This summer I worked at an amusement park that refers to itself as a kingdom for kids. I honestly thought it would only last until the heat came, because I don’t do heat. Or cold, for that matter. Chalk it up to what I call a broken thermostat.
The first heat wave arrived the last week of June and lasted through Fourth of July week (and the day we visited the park with friends and their kids). I managed to survive. More than that I liked the job, a lot, and didn’t want to quit. And then the heat broke, never to return (until this weekend, and I’m not working most September weekends due to other events).
As I thought about the summer, I identified five lessons I learned at this kingdom that could apply to the way I live in God’s Kingdom and the way my church manifests God’s Kingdom on earth. Maybe you’ll find they apply to you and your church too.
1. There’s something to be said for everyone doing everything.
When I went to apply for the job, I told them I wanted to work in the gift shop. “Oh, we’re sorry,” they told me, “the gift shop and the games are all part of the same department, and you would have to do both.” I wanted to work there, and I was able to solicit a promise that I would only work at games in the shade because my autoimmune disorder has made me allergic to the sun.
Turns out I loved the games. Much more than the store. In the store my interaction with the kiddles was handing them back their toy after I rang it up and asking them if they’d had a good day.
At the games I got to talk with them, coax them to play, cheer them on as they tried to beat dad or mom (the mom’s were way more competitive—go figure) and award them a prize at the end. Oh, there was also the consoling at the end if they weren’t the one to win a race—fun? Not so much, but they usually walked off quickly with the parental unit—or played again so they could win.
It’s easy in the church—especially if you’ve reached my advanced age—to resist doing something you’ve never done before. We often stay in our silos—youth work, children’s ministry, ushering, kitchen crew. Don’t. Try something new. I wouldn’t commit to something for a year, maybe not even for six months. But try it for a month, or at least once. You might be surprised at the fun you discover.
At the very least, you’ll get to know some people outside your regular circle of service. It also prepares you in an emergency to pitch in when the regular crew isn’t available. (And that’s why in the kingdom, everyone worked every game—except me ’cause I’m special).
2. There’s something to be said for someone being responsible.
On the flip side, if you want to do things well—at an amusement park or a church—it helps to have a few people who are in charge of various things.
My biggest frustration at the gift shop came when I would fill in t-shirts. In the stockroom I would discover whole styles that lived only on the shelves upstairs out of reach of customers. Or on the rack would be 8 size 4T, while the 2T and 3T shirts never saw the light of day. If there had been a person or two dedicated to the clothing, ensuring that all styles and sizes were out, sales would have been better. When no one is responsible, no one takes responsibility.
Same thing holds true in a church. If no one is in charge of making sure meals are provided to those just home from the hospital, it may happen, but it may not. If no one is responsible for ensuring the music goes with the sermon theme, those singing and leading simply choose what they like. Areas of responsibility make organizations (and stores) more effective.
3. Don’t be so concerned what you look like.
My favorite game in the kingdom was the squirt gun race. The game was fast-paced (as opposed to Whac-a-Mole between two 4-year-olds, which can take eons) and even the smallest children could usually do it. But to be truthful, what made it great was the music. Old dance tunes and Disney were on the CD player (along with High School Musical, which I bypassed within 30 seconds so I didn’t claw my ears out).
I sang with the music, danced (badly) with YMCA, the Macarena, Achy-Breaky Heart and the Hokey-Pokey. I looked like a fool. I mean you don’t expect a rather large woman in her fifties, wearing her “Get your season pass” t-shirt to strut or twirl or kick or clap. But I did. It delighted the children, who often danced with me. It made the parents laugh. And it passed the time. I really didn’t care what I looked like (although I was thankful there were no mirrors around). I had fun. I found serendipitous moments of joy as children stood mesmerized by my motions and slowly mimicked me. I laughed, a lot.
When we care how we appear at church, we’re afraid to let our guard down. We don’t ask the question in Bible study that might make us look stupid. We don’t share how we’re struggling because we’re sure everyone else has it all together. We don’t get down and get silly with the kids because we’re too dignified for that, or at least too concerned with what the other adults think.
Let it go. Let loose. Be spontaneous. Look for the joy and the laughter. Make the outrageous comment. Share the pain with someone who can come alongside you. Try something, even if you look like a fool. The moments of discovery and camaraderie are worth the risk; trust me.
4. Some things matter more than money.
The kingdom pays minimum wage. When you’re 14 that might seems great, but not at my age. But while I wanted to make some extra income from a job this summer, it wasn’t all that mattered. I wanted to have fun (see #3). I wanted something that would force me out of the house in the summer when I am too prone to hibernate in the air-conditioning. I wanted to experience life.
If your church is at all like ours, the recession of 2008 hasn’t really passed. Giving is still down; budgets are still tight. If you focus only on the money, discouragement sets in. Shift your focus to the things that matter more, that really matter for God’s Kingdom. How are people from your church serving in your community? Brag about that within the body. Are there any new believers, or at least those investigating who Jesus is? Throw a party, and rejoice with the angels.
I get that someone has to care about the money. (Trust me, my husband is a paid minister; I want someone to know there is money there for him to be paid—so does our mortgage company.) But if all we do is focus on the income and outflow, we’re missing the bigger picture. Where is God at work? Intentionally celebrate those joys every chance you get.
5. Make the effort to get to know people.
I didn’t learn this lesson until too late at the kingdom. At the games you work alone. In the store there are other employees, but if you’re not all busy at the registers, you’re out straightening or filling in the floor (like those frustrating t-shirts). So there wasn’t much opportunity on the job to talk.
However, we were not permitted to clock in until the moment our shift was to start. Not a minute early or a minute late. And so while we waited, people congregated in the staff center. I rarely sat with the others. Most of them were much younger than I. Why would they want me around? (My own insecurity showing.) Those my age were a bit easier to approach, but many of them knew lots of people already from years in the kingdom, so I hung back.
On my lunch break, I ate, checked e-mail and read. Again, I didn’t join the others. If someone asked to join me, I let them and talked, but I never made the effort. By the last few weeks I noticed that most of the others seemed to know each other. And I seemed to know . . . the two who had reached out to me? That’s sad. What friendships—or conversations for Jesus—did I miss out on?
At church it’s easy to be wrapped up with my responsibilities or my family or just the people who sit near me in my self-assigned seat. I may be perfectly content with my group of friends. But what am I missing by not making the effort to get to know others? And if they’re too shy or insecure or self-absorbed to make the first effort, I may never discover just who they are. Or if they’re visitors, they may never return.
We are meant to function as a body to bring God’s Kingdom here (“Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth” Matthew 6:10). How can we do that if we don’t know each other well enough to understand how to work together? And if we don’t share our lives together we miss out, once again, on the laughter, the joy, the beauty of life in God’s Kingdom.
Let’s live Kingdom, and find the joy God intended.