I love to use the medical model for church revitalization. It is so blessedly simple. Anybody can remember that the process is going to involve a few weeks of diagnosis, followed by approximately a year of surgery, followed by about another year of recovery. Diagnosis, surgery, recovery. A fifth grader can understand it.
After explaining the process to one congregation, a wise and perceptive church member asked me, oh-so-cautiously, “It sounds painful; are you going to put us under?” True to form for me, I said something awkward and then thought of the intelligent thing to say a couple weeks later. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, as I’ve known the answer for decades.
And it must be communicated. And it must be communicated by way of a language which the hearers can understand. It’s not enough to say, “I’ve just arrived in town, I’ll only be here for two or three years and I want to radically change your church, but don’t worry, I love you.”
Sounds pretty cheesy doesn’t it? Clearly, those of us who would like to be change agents must figure out how to communicate love in a way or ways that are actually heard and believed. The challenge sends me back to the first few years of raising our son.
Our son was born with a bad attitude about being here on planet earth. My wife lay in her hospital bed hearing one particular newborn crying incessantly and with great passion. She hoped it wasn’t our baby, but it was. After a few hours of trying to feed him on a schedule, the nurse brought him to my wife and said, “Here! You take him!”
We did take him of course, and that’s when our lives took a turn for the worse. He was so difficult that my wife was seriously afraid that he was the antichrist. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.
Help finally came through James Dobson’s famous book, The Strong Willed Child, and a lesser known but even more helpful volume, Ross Campbell’s How to Really Love Your Child.
Campbell said that it’s not enough to love your child unconditionally. You must learn how to communicate that love in a language which your child can understand. Your beliefs and values can only flow to your child over the bridge of communicated love.
There are three ways, the author explained, to communicate love to your child: Focused attention, physical contact and eye contact. Simple, isn’t it? Simple is good. Normal people can remember it.
This formula transformed our parenting. As crazy-busy as we were, we poured on copious amounts of focused attention, physical contact and eye contact. We were still afraid he would get kicked out of kindergarten. To our amazement, his teachers actually enjoyed him.
It still works. It communicates love and it is love, and only love, which provides the anesthesia that makes church surgery possible. When people know that you love them, they’ll let you go to work on their church and that will glorify God.