Wallpaper removal speaks to a problem in best practices
So as many of you may know I spent a very significant amount of time over the last year (and particularly the last month) removing the wallpaper in the kitchen of our old house in preparation of selling it for our move to Idaho (well much of that time I didn’t know where we were moving to, and I wouldn’t have guessed Idaho – but hindsight… that’s what I was doing).
It wasn’t a fun task. It was two layers of wallpaper; the bottom layer was original to the house and almost 25 years old. To further my joy (make it complete?) the dry wall was untreated so the wall paper was adhered to the wall. In my lamenting how long it was taking (the first 5 ft or so took a good long 7 hour day to clear) and it was a big kitchen, I got lots of advice on the perfect technique to strip wall paper, or the best spray or tool or trick. If you use this trick – it will come right off.
What I know now (I’ve learned this before but its learning I try to forget, I’d rather not be known as being good at removing wallpaper) is that all of these tricks work – and yet none of them do. They are all perfect… and useless. In the end the methodology of removal doesn’t matter too much – it’s your skill with that particular methodology and the context of your removal. In some places the paper would come off easy, and I’d be convinced it’s the method that was working… only it really didn’t matter at all how – it was that particular part of the wall that was easy. In other places no matter how great a method (or all of them combined) the best I was going to do was scrap off centimeter long strips of paper.
So somewhere in the midst of this project, as I was getting pretty good at it and moving along quickly I realized that this work project spoke well to something I hear all the time. In my study of discipleship one of the things you will continually hear is that it’s not about programs. This is wisdom that is being applied to much of the church these days. Whether it’s under the name of missional, emergant, discipleship, house churches… whatever way we are talking about new ways of being intentional community together you will almost always here the speaker or writer say that it’s not about building/using/implementing programs. I’ve always had a bit of a struggle with that, because it’s really impossible to avoid program unless you are advocating randomness… some kind of creative anarchy. (And some may be recommending that but this is a rabbit trail to today’s thought so I won’t go down that road now.)
Jesus ministry can seem very organic and random, but he has an agenda and a program. He utters mission statements such as in Luke 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus has a program of a sort. He has purpose, vision, and an identified way of achieving it (gathering disciples, forming them to form others while simultaneously walking towards confrontation with both the political and ecclesiological powers of the day in Jerusalem. The Gospel of John is particularly driven by the idea that Jesus intends to die on the cross, it’s not something that happens TO him it is something HE DOES… it’s part of his program).
Program isn’t the problem it seems to me. But all those writers and speakers aren’t wrong either, because what wallpaper is speaking to me is that church and community programs and best practices are a lot like wall paper removal tricks. They all work, and none of them do. Success isn’t about the right program or trick or method. It’s about the finding what works for you, and creating a context for that method to work well in and applying a lot of consistent hard work. It’s why Eugene Peterson loved the phrased, and used it for his first book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.
There is no best practice, or perfect program, or trick that makes community and faith formation easy. Searching for that trick makes us expend a lot of energy in many directions and discover little but futility and exhaustion. (Or end up with a closet full of partially used wall paper removal solutions.) Know who you are, and with whom you are walking as you follow in the way of Jesus Christ and let your program (because you will have one) be authentic to who you are and lead you in the direction you hear Christ calling you. It won’t work all the time, it will work wonders some of the time, it won’t be right for everyone, but will be – with God’s help – right for you – and it will lead you in the long obedience that Peter speaks of so wonderful when he says to Jesus (in my own fairly loose translation of the end of John 6), “Even if we wanted to, where else can we go? You are leading us in the way of the holiness and faith.”
So be it. Thanks be to God.