquetball, swimming, or another activity for those who are more “dedicated” to their growth. And then, when you’ve really arrived, you should start a Pilates class you can lead yourself.
I think if they did these things we would begin to see the membership numbers dwindling and Y’s beginning to close their doors before long.
I think it is essential for churches to understand that the “one-size-fits-all” view of discipleship is not only unrealistic, but possibly unhealthy. People are at different points and they don’t always fit a certain step (or baseball “base”). For some they need to join on the large level with other worshippers—finding a place to lay their cares, worries, and agendas aside to focus on He who desires our focus. Some need their knowledge base of who God is in their lives expanded—although that might come as much from connecting one-on-one with another Christian in an informal environment, swapping spiritual stories, as from a discipleship class, or Sunday School or home group.
We need to put the Christian cookie-cutter back in the drawer and begin to learn how to create beautiful delicacies from the ingredients that are provided to us—on a person-by-person basis. Yes, it’s more difficult to help others in this way, but once we do, I believe we’ll begin to see people walking out of the church doors healthier than when they walked in.
This article was originally published May 3, 2007.