Lessons I Should Have Learned in Divinity School #2: More Physics

Newton’s law of motion: an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

My last blog entry focused on momentum, and how that concept finds its place in a discussion regarding church congregations, especially in a place like central Maine.

This week, I focus on the other side of the law of motion: inertia. This is also an important concept with which church people must contend, if they are serious about wanting to keep the church going, and to keep sharing the Good News in a robust and meaningful way.

Why is inertia important to my work with a small congregation in central Maine? Inertia takes on a couple of forms, regarding those within the flock and those outside of the flock. Today, I’m mostly thinking about those outside of the flock, but have thought about joining the flock.

I write an occasional column for the Saturday religion page of the local newspaper. These columns sometimes garner a fair amount of response. On several occasions, I’ve heard from people who report that they do not currently attend any church, but they have been thinking about coming to church—they are either looking for a new way of exploring their spiritual side, or there is something from a former church experience that they miss. Most of these people are not interested in the more conservative churches that usually dominate the local Christian landscape. My column has intrigued them, by asserting a clear Christian faith, while also offering an openness that is not found in many of the other churches in the area.

From time to time, someone who has read one of my columns actually shows up for Sunday worship. And, sometimes they even show up another time. But, then it stops. Except for one person, I don’t think anyone who has come to visit under these circumstances has ever attended more than once or twice.

My theory about what is going on here goes back to Newton’s law of motion: an object that is at rest tends to stay at rest.

It’s very difficult for someone to break his/her routine, in almost every aspect of one’s life. For someone who is not in the habit of attending worship on Sunday morning, I believe it is extremely difficult to alter that behavior—even when a person wishes to alter her/his behavior. Even when a person is looking for something along the lines of Christian community, it is a substantive challenge to motivate them to fundamentally break from the habit of not going to church. After all, many of these people are busy people and the thought of adding a new thing to their personal routine is a lot to ask, and is often too complicated to do for more than a week or two.

This is important for church folk to recognize and understand. To break the law of motion that an object at rest tends to stay at rest requires work and an awareness of the obstacle at hand. Good church people must become more aware of certain laws of motion, and human behavior, in order to share their story, and the Good News, in ways that others will find not only compelling, but will inspire a dramatic change in routine and behavior.

The bottom line is that the laws of physics are hard to break, even when we are talking about an “object” that is a human being. Physics may seem a long way from theology, but we see physics at work, though we may prefer not to. But, our own continued refusal to appreciate the laws of physics contributes to our decline. In essence, we need to break our own inertia, and then learn how to effectively, prayerfully and joyfully break the inertia of others.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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