I recently read an article from Civil Eats entitled “Can Teaching Kids to Cook Make Them Healthier in Life?,” and the answer is mixed. Though it certainly makes sense that planting healthy habits early on in life can have positive impacts over time, the problem is more intersectional: access to healthy food was the largest determination of overall wellness.
In schools and community centers, children’s cooking programs and agricultural garden-to-table experiences have been on the rise in the past decade, and doctors, specialists, researchers, and teachers have all been a part of the process to ensure success. But somehow, the key factor of access was forgotten, and it’s clear that this one component makes all the difference.
In the ministry field, we experience complications like these; we strive to provide high quality children and youth ministries, we pour over different curricula to make sure we choose the right program, we send our kids to summer camps, and we offer adult education so all can be nourished and fostered. And so often, we are disappointed, sometimes heartbroken, when it feels like we’ve missed the mark, when attendance doesn’t increase, when the church is in financial straits.
Another added pressure can come from around and above us: we can sometimes feel we’re called to be the ministry industry, a church complex that produces “believers” left and right with measurable markers that define our success or “growing edges.” While hard and fast goals can be an important tool, there may be other things going on under the surface.
Even if we plant the seeds of faith early, even if we do everything right according to ministry experts, we may not see results. Much like teaching kids to cook, we may be missing a key factor. What is the church’s “food insecurity”? What is it that the church is forgetting to consider?
This is the question on the hearts and minds of all who are intimately connected to the church: how do we ensure the church’s survival into the 21st century? And perhaps, this is the wrong question to ask. Are we seeking mere survival, or do we want to see the life of the church thrive? What would that look like?
Perhaps the church’s “food insecurity” is the inability to recognize that cultural systems, including the church and religion in general, change over time. The church is no longer centered within church buildings; church is taking place in dance studios, in laundromats, and in community centers. The church is expanding into drum circles, in hiking groups, and over Sunday brunch. While this may seem like anathema to some, these practices are built on the “healthy habits” of our ancestors, who themselves recognized the Divine in every part of their lives, not just on the Sabbath, and not just within the temple. For them, God wasn’t just the priority, but became their reason for being. When we recognize this fundamental shift from building to world, it is here where we find the growth for which we’re looking.
But this doesn’t happen overnight. We may plant the seed, where it lays dormant under the heavy wet soil, but we may not see the sprout push up through the dirt. We may plant a seedling directly into the earth, but we may not be around to see it produce fruit.
And that’s okay. It takes time. And that’s okay.
When we recenter our faith off the church building itself, and onto the Divine, miracles happen. Seeds planted two thousand years ago come alive, and we have the distinct privilege and responsibility to care for and usher in this new form of faith community.
And I cannot wait to see what’s next.