A couple of pastorates past, I was assigned to a community committee consisting of representatives from thirteen different congregations. I replaced another staff member who had gone for two decades. When I arrived, I was asked what church I was representing. I told them where I was from and whose role I was taking. That seemed to be enough. They didn’t need to know any more – not even my name.
I listened and read as word by word we toiled through the bylaws of the organization for two hours. At the end, I raised my hand, told them my name, and asked, “Since I’m new here, can someone tell me what this group does?”
The moderator replied, “That’s a very good question. I think we can discuss that next time. I was also thinking that it would be good for us to go from quarterly meetings to monthly meetings. All in favor?” People raised their hands. “Opposed?” No one raised his or her hand. I abstained. How could I vote against something when I had no idea what they did? There was nothing in the bylaws to tell me.
I went for four years. Each month, we talked about what the committee had done a long time ago, talked about the community and what others ought to do, reviewed the minutes from the last meeting, set the time for the next meeting, stressed the importance of coming to the meetings, and then debated how to spend the $2,000 for missions in the budget. Even though we discussed it monthly, we could never reach any agreement by the end of the budget cycle that involved action.
Soren Kierkegaard told this story about how churches could get stuck in their affirmations, or orthoducksy. I’ve embellished the parable a bit. If you share it with a group, make sure and have them play the part of the congregation and shout, “Amen!” where appropriate.
The First Marshland Church for Ducks was having its Easter service, and the ducks came from all over. They waddled in from miles around. The sanctuary was packed with wall to wall down. They sang their favorite hymns, “On the Wings of a Snow White Duck,” “For the Beauty of the Marsh,” and “Faith of Our Waddlers”
The duck preacher took his stand behind the podium. “My brother and sister ducks,” he began. “Look around you at those next to you. Look at yourself. God has given us feathers.”
“Amen!” the congregation quacked.
“God has given us beautiful feathers,” the minister duck said.
“Amen!” shouted the congregation.
“God has given us beautiful feathers for a purpose.”
“God has given us beautiful feathers so we could fly.”
“God has given us beautiful feathers so we could sail high above the clouds.”
“God has given us beautiful feathers so we could soar on wings like eagles.”
The minister went on and on for a half an hour preaching about God’s gift of flight. Louder and louder the congregation shouted back “Amen!” after “Amen!” However, when the service was over, every one of those ducks waddled home.
Kierkegaard’s critique of the church in Denmark over a hundred and fifty years ago is still applicable today. Kierkegaard was frustrated that church had turned faith into an automated intellectual response instead of a way of life into the world. He charged that church members, like ducks who don’t use their wings, were missing their God-given potential no matter how the orthoducks shouted, “Amen!”
Thinking and speaking without doing has been a problem for people of faith since the early days of the church which is why this encouragement is found in James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves[h] in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.