What are you looking for?
Updated: Jan 15
In my ministry with young adults and college students, we loveeee a good icebreaker question. It can be hard and weird and awkward to meet new people and to do the work of finding out what you have in common, so it's important for me that we help you do that work when you come and see us, so that you don't feel left to your own devices. Here are some examples:
- What was your favorite song when you were 18 years old? (Clocks by Coldplay)
- What song would be your go-to karaoke song? (mine would be a perfect tie between Breakint Free from High School Musical or If It Makes You Happy by Sheryl Crow)
- If you were going to open a little storefront in downtown, what would you sell? (used art supplies and cheap art)
- What food can you not stop buying, eating, cooking, ordering these days, what food is your current hyperfixation? (polenta and green onions)
- What TV show or movie most recently made you exclaim out loud while you were watching it? (unfortunately the answer is Love Island)
and my personal favorite -- if you were going to start a hyper-niche club, what would the hyper-niche club be and what would y'all do? This question really gets at the heart of who you are, specifically. What hyper-niche club or meetup group would you start and what would you do?
My answer is that I would start the Appetizers Sitting Club. And here's what the club would do -- we would order deep-fried appetizers from TGIFridays or Primavera, we would all bring our camp chairs and sit in them in the yard and eat the appetizers. And that's all. Yes or no, would you join my club?
Well the slightly churchified version of the question is-- "if you were going to start a ministry at Church, if you were going to start a ministry at Trinity that is specific to your gifts, skills, interests, and the needs of the people around you, what ministry would you start and what would y'all do?" And my first follow-up question is: does the Appetizers Sitting Club count?" Or does the Lets-Take-Slow-Walks-Around-The-Neighborhood-And-Look-At-Every-Interesting-Plant-We-See club count? Is it churchy enough to count as a ministry, does it need to be churchy to count as a ministry? If we started a ministry that was "you work from home most days but it's hard sometimes to do work by yourself so there's a fridge full of drinks and we won't actually talk but we will sit together while we do our work"-- would that club count, would that ministry count? Why does the little Church voice in the back of my head say a ministry like that, or that or that, doesn't count?
I suppose I just want to push back on the idea that finding creative ways to meet the needs and the longings that we feel ourselves and that we see in our community,,, I want to push back on the idea that there are ways that we could do that that wouldn't be "churchy-enough"
I think that there is something for us to learn from paying attention to the shape and the patterns of Jesus' ministry in the gospels. He does a lot of teaching, he tells a lot of parables, he spends a lot of time in the temple, but also -- so much, so often, over and over and over -- he is going from town to town, person to person, he is hearing them out, and addressing their hurts and needs. He meets people who are lonely, people who are hungry, people who are unwell, people who have questions, who are confused, and almost without exception gives them what they need. The activity of Jesus is going around asking people what they need, meeting them in their true need, and addressing it. I think it is a deeply Christian thing to meet someone in their hurt and in their longing and do what you can to address it, and I guess it feels kind of wild to me to think that there are ways of doing that that would not be "churchy enough". Now, Jesus is not a genie, he isn't just a wish granter, he doesn't give the tax collectors more money, he doesn't give the officials more power, he doesn't give Herod his own head on a platter. But the deepest, truest needs and longings that people have to express are what Jesus is there to hear, and respond to.
I think sometimes with 2000 years of established tradition behind us and a half dozen years of programmatic precedent, we can let the answer precede the question. It is easy for The Church to decide already what people need and go on ahead with the answer that doesn't even leave room for the question. What are you looking for? What are you looking for? What do you need?
I wonder how you would answer that question-- what are you looking for? I wonder how your friends and family and peers would answer that question, I wonder what you are hearing from the people around you about what they are looking for. Where does it hurt? What is feeling hard or messy or mired or impossible to disentangle? For what are they longing, for what are we longing?
In all my work over the last eighteen months, what I've heard more than anything is that people are tired and lonely and overwhelmed, for some people the future feels uncertain, for others it can feel hard to believe that you are doing enough, or that you are enough. It is just a lot to be a person-- it can be hard and vulnerable to make friends, to know where and how to make them. It can be overwhelming to simply manage all the affairs of being an adult with responsibilities -- having to go to the grocery store after work, and having to cook dinner after the grocery store, and having to do the dishes after you cook dinner, nevertheless figuring out how to manage and keep up DMV renewal and dentist appointments.
And in a world of people who are tired and overwhelmed and lonely, for whom the future feels uncertain, or the world tells them they are not enough,,, what is the ministry that you feel like you would want to start. Or perhaps it feels easier to ask, if you feel any of those things, what is the hyper-niche club you would start that might help meet you and others right there in the middle of that feeling?
I know that we feeled hemmed in sometimes by what feels like acceptable Church program -- or program that is Churchy-enough to warrant pulling it off here. It's easy to feel like, dang, we can't pull off the Appetizers Sitting Club unless we say the Eucharist in the middle of it, or, if we're really gonna have the Goingforslowwalksaroundtheneighborhoodguild then we have to at least sing hymns while we do it, or that the price of admission to our coworking space would be that we cut a tonsure on the top of your head and give you a camel-hair tunic.
But I guess I just want to say, if it doesn't feel Churchy enough sometimes to do the things that might meet the need of some of the longing we feel and the longing we encounter, like, lemme ask, if it doesn't feel Churchy enough, then does it feel Christ-like enough to help somebody make a friend? Does it feel Christlike enough to keep someone company who is having a hard time? Does it not feel Christlike to give somebody permission to rest, to make the space and the time for them to rest?
I think the Gospel shows us, and the ministry of Jesus shows us, that even it doesn't seem Churchy enough just to be together, it can be very Christlike just to be together, it can be Christlike to hearing out the hurts and longings of those around us, and to hit the nail squarely on the head in addressing it -- even if the answer is not Bible Study, or liturgy, or sacrament. I think the Gospel shows us that it can be evidence that we are deeply formed in the logic of the Gospel that we squarely address people's needs, and give voice to their longings. Even if the work doesn't seem Churchy enough, we ought to believe that it is Gospel-enough, Christlike enough.
I can only imagine what kind of invitation it would be to hear someone, "Oh you're tired and lonely and overwhelmed,,,, me too, actually, us, too, actually,,, and I think we've got just the thing for it. Come and see." Even if it's not appetizers on the front lawn, "come and see. Come and see."