Church Chairs in the Christmas Story?
We walked out of a meeting with one of our strategic partners, “Hey, I want to introduce you guys to another one of our clients, an architectural firm,” Bill said.
“Great, we love making connections with people we can help,” I responded. As manufacturers it is always nice when our church chairs are specified for construction projects. When this happens our church chairs along with other furnishings needed by local congregations get into the overall budget. Oddly enough furnishings and fixtures are often overlooked until the last minute leaving congregations scrambling for a quick decision on furnishings that usually result in purchases of inferior products. Think about it, furnishings are the most personal part of the interface a congregation and visitors have with a building.
Bill said, “Jim, this is Ray and Bruce from Bertolini Sanctuary® Seating – they manufacture church chairs here in Chino.”
Jim looked up and started laughing, “You manufacture chairs? How exciting,” he said with a tone that wavered between astonishment and incredulity. “Sounds boring,” he said punctuated the inferred opinion on the significance of meeting us.
“Nothing is boring around us I retorted, we understand the significance of furniture in the vision of the church – to us it is fun and fascinating.” Ok, the meeting was off to a good start. The conversation turned to the usual professional ritual of questions and answers and the trading of business cards. The whole encounter lasted a whopping 90 seconds, but it left me contemplating something.
Surely compared to envisioning a missional strategy or thinking about the visual message of architecture and how the environment creates a favorable foundation for ministry – manufacturing chairs might sound a little anti-climatic. I wondered how many offerings of time, energy, resource and imagination end up being categorized as boring but necessary in a way that fails to see the significance of the offering from God’s perspective.
What Kind of Offering Does God Desire?
I have the privilege of serving in multiple capacities on boards, teaching in seminaries and universities, working with church staffs … but if Jesus were born today and I joined the Magi in worship and presenting gifts I would take chairs. Sure I can offer my intellect, by experience, my energy and I do. But there is something significant about working in a company that is committed to serving the church through quality seating. In presenting chairs while Magi presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh I picture several things.
First, I see myself presenting this gift with a team. Metal workers, upholstery workers, planners, marketers, sales team, accounting, quality, customer service, shipping, purchasing, inventory control and governance team members all contribute to the production of our church chairs. These craftsmen, professionals and laborers manufacture and ship out church chairs with great pride in their product. I can’t think of a more moving picture of worship than bowing before Christ with this team as we present the fruit of our collective efforts.
Second, I see Christians freely and openly (not obnoxiously or artificially) experiencing and demonstrating God’s love and power at work. It is easy to forget that the bulk of ministry that occurs during each week does not occur Sunday morning – Sundays refocus, train, sharpen and equip the church for the work of ministry. Ministry really starts Monday morning! I loved thinking about this when I served as lead pastor in several congregations. I often thought about how to help the men and women in my congregation see that they are the church in action each week. I thought I had a pretty good handle on this. Then, I entered a new phase of ministry that took me to the business, academic and professional world rather than the church office – a transition I often have to explain that was not the result of moral lapse or failure on my part but obedience to the calling of Christ.
A year after this transition I found myself serving on a church board. I called together the last church board I worked with as a pastor and asked them to forgive me for my arrogance and my ignorance in not recognizing their full contribution to ministry more clearly. We wept together and laughed together and made a commitment together to always help the church avoid the bifurcation between secular and sacred that I exhibited by simply not understanding the daily grind faced by the men and women I served. Try as I did to avoid an ivy tower perspective the fact is my praxeological assumption about ministry was often times too narrow in application. The problem is that I am not alone in possessing a similarly distorted view of ministry and work.
I am reminded every day I walk into the office, or the factory, or the classroom or the auditorium to speak that the most important gift I ever present to God is simply myself. Talents, experience, knowledge, or products are only dim reflections of who I am. To be truly present with God and to be truly present with others as the unique and creative individual is the most meaningful gift anyone brings to God.
Third, I image going to the local Starbucks with the magi after our visit to Bethlehem. I want to interview them to know how they knew it was God at work in them, what prompted them to go to Bethlehem, how did the journey and encounter with angelic messengers and seeing the Messiah impact their worldview? What changes do they anticipate making when they return home because of the journey of worship and discovery they took? Most of all I want to know what they plan on telling their children and grandchildren about the experience. What a great interview this would be.
Rethink our Understanding of Ministry – Be Incarnational
We manufacture church chairs. We are excited about the process because we believe in the greater purpose we serve – that is the mission of the church. It is not boring to us, it is exciting and challenging and demanding. To others our work may just be a chair…to us it is an offering based on who we are in our talents, our skills, our abilities, our creativity and ourselves.
In this season it may be good to ask what it would look like to transpose yourself into the Bethlehem visit. What would you present? Are you confident in that presentation? When you think about this do you see a need to change how you think or act?
Who would you take with you? Why would you take them? The magi traveled together not independently. This infers something to me about the social nature of worship and work and the significance of the social nature we share as people. Being with others seems to accentuate the value of my experience and fulfillment in work and worship.
When Jim left the conversation with me and Bruce he was just a little excited about church chairs and about knowing us. I don’t know how to measure the significance of what we do in manufacturing church chairs if it is placed in comparison to healing the sick, leading someone to saving faith in Christ, feeding the hungry or finding a cure to Aids. I do know the significance to the people who need a chair, or the families that depend on their job here to pay for their housing and food and healthcare. I also know the significant of what we do when measured against the risk of purchasing furniture and what it feels and looks like as it is used. Gold, frankincense, myrrh and church chairs? You bet that is our Christmas story and we love sharing it with everyone we can.
Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in cross-cultural leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.