Skip to site content

Is Your Church a Short Story or Epic Novel?

image_pdfimage_print

The fall in the publishing industry is known as the big important book season. It’s similar to all the award-winning movies coming out toward the end of the year.
Every year about this time, important books and movies come out – the books and movies that are going to win awards and be placed atop the Critics’ Best lists that will soon dominate magazine racks.

I have been reading some of these important books recently and noticed that they seem to fall into two categories.

You have the big important books that are about events. The other categories are the epic books – the books that are birth-to-death stories of one character – and the books about books.

This season I prefer the epic novels. Maybe it’s that as the days grow shorter, there is more time to sit at night and read long novels (each of the books I’ve chosen clocks in close to 500 pages).

Maybe I have just been conditioned to think that fall and winter are times for more serious books.

But mostly I think it’s this: The long epic novels give us a chance to really know the characters. The reader is able to learn what they love about them, what they despise and what they see in them that is also true of them.

In short, the extended length means that we spend enough time with these folks that we feel we truly know who they are. I like that.

In seminary, one of the saddest facts I heard was that the average tenure for a pastor in this day and age was two years. That is a short story. How, in two years, does one expect to really get to know people?

And it seems that there are a lot of church members who don’t stay much longer than that either. Both facts contribute to the decline of church importance in the average person’s life.

Church is not a short story. Rather, church is an epic novel. It’s a place where we really get to know the characters who live there. We learn little facts about them.

We know who loves poetry and why poetry speaks to them. We learn who trains horses and how time in the arena impacts their faith.

We learn who grows the best tomatoes in their home gardens. We learn who never misses an episode of that reality dance show.

We learn who always struggles in the holidays because the holidays are a time of deep grief. We learn who bakes the best pound cake and coconut cake. We learn how each other prays.

We learn how we worship. We learn how we each see God (some as a mother, others as a father and still others as a bird).

We learn what makes each of us tick, what we are passionate about, what steals our energy and what feeds our souls.

To learn one another like this takes time, endurance and commitment because sometimes it means gritting your teeth and sticking with it.

It means being open and vulnerable with one another. It means becoming a communion of saints with one another.

Griff Martin is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La. A version of this article first appeared in UBC’s weekly newsletter, The Window, and is used with permission.