Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Memphis Manatee

I received the weekly newsletter from Cordova Baptist Church in Memphis (I once served as Youth Pastor there), and was shocked to learn that a manatee had been spotted in the Mississippi River. It was discovered by local fishermen. "These old fishermen spotted it two days ago and called the zoo to report that they had seen a prehistoric animal, a Loch Ness monster or something," said Lt. Ed Vidulich with the Memphis Police Harbor Patrol.

Apparently, this eight-foot, 1000-pound behemoth had made the 700-mile journey up the Mississippi River, and spent a few days swimming around in the harbor near Mud Island.

This was a pretty amazing event. According to scientific and historical reports, there had never been a sighting of a manatee so far north up the Mississippi. His presence drew a crowd. People came from all over just to catch a glimpse of the manatee that had wandered into Memphis. They wanted to see this creature that obviously did not belong. Wildlife officials were being flown in from Florida to plan a rescue and get the blubbery critter back to the Gulf Coast. Then, as suddenly as he appeared ... he was gone. The local citizens, as well as the wildlife officials, seemed relieved.

What could have caused his to stray so far north? Surely it must have been seeking something. But what? Graceland? The ribs at the Rondezvous? The ducks at the Peabody? Probably not. Perhaps he was just hungry and looking for food, or lonely and looking for a mate. Maybe he was just curious and looking for something ... he just didn't know what. But whatever he was looking for ... he obviously didn't find it.

But what does this have to do with the church? Plenty, I think. Last week, a family from my church visited a large "First Baptist Church" in a nearby community. They attended to celebrate the baptism of the child of a family member. This family is pretty hard to miss ... they have five kids! The dad reported to me that during their visit, they did not receive a single handshake or word of welcome. No one asked about them. No one invited them to come back. They only received curious stares. They simply felt like they didn't belong ... and they could not wait to leave.

Think about it - How many such "manatees" (guests) wander through the doors of our numerous (almost too many to count) plateaued and declining churches each Sunday? Not many these days. But when they do, it's obvious that they are looking for something. Many times they really don't know what it is that they're looking for ... they're just seeking.

And how do the people of God react? Most of the time we observe. Many times, we observe from a distance. We're afraid to reach out or even to speak. Because, after all, they're not one of us. They don't really belong. Oh, they may "bob around" among us for a while. But eventually they leave. Why? Because the "waters" are just too different from those "waters" of the world in which they live. Because they really don't feel like they belong. And because even though they were looking for something, they just couldn't find "it" ... whatever "it" was. And really, whether we even realize it or not, when they leave many of us are relieved ... because we don't have to change anything to fit our newcomers.

Church ... we have to do better. We have to adapt to reach our culture. We must realize that many of us are trying to minister in the 21st century with 1950's church models, ideas, programs, and mentalities. We must plant new, relevant, cutting-edge churches. If we don't, soon the world will look at us like we are the "lost manatees."

Actual photo of "Manny," the Memphis Manatee.


Blogger Roger Ferrell said...

Of all the things I never thought we would have on our blog, a manatee as Elvis tops the list. Okay, so it is a stretch but I get the connection. But one question: why would a family from your church not look like the folks at First Baptist in a nearby community? Is it just because they are new or is there some rural/city discrimination or what?

2:34 PM  
Blogger Geoff Baggett said...

Roger -
I don't think they really looked different at all. They just "weren't from around here," as the locals tend to say.

So often in our churches we wrap ourselves up within our tiny, confortable cliques. When new people come in, they find it so hard to find acceptance because we refuse to "make room." I think that's what was happening in this situation.

5:29 AM  

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