This week Starbucks announced that by 2020 they would eliminate use of plastic straws across the company. It's no surprise. The beach where we live has long abandoned using plastic straws, and other companies such as Hyatt, Royal Caribbean Cruises, major hotels and safari tours, and the city of Seattle have joined the pledge to remove plastic straws.
The reasons behind them are noble and worth celebrating - almost half a billion are used every day in America and many of them end up in water systems, where they're unable to decompose and end up eaten by marine life. They're not recyclable because of their light weight, which makes them difficult to dispose of completely. In a viral video, you can see marine biologists removing a straw from the nose of a sea turtle, which many credit for sparking the movement.
But like many of these kinds of initiatives, it isn't going to fix the real problems associated with environmental pollution. We're still going to be disposing of tons of plastic every year, we're still going to not recycle, and we're still going to treat God's creation like my 4 year old treats his room: conquer, destroy, repeat. Maybe it's a step in the right direction, but until we're willing to deal on a global scale with our over-dependence on single use plastic and our inability to recycle sustainably, we'll keep proposing solutions that don't solve the real problems.
A lot of times churches find themselves in a similar boat. A problem arises and a solution is proposed that doesn't do anything to fix the real problems, but people receive it and assume they've stumbled upon a golden key. Those kinds of solutions could be:
"If we could only get rid of <Insert ministry leader's name>...." - It sounds nice to say that if a church could move on from a staff member or pastor, everything would be fixed. But most of the time these comments are made in a church or ministry that has deeper underlying issues than an incompetent or ineffective leader. Also, what inevitably comes when a church dismisses a ministry leader is they set themselves back in terms of attracting and recruiting quality leaders.
"If we did <insert music style> rather than <what we're doing now>...." - Worship style should always be secondary to worship content. And worship style should be such that it brings people of different backgrounds together, rather than apart. Simply thinking that if you could change from what you're doing to something else will only work until the novelty of the newness wears off.
"If we had <insert new building or program> we'd be growing..." - Churches grow because they are infectious, contagious, and impacting their community. They can do that if they're meeting in a movie theater or a storefront, or if their carpet is lime green, or if they don't have lasers in their children's worship area. Facility, space, and physical layout issues must be given priority, but not assumed to be a magical fix for a lack of intentional engagement.
"If we did <insert former activity or idea> like we used to do..." - Sometimes longstanding practices, activities, or ministries are great unifiers and builders. They help foster an identity among a church that sparks them towards greater faithfulness, ministry, and mission in their communities. Unfortunately, even the best ideas have a shelf life. And when it's dead, it's time to let it go and move on. Look at our cell phones and how they've changed -- anyone want to go back to the Nokia with Snake on it?
What would you add to the list?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.