Playing with Legos

by Ron Vanderwell

I find myself spending a lot of my time playing with Legos.   Perhaps you’ve noticed that. If you look around our church you’ll see those little building blocks showing up in the most random places: in my office, in the mail trays on office doors, even on the stage in the auditorium. What’s with all the Legos?

Legos can be fascinating. If you’ve ever created something out of those knobby little plastic blocks you know satisfying it can be to take a pile of random, unconnected pieces and turn them into a house or semi-truck or a really cool robot that could do your homework for you.

But here’s the thing about Legos: they have to be fitted together for anything to really happen. If I dump a pile of Legos out on my desk they’ll never be more than a pile of Legos, no matter how much I might shuffle them around. It’s not until I start carefully piecing them together that something starts to happen. Then I could probably create almost anything: a replica of Wrigley Field or maybe the football stadium at the University of Phoenix, complete with Marshawn Lynch not scoring the winning touchdown.   (OK, I’m reaching a little with that last one, but you get the point).

I’ve found that leading a church—especially a church in transition—can be a lot like playing with Legos. You’ve got all these pieces spread out in front of you, each of them important in their own unique way. Yet with churches, as with Legos, its not the size of the pile in front of you that counts, its what can be created when those pieces start fitting together that really matters.

During the past couple years the other leaders here at New Life Church have been joining me in my fascination with Legos. A little over two years ago our Council and staff members went away on an overnight leadership retreat to dump all of our Legos out together and get a good look at them. We took stock of a lot of different kinds of building blocks: memories of things God had done in the past, various strengths and opportunities that God had given our church, and even some of the specific challenges that we could see if we squinted into our future. We laid these out like so many plastic blocks and began to figure out what needed to happen next.

When we came back we got right to work with those Legos.   Some of us spent time together answering some basic questions about what we were really trying to do with our blocks.   Then we jumped into some of the hard work of figuring out how to better connect the various Legos spread out in front of us. We started with our staff—our staff began disassembling and reassembling their Lego pieces on the fly right in the center of our ministry. That was hard work, but our staff has now reconnected their Legos in a way that looks very different than they ever have in the past.

Then we began looking at the different programs that made up our ministry. We realized that while those blocks were often clicked to each other, most of them had very little connection to the leadership blocks at the center of our church, leaving them vulnerable and sometimes frustrated. We began the slow, difficult process of fitting all those blocks together. It’s actually not that difficult to click plastic building blocks together. But as you might suspect, it can be very delicate work trying to help human building blocks to fit together well.

Its now been a little over two years since we shared that overnight Lego-party. A lot has happened since then. Our staff has been developing a lot of new Lego-skills, and our Council has begun envisioning some of the amazing things that we might do with all the Lego blocks that God with which God has blessed us. It’s been nerve-wracking at times: often we find ourselves wondering why all this reconnecting has to take so long. Sometimes we’re tempted to just shove the blocks together and hope they’ll somehow stay connected.

At our Family Gathering in November I told everyone my sense that we were 2½ years into a 3-year transition as prepared to build something durable with our Legos. For some, that has been too long. But almost every week I find I get into conversations with others who are having fun discovering new surprises of what can happen with our Lego blocks if we build with them thoughtfully.   The gaps in our ministry through which things used to fall have been closing. The weariness and burnout that had become common in some areas has now taken on a much more helpful tone. Most importantly, our relationships (which have always been foundational at New Life) have become much healthier and more authentic. More and more leaders are forming their own dreams of just what we might build as we become more and more adept at playing with these remarkable building blocks that God has entrusted to us. During the coming weeks I’ll be sharing more of my Lego-projects with you in a series of Lego-oriented posts in this blog. In addition, other leaders will be sharing some of their own experiences in our shared adventure with these knobby little metaphors. I’d love to talk with you about your ideas and dreams.

I find that I spend a lot of my time playing with Legos.   I consider it an honor. Care to join me?

Pastor Ron