Soapbox Philosophy: Hundreds in WB involved, more powerful than government by Gregory R. Norfleet · Op-Ed · November 09, 2012
Elections are important. Our government is very powerful. And that includes every government entity from the school board to city council to our state legislature to the U.S. Congress. Now that the robocalls and mailers have come to a screeching halt, and letters to the editor have dropped down from a tidal wave to a trickle, we will wait for our new leaders to take their positions and begin making changes.
But there is another entity that has the potential to be even more powerful than our system of government. It is right here in West Branch and there are hundreds of people involved.
It is, of course, the church. And by “church” I mean the people, not the buildings.
There are several churches (buildings) in West Branch — Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Quaker — where “the church” shows up every single week to worship and learn about God. They also hold Vacation Bible School during the summer, or collect school supplies for the needy, or host speakers to draw folks who don’t regularly attend.
I wonder, though, if the churches remember, from week to week, how much power and influence they really have — not only in this community, but in our nation and world.
Two of my three boys this past week told me about new kids in their classrooms. Over the years my boys have lamented about friends who have moved away or transferred to another school. It is clear that the quality of life in our city, and the good schools, and the proximity to Iowa City and the University of Iowa draw many people here, even if only for one to five years.
That turnover can be an asset, though, especially to the church, because it gives us a greater chance to reach more people. Yes, it is hard to attract new members, but if you can reach out to new families and get them plugged into your church body, you have yet another person whom you can help grow.
I heard a statistic Saturday that even the most introverted person will influence about 10,000 people in their lifetime.
That means that you, the person reading this column right now, will have somehow, to some degree, changed the lives of more than four times the population of the city of West Branch.
That is much more than a pat on the back — it is a responsibility we should all take very seriously. It is also exciting.
Now imagine how big that number grows when you actively engage your community, whether you volunteer at the church or in a civic organization or run for a seat on the school board or city council. Imagine your overall impact on society as a teacher, or coach, or Sunday school leader.
And while you’re thinking about that, you need to consider what kind of an influence you are to the world around you. Is your personality unpredictable? Are your opinions based on knee-jerk reactions? Or are you mature and friendly with well-thought-out beliefs?
It is not hard to argue that those with established, consistent lifestyles and beliefs will have a broader, deeper impact on the people around them.
Now imagine that in the context of the church body. Each of the denominations has their own differences. But if their fundamental beliefs are rooted in the Bible and their members pray and really have a heart for winning people over to God, then that would increase the number of people they influence, possibly tenfold.
Now couple that with the turnover we see in this city, plus the number of children who graduate from West Branch High School and venture out to cities from coast to coast. There are between 50 and 70 WBHS grads every year, and they will either enter the workforce or the military or, most likely, enter college. Imagine that, because of their time spent in this very city, they traveled to those new places with a plan to reach others for God.
Secondly, West Branch residents work in other towns — Iowa City, Coralville, Cedar Rapids, Tipton, Davenport and many others. Imagine if every one of those people walked into their respective offices, or onto their work sites, with the thought of doing their jobs so well as to glorify God.
But good character alone won’t get us very far. Our churches need a plan — a way to bring people in, build them up and then, as they are already doing, branch out.
It is because of the church body’s one-on-one relationships that they have a greater chance than government to influence people for a lifetime. Churches that are organized around personal interactions — small-group Bible studies, mentoring relationships, helping those in need, etc. — are strengthening the grassroots system that should be the core of the Christian way of changing the world.
That’s not to say that we stop having pastors deliver a Sunday sermon from the pulpit because it lacks the one-on-one relationship. We still need that, but it should only be a part of a bigger ministry.
Government and politics often attract people who want to change the world. Churches can help make sure that a large percentage of them are ready to lead with principles and standards. But anyone who has read the New Testament knows that Jesus, who with His disciples encouraged people to do everything to the best of their abilities and talents, never ran for political office himself.
The priority was reaching people face to face.
For example, while most in the church get angry that abortion is legal, for some reason the number of women having them is, albeit slowly, coming down. A church that is organized and effective can raise up a generation of believers who reject this option, and may influence many more to do the same.
Those laws with which we morally disagree only tell us what we are permitted or not permitted to do, but we decide. And that character can influence others.
It takes time, planning, a bit of courage and a solid foundation, but the church body in West Branch can leverage its influence to impact the world more than our government.