John and May Hakala were second-generation Finns who lived for a time in Kotzebue, Alaska. Kotzebue is remote—even for Alaska. Pastor Michael Lindvall, who knew the Hakalas when he was growing up, heard stories of their life in this far-off place, including one about eggs.
When John and May lived in Kotzebue in the 1950s, the supply ship came in from the outside world only once a year. You can’t grow anything that far north, so all your food for the whole year except for local game came in on that annual boat. They froze what they could and hoped the rest would keep.
John and May Hakala liked eggs for breakfast. So every year, they’d order a whole year’s supply of eggs. Refrigerated eggs don’t go rotten, but they, well, they change; they change very slowly.
Every morning, John and May would enjoy their eggs. They tasted fine. They never noticed a change, one day to the next, as the weeks and months went by. Finally, the annual supply boat would arrive.
Can you imagine eating fresh eggs after eating year-old ones? John and May would fry them up…and the fresh eggs would taste just awful.
May said that they would want to spit them out of their mouths for the first few days, and she would search the fridge for some year-old ones. They’d gotten so accustomed to stale eggs, one day at a time, that they liked them better stale than fresh.
In many ways, the pandemic season has slowly accustomed congregations to eating stale eggs. Day by day, week by week, whether we realized it or not, the deprivation of not being together in church has drawn us to think more about our own needs in church, and less about the needs of the world. Much of our congregational focus has been on the part of church that is lived “inside the walls.”
Church life now – as the pandemic recedes – holds the opportunity for a fresh supply of eggs. But many are not experiencing this moment as an opportunity for freshness. “Restore, return, and re-establish” is not a robust mission statement for 2022, but that is where many congregations find themselves.
How do you learn to enjoy the fresh supply of “ministry eggs?”
First, insistently re-focus your church life on life outside the church’s walls. Commit to having your church be an equipping station that sends followers of Jesus into the world. Everything about church – from worship, to education, to fellowship, to pastoral care – becomes an opportunity to equip everyone to be Christ’s person in the world. (The corollary is also true: activities that do not equip should receive less focus and fewer resources.) We exist, as a gathered group of believers in the Living God, to be scattered as we go into this world of great need, carrying God’s love and hope with us.
We usually don’t know how to do that equipping well in the beginning. So, second, the church needs to be a safe space for innovation and creativity, as we let God’s Spirit work in us and through us. We will fail, we will disagree, we will need to work it all out. But we do so, as God’s beloved, in ways that are safe and respectful and kind with one another.
Churches need to reach for challenges beyond themselves. When I hear congregations lamenting changed worship times, staffing transitions, music choices, or (you can fill in the blank here for what you are hearing in your setting), I think “these folks need to look up and out.” When a congregation stretches itself beyond its own comfort zone and tries to meet the challenges of the world with the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything about internal conversations changes. There is no time to argue about all those “color of the carpet” controversies when we are stretched to the limit trying to be God’s people in the world. Encountering and addressing real human need for meaning and purpose has a way of changing conversations.
The best news is that God does not send the resupply boat once a year. God’s promises – and God’s provisions – are new every day. If we are open to it, God will keep every part of our ministry fresh. And we need not eat stale eggs ever again.