At a funeral I officiated at this week, I told many stories about my special patient Margaret and how she truly touched my life. I noted that she was a bright light while here on earth, even though she had many struggles throughout her life. But I shared that Margaret believed that God’s glory is different for each of us – and it’s not ours to decipher. Her belief was that we must let Jesus define the glory for us or we will miss it entirely. It’s not the destination we should be waiting for, but it’s the journey we should be treasuring.
I found that Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in the Consumer Culture focused not on the journey, but more on the destination. By that, I mean it was a book that was focused on analyzing the consumeristic aspects of the church and its ‘superficial religious practices,’ but not truly understanding the gift that so many churches bring to their communities. The author noted that parishioners (consumers) were not gaining true faith and/or deeper meaning in their faith. Yet, I don’t think Miller truly touched on the ‘journey’ of our churches and the progress that has been taking place within so many churches today – stretching more than ever into the secular world to help the broken individuals outside the church doors. This is a new journey for many churches and brings us closer to the vision that I believe Christ had for Christians and for His church.
In the book, Servant Leadership: Jesus and Paul, the author explores the leadership of Jesus and noted that He carried out His mission in contrast to the current day leadership during His time on earth. And Jesus’ purpose was always focused on serving those who were suffering and struggling through the burdens of life. So, it is imperative for church leaders to ask: who is attending to the poor and oppressed? This was the focal point of Jesus – and should be our focal point as well. As the author asked: “What is it that is demanded from us on behalf of those who suffer ongoing persecution, poverty, rejection, and turmoil?” Without question, it is to reach outside the church doors and LOVE! I truly believe this is an answer to help us move away from the fear of consumerism towards the gift of servanthood for others. And I see so many churches today embracing this philosophy in an engaging and positive way.
As Christian leaders, there are so many different components to leadership – and we wear many different hats. Because of this, it is often difficult to focus on the broken individuals and their needs when there is a whole church family to help and support. I know I felt this responsibility when I served as a director of various non-profit organizations in my community. I wanted to save the world, but I found that I often felt like a failure, because I would sometimes miss the needs of individuals as I was focusing on running a major entity. Yet, as leaders, we do the best we can and strive to truly make a difference. That’s what it is all about!
I think one of the things I love so much about Hospice Chaplaincy is that I have no other responsibilities than loving on hurting individuals – one at a time. Yet, I am truly only touching one individual at a time instead of reaching the masses as so many church leaders do. Is it really enough? I don’t know, but I do know that, for that one person at any one given moment in time – we can make a difference. So that is what fulfills me. I look at it like the little boy who was surrounded by thousands of clams on the seashore and he was throwing one clam at a time back into the ocean. As an old man passes, he says, “Hey, boy, you’re not really making a difference. There are thousands of clams dying on the shore here.” But as the little boy throws another clam into the water, he said, “Maybe so, but I do know I just made a difference to HIM!”
Sometimes, we just need to reach out where we can and realize that we can’t change the whole world, but we can make a difference….to one individual at a time! As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” So, in our own gentle way, through our churches and individually, let’s continue to work towards shaking the world!
 Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (London: Continuum, 2005).
 Efran Agosto, Servant Leadership: Jesus and Paul (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2005).