You’ve heard of the domino effect. The United States entered a Cold War with the Soviet Union to prevent the domino effect – that if one country (however remote or seemingly inconsequential) fell to the communists powers, other countries in the region and eventually the world would fall, like dominos, one after the other. Our foreign policy then was to enter conflicts to prevent communist takeover. It was a strategy that had long term objectives in mind, pressing urgency, and had unifying potential among nations who saw things our way. How well it worked is debatable, but the Soviet Union did not win this Cold War.
We stated playing dominos at home. Not the stack them and watch them fall variety, nor the traditional game of sums, but train dominos, where each player working off the center double, must string their train of dominos number by number until all in their stack are gone. When a player’s train ends in say, a seven, and the player has no sevens, the player picks up another domino. If he or she still cannot play, then (at least in our house) a coin goes on top of their train indicating to the other players that this train is fair game to play on (until of course, the player can play on it, and then the coin is removed). The great part of this particular set of dominos is that each number is color coded – so sevens are pink, fives are blue, elevens are maroon, and so on. For young minds at work saying, “You could play a purple nine on that” helps them learn the system of dots. Now the kids started playing before school. Our son said, “I like dominos, it helps me learn strategy, and strategy gets my brain working faster.”
After he said this I thought to myself, “Maybe I should have played dominos before taking my college entrance exams years ago!”
It is hard to nail down exactly what strategy we are using these days when it comes to a whole host of issues. Politically the only strategy that seems to be in play is to “smear the other guy,” which both major parties participate in and is incredibly short sighted – the next election cycle. Economically we continue to polarize – discounting generosity as enabling sloth, or the pursuit of goals and hard work as if only motivated by greed. Ecclesiastically our church denominations seem to either want to conform completely to the world or shut it out, which seems pretty short sighted too – either forsaking a 2000 history or refusing to translate that history to fresh ears. Somewhere each of these systems break down and like dominos the rows begin to fall with that distinct click clicking sound. It feels like we need to pick up one more domino before they all come crashing down around us.
I don’t have answers for most of these things. I am not a politician that understands the intricacies of lawmaking (I’ve been told its rather complicated). I’m not an economist that can calculate and project scenarios based on the many variables constantly at play in the free market, tax code and international relationships. (My brain started to hurt just thinking through that last sentence). Even though I’m a church insider, I can tell you that many of the functions of the church on the denominational level have as much to do with political and economic concerns as they do with theological ones which equally make my head spin.
But I will say this – as a person of faith, as a leader, as a pastor, I do have a strategy, and the train is starting to line up with a trajectory.
It has long term objectives in mind, pressing urgency, it demands something of us and has unifying potential among others. In two words it is – the cross. In a few more words allow me to explain what life in the cross might look like:
Centered in Worship – the primary reason we gather is to hear what God is up to in our lives. We use things to communicate what God is up to – like scripture, baptism, communion, prayer, music, etc. God is the one at work here making us the body of Christ. We are not just playing church, hoping for the best, or doing motivational speaking – God’s Word calls us to die with Christ and be raised to new life.
Intentional Invitation – Simply put, if it doesn’t feel like you are welcome here, you aren’t and won’t want to be here. Jesus died for the world. Jesus died for you. Welcome. Come. Hear more. There is a place for you at the table, and we are all better off if you are here. Together we start to ask, who is missing?
Relational Formation – Salvation is a gift, but faith is a team sport. We need each other to help us learn, grow, ask questions and shape our thinking as we stand beneath the cross.
Engaged Service – The hardest part is our calling, to carry the cross. We might come to worship for an hour, but that leaves 167 hours the rest of the week where we work, serve and live among each other and a whole variety of places as scattered yellow sixes, turquoise eights, and silver twelves. All of it is godly work, and God uses us in it.
You might have different ideas, but these are my starting places. We need a strategy because sometimes it feels like the dominos are stacked against us. We can hear the click clicking and it might feel like they are falling closer and closer. But there is something to always bear in mind as people of the cross. Death will not win. Easter is coming. The dominos are falling, true, but they are moving other way.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Hi Geoff, I’ve seen your name on the FB elcaclergy posts and also in response to Keith Anderson’s LIFT postings… “the church is one generation away from extinction” is a reality for 2000 years of Christianity and goes back to Joshua @ Schechem… my missions prof, Tim Huffman, said those same words in 1980 in the fall semester of my last year at seminary… it is Israel’s sin… they were called to be the ‘light of the world’ and they chose Phariseeism… if we choose to not share the ‘light’ what will replace us?