I’ve seen a lot of unusual things, people and events in airports. It takes something special to get a reaction from me. Recently, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. In fact, I took a photo (above) of the sign just to be sure I was seeing what I thought I saw. It took place in the Milwaukee Airport, just past the point where everyone goes through security.
Above a few benches was a sign that read: Recombobulation Area. Really. On a permanent, installed sign. I chuckled, and then laughed out loud.
Recombobulation: a word I had never seen or heard before. However, I knew immediately what it meant and my laughter was my way of saying “thank God for such an area!” Sure enough, I watched as men, women and children stumbled out of the security area with belts, shoes, phones, and all sorts of other belongings in disarray. A recombobulation area proved to be exactly what was needed after the discombobulation they had just endured. Recombobulation accurately described the individuals and families I watched put themselves back together after being dis-assembled in the security line.
The dictionary says that to discombobulate someone is “To confuse or disconcert, to upset, to frustrate.” Clearly, that is the way many people feel about going through the rigors of airport security.
Actually, that is an apt description of the state of mind that I find in many congregations. They are discombobulated by the challenges of being a local church in the 21st century.
Methods, programs and ideas that worked for decades now prove ineffective. It’s confusing to live in a culture that claims piety but disdains engaging in a local church. It’s disconcerting to look around and realize that the younger generation is conspicuous by their absence on Sunday mornings. It’s upsetting to watch good church members migrate to the local megachurch “for the sake of the kids” or simply to walk away from church altogether. It’s frustrating to bring in new staff only to find the decline in attendance and finances continues unabated.
Discombobulation is also an appropriate word to describe the lives of people of faith in their vocational, family and social life. We watch as Christ-followers regularly stagger into the sanctuary with a look of bewilderment on their face. Life is becoming stranger and more unpredictable. What was familiar is becoming foreign to us. What’s that old line? “Everything that was nailed down seems to be coming loose.”
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians speaks to people living in a similar time when he says “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
We might say: “we have been discombobulated, but we have found a recombobulation area!”
What if we claimed recombobulation as a primary focus of ministry in the coming year? To recombobulate is to put things in their proper place, to re-establish order in the midst of chaos. It is to realign ourselves with some norm and move on, prepared for whatever comes next.
In an airport, it means getting your shoes back on the correct feet, your belt threaded through all the loops, your electronics back in place, your hair reasonably groomed and your luggage repacked.
In life as a disciple, it means being able to endure the pressures, persecutions and unexpected twists and turns of living without sinking into despair. It means finding a source of strength and endurance when the biopsy is bad or the friendship sours. It means having a relationship with Christ at the core of our being that enables us to “walk by faith and not by sight”. We echo Corrie Ten Boom who famously responded to a question of how she was able to maintain her faith in the midst of intense heartache and persecution. Her reply: “The storm is around me, not within me.”
For local churches, it means being clear and well-defined about our mission and vision. When culture and politics and events of the day erupt in chaos, healthy congregations hold fast to their core identity and shared mission to be agents of reconciliation. They talk to one another, not about one another. They lean into hard questions and build authentic community in the midst of a culture that devalues both.
If we will create a community of faith that helps people bring order to their chaos, peace in the midst of their conflict, hope where they only know despair, and purpose to a meaningless life, we will have done the thing that Jesus clearly had in mind when he commissioned his disciples.
Regardless our budget, physical facilities or number of people who attend, we will have created a Recombobulation Area and offered it to a world desperately seeking such a thing…even if they don’t know what to call it.