I love puffins. They are without a doubt one of my favourite birds. On land they are comical and graceless, they seem to stagger as they walk carried forward by the weight of their oversized beaks and heads. In flight they are reminiscent of those birdman competitions that take place around the coast each year as men try to emulate flight through enormous effort but only seem to manage a minutely delayed fall. Watch a puffin taking off and you see a whole lot of effort put into something the bird is not built for. See a puffin swim though and you see a bird doing what it was made for. A puffin in water is a creature of effortless grace, moving like a swallow in the air. Darting around with a speed and natural skill that belays its stumpy figure. It’s like suddenly discovering that Shetland Ponies are great showjumpers. It seems incongruous to say the least.
So a puffin has three modes; resting, sat on a rock or a cliff enjoying what it can see around it, in flight, not a comfortable place to be and needs a lot of effort to achieve and maintain and swimming, it’s natural environment where it looks perfectly at one with the world.
Church congregations sometimes seem to be made up of puffins. Ideally, like a puffin, we transition back and forth through those three phases but for us those three phases are a sedentary, prayerful, worshipping, learning by listening mode, that’s an average Sunday morning or house group evening for most of us. Then there’s the equivalent of flight mode, the thing that needs doing but you don’t feel called to, comfortable with or don’t feel is your gifting. For me that’s kids work. I love kids but I don’t want to be a responsible adult with them, I want to play and be silly. It’s hard enough being a responsible adult for my own two. But it needs doing, so I have to work myself up to it. There’s a lot of huffing and puffing, a lot of flapping, but eventually I’m in the air and doing a decent job. (at least I like to think so). Then there’s phase three, the swimming phase. That’s when it’s all good. That’s when God calls on you to do what you’re good at and turn it to his work. That doesn’t have to be big and showy, you don’t have to be a street evangelist. The Meon Angels and Living-Stones are a perfect example of this. Many people can knit, particularly older people, and they sat and knitted little woollen angels. These were matched up with a scripture or encouraging word and distributed all around the area for people to find and keep. Peoples lives were touched by finding these angels and the words they carried. a seed was planted in the lives of over 700 people by knitting. God can put all skills, all gifts, all abilities, to his work.
Many of us spend way to much time in phase one, often because phases two and three seem hard or scary. The effort needed to fly can be overwhelming and the thought that God has given you a gift you can use in his service can be equally terrifying. However, a solid group will move into phase two because they will recognise that in any church a certain number of things have to happen for church to happen. Some will choose to live there, flapping and working hard to serve others, serving tea and coffee with a smile even when they want to scream. Some of them will never know the peace of phase one or the joy of phase three. A small number will recognise their natural gifts, be it leading worship or writing letters of encouragement or praying for others or speaking kindly to the woman in Tesco after the customer before them has been foul. It is tempting to remain in that gifting once you have recognised and accepted it and never try to fly. “I can’t do kids church, God has called me to …”
The trouble is, for a church to operate you need everyone to be a whole puffin, to sit on rocks, to fly and to swim. Sitting on the rocks is when you are receiving from God, filling your tank so you can do things. Flying, that’s where you support the nuts and bolts of church, where you help with the things that make church possible. Swimming? Swimming is that beautiful moment where you and God are in perfect sync. He’s smiling, you’re smiling and there is a real joy to be had in doing, whether that’s singing, painting, praying, knitting or making good coffee. Which brings me to the question I want to leave you with. Are you a whole puffin? Do you swim, fly and stand?