December 10, 2008

We Need Each Other

—In response to Jimmy Phillips’ column “The Post-Graduation Exodus” (Adventist Review, August 14, 2008).

Dear Jimmy:
Congratulations on your recent graduation. By the way, nice suit and tie! We are elated with the exceptional experience you had at Union College, and we know it was very significant to your becoming who you are.
California is a different place and you are at a different time in your life, but I dare say we all have some things in common. So, as you begin the church shop (which some may deem a church hop), let me share with you a few responses to your letter.
2008 1534 page29You’re right, it’s likely that we’ll assume you have it all figured out, and we may also assume you feel you don’t need us. But the truth of the matter is that we need each other. All those meaningful ministry experiences and creative worship moments that helped mold you and remind you of God’s embrace are really needed here in our world, outside of the bubble. We need your fresh thoughts about Jesus and your ability to stay up late at night (I’m already needing a nap). You may benefit from our stories and experiences, but even if you don’t, just know we simply find joy in sharing how it was “back in our day.” As vital as it was for you, we too need random signs and creative reminders to grow spiritually.
You’re right: it’s likely we’ll go through the small talk and the Adventist cultural rituals. A greeting of “Happy Sabbath” will likely result in a knee-jerk response in kind. We may just talk about the weather or possibly ask you about your sports teams. Superficial as it may seem, this is where we feel we can start. But the truth is that we want deeper relationships, too. So forgive our awkward conversational cop-outs, and our seemingly aloof manner. Risk taking us further in conversation. We want to hear what matters to you and hope you will appreciate what we have to share as well.
You’re right: it’s likely as you come by our church we’re going 
to slip up. Just like you, we’re not always sure if our failings are something we’re really conscious of. Just like you, our struggle is that it’s all too easy to stay on autopilot church programming and glide by on spiritual cruise control. But we need you 
to catch us too. Help us be more graceful; gently infuse your personality, your gifts, your love for Christ. Let us know when we flub up and kindly collaborate with us to find a better way. We admit it, we need you too.
Yesterday feels far away to us too. And for us, tomorrow looks pretty grim if we don’t figure out a way to be the church together. So today, would you join with us to become a better community of like believers; a church of believers who are invested in learning to like each other more? Would you help us today?
Oh, and don’t let my old suit and out-of-style tie fool you into thinking I’ve got it all figured out. Those were just graduation gifts from my parents. 


A. Allan Martin is associate professor of discipleship and family ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan.