In the 1979 movie, The Jerk, Steve Martin plays Navin R. Johnson, a character described as a "befuddled homeless simpleton". In one scene, Navin yanks a phone book out of a delivery guys hands and begins furiously whipping through pages. Then, he stops and yells that most famous line. "The new phonebook's here! The new phonebook's here!"
Why is he screaming about such a mundane event in life? He's excited
because he found his name. On page 73. What a moment! He's
sure millions of people will see his name in print. And as a result, he's
convinced that great things are going to start happening for him.
Our congregation, like many others, occasionally produces church
directories. This last week, the new directories came in. I didn't
jump up and down screaming, "The new directory's
here!" However, I do like having a directory. A
church directory isn't just a photo album. And it's not just a
phonebook. A church directory should be a tool for prayer and
ministry. Let me explain.
Do you pray for the other people in your congregation? Not just
those on "the prayer list." Not just those facing
crisis. Surely, we need to be praying for them, but are you praying
for every member? Using the directory as your guide,
you can systematically pray for every member of your church. Even if you
don't know all the inner workings of their life, you can pray for them.
I've always found that using Paul's prayers as a model is helpful when I'm
praying for someone I don't know as well (e.g.- 1 Cor. 1:4-9; Eph. 1:15-21;
Eph. 3:14-19; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-12; etc.).
We can also use our church directory as a tool for ministry. Are there
faces in the directory that you haven't seen lately in the Sunday morning
gathering? Use that as an opportunity to write a card, pick up the
phone, or make a visit...not to your elders, so they'll do something about
it. Take responsibility for your brother/sister in Christ. Express
your concern about their absence.
Are their children plagued by illness? Is there a conflict with
another church member she's avoiding? Is his boss demanding work on
Sundays? Is there some change they're struggling to
embrace? Have they decided things just aren't as exciting as they
were at first, so maybe they need to "make a change"? Is there
some other issue that needs to be addressed? God can use you
to speak into your friend's life.
There's more ministry than just noticing who's absent. As we peruse
the church directory, we see the faces of those struggling. Those
recently diagnosed with one malady or another. The single mom dealing
with her rebellious teenage son. The man who lost his job 6 months
ago and can't find work. The single woman who's subtly expressed her
loneliness. The young couple about to have their first baby. The
not-as-young couple about to have their 6th. And all these are
opportunities to speak and act in the lives of others...for God's glory and
But beyond these basic, helpful uses of the church directory, I find my
first glance at a new church directory both bitter and sweet. The
pictures can stir grief and burden. I see pictures of men or women.
They're alone in their pictures. However, the last time we produced a
directory, a husband or a wife was present. I also see those struggling
with God's purposes in the midst of diagnoses that weren't present the last time
their picture was taken. There are also those struggling with their
unbelieving spouses or children.
Then there are those I don't see. For various reasons, they're no
longer part of our congregation. In another state. In another
county. In another congregation. It's probably the last of those
three that's most difficult. People leave churches for all kinds of bad
reasons. And people often just silently sneak away, thinking they're
being nice...doing everyone a favor by not talking about their struggles.
But that's simply not true. And why isn't it true? Well, that's
another blog for another day. It's sufficient to say that I'm burdened
for those I don't see. (Of course, I didn't mention those absent because
of church discipline...or those who have left church altogether.)
That's the bitter part of the church directory experience, but there's sweetness
too. The sweetness of seeing pictures and thinking of how God is at
work. The couple who's fighting for their marriage...and winning.
The families with children in this picture...who weren't in the last
picture. Families we have sent to serve the Lord in other
countries. Men and women who are involved in ministry far beyond what
they would've imagined the last time directories were published.
Older couples who have renewed vigor in serving the Lord. Young,
single men and women sacrificing worldly ambition for the sake of others.
People who are being trained in biblical counseling...and sitting in on
biblical counseling. Retired folks who are working like crazy for the
Lord, seeking first His kingdom. Young men who want to pursue pastoral
ministry of one kind or another.
Five years of serving in this congregation, and the pictures mean a lot more
than they did on day 1. At the beginning, I was just trying to get the
right name with the right face. Now, I long to know the right spiritual
condition that goes with that name and face. Their needs. Their
strengths. Their weaknesses. Their struggles. And I'm certain
these pictures will mean more in five more years.
The new directory's here! And it's a bittersweet experience.