A flannel graph is simply a board covered in felt-like fabric on which you might place cut out images with tacky backing in order to tell a story and, my teachers had books full of characters and settings for recounting any number of biblical events.
But not all of the biblical events. I remember getting to a place in my Sunday School journey where I began to wonder irreverently what it would look like to tell some of the "juicier" stories in flannel graph. To tell the story of Elisha on the way to Bethel we would need cut outs for a bald prophet, 42 saucy lads, and 2 she-bears with bloody claws and muzzles. Those weren't in the standard set. David and Bathsheba, Ehud's treatment of Eglon, and any number of other events would have, if accurately portrayed, made the flannel board a thing of great scandal.
And I understand why my teachers were not interested in teaching us the more salacious stories in scripture. I get that. But I also appreciate that God gave us an earthy, edgy narrative that makes us squirm and that refuses to be bowdlerized. There are times when reading the word of God that you can almost hear the Author of that word chuckling to himself and muttering "flannel graph this!"
This all came to mind as I was preparing for this Sunday's sermon, in which Rahab comes up. (The first version of that sentence read: "in which I touch on Rahab." I thought better of that wording.)
There will be children in attendance but the biblical record is clear about the fact that Rahab was a prostitute, and this can make the preacher squirm. It doesn't appear to have any narrative significance which, ironically, makes its clear inclusion all the more significant. Rahab was someone who was paid to have sex with men. And she was a woman of great faith whose faith gave her, ultimately, a place in Jesus' lineage.
Let one takeaway be this: how we want to tell the stories, and who we think might be an appropriate audience for the stories, has no bearing on the stories our great Author ends up telling.
If the story that grace is working out in your life contains the sort of details you fear would have no place on a flannel graph, take heart. You will be able to say with Rahab that it is better to have a story that makes it into the "Book of Life," than to have the sort of story that might show up on a flannel graph.
Our mission as a church is to make more and better disciples. It’s that simple. It’s also that hard.
Over time I’ve come to find the old metaphor of the trellis and the vine to be a helpful way of thinking about that mission and the work of the church.
When we see someone put her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation for the first time, or someone who has been a believer taking new steps of radical obedience, that is the growth of the vine that gives us our reason for being.
But the health and extent of the vine depends, at least in part, on the sturdiness and availability of the trellis. For us, the trellis is composed of things like our buildings, staff, website, church management software, sound equipment, etc. These things must never be mistaken for the mission of the church: they are the things we do and invest in for the sake of fulfilling the mission.
Our story as a church could be told in terms of the trellis and vine. There have been seasons in our life as a church where we had a lot more trellis than we did vine. And there have been those heady seasons when it was all we could do to make sure our trellis was keeping up with the vine.
When the folks in North Chittenden left their building in the lovely valley to set up church in a warehouse on Route 7 it was trellis work in the interest of a vine we believed that God would grow.
When the folks in Forest Dale decided to merge with Furnace Brook it was not because the existing vine demanded that sort of trellis, but because we didn’t want the size or health of our trellis to determine the size of God’s vine.
And this is such a season in the life of our church. The addition of a full time staff person is one of the many delightful things that have happened to expand our trellis in anticipation of the vine.
And early indications are that our Invite Your One Sunday on October 22nd is arriving at the same time that a wave of momentum is swelling for us as a church. This is providential and exciting, but it will mean something for our trellis that we didn’t see coming even a month or two ago.
After much prayer and discussion with leaders in the church we have decided that the time has come for us to go to two services in Pittsford. Starting October 15th we will have a 9:00 service in Pittsford and 11:00 services in both locations. Already we are having people step up to take on responsibilities at Forest Dale and we are putting together a teaching team to assist Pastor Tate with the preaching at 11:00.
We are committing to this arrangement through Christmas and we will evaluate in early December before making a decision about extending the service schedule into the new year.
We are really intent on making more and better disciples for Jesus, and we are cheerfully convinced that adding this service will help us to accomplish that mission.
Honestly, we don’t have a solution for every problem that this creates or an answer for every question that it raises. But we are confident that this is an act of obedience and that the God who has called us will not fail to equip us.
And it's not because they don't have a heart for people who are far from God. It's not because they want to keep the church from growing. And it's not because they're afraid of losing their seat to someone new.
There is no exaggerating how strong an inhibition many of us have when it comes to inviting someone to church. We may be very grateful that someone invited us, but the thought of doing the same for someone else induces shaky sweats and hopeless stammering.
Not all inhibitions need to be overcome (as with the pastor's inhibition regarding skinny jeans: can we get an "Amen!?")
But where our inhibitions are preventing us from being faithful we cannot resign ourselves to being forever checked by our hang-ups. Consider trying the following steps to overcoming your inhibitions in a way that honors God.
1. Fear God more.
In Psalm 34 David makes clear that fearing the Lord is not just the key to turning from evil, but for actually doing good. Think about it. At the root of most inhibitions is a fear: fear of failure, or of embarrassment, or of losing control, etc. If you have not been able to overcome those fears, you can still, wisely, give the place of privilege to a better fear. I could, for instance, overcome my inhibition about crashing a celebrity filled cocktail party, if it was the only way I could escape a lion. And God is the lion that I am right to fear, and right to trust.
2. Get Biblical.
Knowing with confidence what God wants me to do and to avoid doing is a great antidote to knowing with anxiety what my psychological state wants me to do and to avoid doing.
3. Count the cost.
Jesus said that before any great undertaking it is wise and necessary to "count the cost." And he's right (of course), but in some surprising ways. We typically think of a failure to count the cost as leading to reckless behavior. But it also leads to entrenched inhibitions. Our inhibitions say to us "don't risk that. It will cost you too much." And what we need to learn to do is to push back against our inhibition and demand to know "exactly how much could it cost me?" With the inhibition regarding inviting people to church, for instance, we need to be able to ask ourselves, 'what is the worst case scenario here?'
Honestly, the worst case scenario (which is possible, but unlikely) is that the person you invite will respond angrily or derisively. And then ask yourself, 'Is that a cost I can afford?' The answer is likely 'yes.' Counting the cost is deflating to an inhibition.
4. Take yourself lightly.
It was G.K. Chesterton who famously said that "the reason angels can fly is because they take themselves so lightly."
The Psalmist says (paraphrasing) "when I think about all the mind-boggling stuff you've done (bio-luminescent fish, springs from deep places, the Aurora Borealis) I don't even know why you think about me, much less care for me!"
Most inhibitions have, at their root, a little, hidden self-importance. I don't want to risk inviting someone to church because I don't want to look ridiculous if they say no. But I am a flimsy bi-ped with a short life span who is deeply and strangely loved by the God of the universe. No botched social interaction could make me look more ridiculous than I actually am. Taking myself lightly renders my inhibitions impotent.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog