When I was little, my father was actually a fairly avid cyclist. He didn’t race, or do marathons or anything, but several days a week, especially during the summer, he would ride several miles on his bright red, 12-speed, multi-gear, bike.
My dad took great care of his bike. It was always clean and shiny, kinked and broken chains were always fixed, and the tires always had air. My father took great care of this bike because he wanted to ensure that whenever he used it, it would operate at peak performance.
One particular day, I found my dad in the downstairs bathroom submerging what I thought was his bike tire in a sink full of water.
“What are you doing to your tire?” I asked.
He chuckled, kinda how I do as an adult when people ask me questions that are about to devolve into long discussions. “It’s not the tire,” he replied. “It’s the inner tube.”He continued to manipulate the snake-looking cylinder under the water. “I think….” He paused for a moment, staring before he finished his sentence. “…there’s a leak… and I’m trying to find it.”
I stared into the water. I didn’t say anything, because my dad wasn’t saying anything, but I thought the entire practice was ludicrous and taking entirely too long.
My impatience started to get the best of me before my dad let out an epiphany grunt. “Ah! You see? Look!” he said as he pointed with his finger. Sure enough, at one section of the inner tube, the smallest bubbles I’d ever seen were rapidly escaping out of a tiny hole.
My dad sighed and let the water out. “I gotta get a new inner tube,” he said as he dried his hands.
Then, I thought his decision was odd. The hole was so tiny we could barely see it. A quick patch would fix the problem and my dad could be on his way. Right?
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that patching a hole doesn’t fix an inner tube—it just buys you a little more time by delaying the inevitable. My dad realized that as much as he biked, as much stress as he was about to put on his tires over the next few months, a simple patch over the tiny hole would only lead to bigger problems later. No matter how tight the patch could’ve been, the leak was there, and he may have found himself stranded in the middle of place he didn’t want to be, with a flat tire, even though he “patched” the problem. In fact, because of the patch on an old inner tube, the stress of the temporary fix could quite possibly form a new hole someplace else. He knew that replacing the old inner tube would save him from a headache much later down the line.
I wish I could pivot gracefully into my overall point. But I can’t. So here it goes:
Our churches are a lot like bikes. We’ve been “riding” on them for years, coasting on our cookie-cutter programming, shifting gears in our “by the books” morning service format, dressing up our same old frame because we love how it looks and feels….
But there’s a leak in the inner tube…
We’ve known it was there. We’ve ignored it for years. All of us. The leak was apparent when our memberships weren’t really growing. The leak was apparent when we kept re-baptizing people that were already in the faith and counting them as new numbers. We knew the leak was there when our morning services were packed, but our evening or mid-day and mid-week services weren’t even worth opening the building for. We knew it was there when our young people insisted on hanging out in the hallways and our young adults stopped coming altogether.
There’s a leak in the inner tube…
And then 2020 arrived, with a sink full of water. And while our churches were “underwater,” the bubbles started to surface revealing the tiny holes we kept ignoring. We could no longer rely on a lively service filled to the brim with people, or interactive sermons where the congregation responds to the call of their preacher. We could no longer rely on the feeling of the drums in our chest or the volume of the organ and piano forcing us into song. We could no longer rely on in-person Bible study where we can force Brother or Sister So-in So to answer a question because we could place a hand on their shoulder. We’ve realized that all of these were patches put on an inner tube that’s been leaking.
And waiting for the pandemic to be over so things can get “back to normal,” means that we haven’t learned anything. We haven’t acknowledged that the bubbles, big ones, are floating to the surface of this sink full of water, and we need something new.
My father, when he put the inner tube underwater, had a contingency plan. Before he even filled the sink up, he knew that if there was a leak in the inner tube, he was going to buy a new one. Could he have done a temporary patch? Sure. But it wouldn’t have lasted. He wouldn’t have been able to bike the way he wanted. He wouldn’t have been able to achieve the distance he wanted. He wouldn’t have been able to navigate the terrain he wanted.
So to my leaders, I encourage you to get your contingency plan together. Your internet stream is just a patch. Your pre-recorded programs and song services are just a patch. Your Zoom discussions, panels and virtual choirs are just a patch.
When this “thing is over” you can’t go back to the same way. You can’t go back to the same format, you can’t re-embrace the same traditions that low-key ignored the overall mission and commission of the Christian church.
There are leaks in your inner tube…
And when the sink drains, if you’re not willing to invest in something brand new, you’re going to find yourself stranded.
Because if truth be told…there are those of us that have been using this pandemic to replace our own inner tubes. And because you don’t have the foresight to replace your own, when you reopen your doors, after this “pandemic is over,” the bikes you are expecting to come rolling through the door, aren’t going to be as many as you think.
You know I’m right