Ancient Theory for New Math

Paula Calhoun is leading an amazing congregational relocation, a virtual new church start at Stepping Stone UMC. A beginning to Paula’s ministry has been her work in Scouting. I got to help the Boy Scouts of America celebrate their one hundredth anniversary. (I was a scout during their fiftieth.) Paula shows how scouting can be a means of evangelizing a new generation.

– Will Willimon

Albert Einstein said: “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” I’m neither a physicist nor a mathematician—far from it! But I believe a theory can be used or practiced in order to change the facts.

I’ll give an example. I’m hesitant to use the ‘e’ word, but I’ll say it: evangelism often raises the anxiety level in Christian disciples. We believe in the concept and especially the theology; it’s the practice that sometimes provokes our pause. But to quote Einstein again: “God always takes the simplest way.” Looking back on God’s story, relationship multiplies or increases, including people and blessings. Or, to put it another way: relationship equals evangelism. It’s an ancient theory from a God who scores high in math! (See God with Abram and Sarai, aka Abraham and Sarah[i], or more recently: Jesus and a Woman of Samaria[ii], The Holy Spirit and the Apostle Peter at Pentecost[iii]).

Please hear me—I’m not there, yet. But I’m beginning to see multiplication in a more simple way and I believe facts can be changed by relationship—with God, with self and all others. One means of relationship can be exercised through scouts: Cub, Boy, and Girl Scouts in all their age groups.

I’m sure most of you are way ahead of me on this; so please join the conversation. After all, I grew up in a rural area of Alabama where scouting was not offered. I don’t know why. My parents drove me into town for piano lessons. My sisters took dance lessons. But we didn’t know to ask, “Why doesn’t someone—why doesn’t our church—start a scout troop?”

My entry into scouting came as an adult through the local church. I wouldn’t call the introduction a positive encounter. Standing in a dank fellowship hall smelling of mold and brittle crayons, I listened to stories of the large scout troop that once met there. I could still hear the faint echo of their feet and voices. But it was their feet that brought on the trouble and another “r” word—ruin.

The church council chair loved a pretty tile floor and every week, rain or shine, the fellowship hall floor got tracked up in some way: smudges in the wax finish, sandy grey mud from the parking lot or a few blobs of pizza sauce from the monthly Pack meeting (scouts and leaders practice clean-up, but it’s not a perfect process). And so, the church powers charged with carrying out the Gospel moved a new and not-good-news policy into being: “There will be no scout troop in this church.”

Standing there listening and looking at the spotless, now cracked tile floor in an empty space that leaked life far too long: I wondered if scouts and the ‘new rule’ started the decay and decline. Or—did the decay and decline prompt the thoughts and conversation that grew to fever pitch over a floor that could be mopped!

Thankfully, I came across another church and another and another that celebrate the scouts hosted by local churches. Does it sometimes get messy? Well, do our homes get messy if people live and grow there? Of course! But what a relief to experience life! Movement. Voices. Touch. Smiles. Laughter. And good work. Work that teaches and shapes, supports and guides.

Maybe we’ve hit on a revised theory: S = R = G = G x G. I confessed I’m not good at math! Let me put it another way: ‘Scouts equal Relationships that equal Gospel that equals Grace that multiplies Growth.’

It’s true we never begin with the end at heart, as in: let’s start and support scout troops so that we can grow our church. You can probably think of a good term for that kind of motivation. However—practicing relationship through scouting often prompts us to grow in a variety of ways, including new people, new disciples.

How do we work or practice the theory in order to change the facts? We start with simple gifts and servant ministry. If scouts meet at your local church, contact the leader and ask how you can help; go to one of their meetings or share a fireside event at their next camp-out (your presence is a wonderful gift!). If you enjoy serving in the kitchen, bake cupcakes or cookies for their next meeting. Prepare or help pay for their next pizza party…and if the floor doesn’t shine, grab a mop and make Jesus smile!

If your church already shows hospitality to scouts, here’s a salute to your generous grace! Not involved yet? Invite or begin a new troop in order to practice an ancient, but simple theory: relationship multiplies people and blessings. Act quickly to help change the facts. I look forward to seeing you September 2012 at The Methodist Encampment (more info coming soon)!

Paula Calhoun

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