It was just a few days before Christ the King Sunday. We were on our monthly video chat–two of my college friends and I. I was talking about the church I pastor (Ecclesia Baptist), the ministry service projects we maintain, and the connection we have to Cuban Baptists. I was wondering aloud how Ecclesia might be a part of the solution to some of the systemic problems faced in our community. My friends agreed that our call as followers of Christ is to reach those outside our congregational fellowship.
“Too many churches act like groups of emperor penguins,” one said. “They turn their backs to the world and just take care of their own.”
Wait, what? Listen, I love a good penguin reference as much as the next mammal. But I had to look this one up to understand what she meant.
Penguin temperature control hack
Here’s what I learned: Emperor penguins form turtle formations–compact huddles with the juvenile penguins on the inside and the hardier, more mature penguins on the outside–to fight extreme cold. It works great! A colony of penguins–from tens to thousands–turn towards each other, lean in shoulder to shoulder, and form a tight, heat-efficient pod. The outer birds slowly shuffle in and out so that no one bird is constantly exposed to the elements. Genius, right?
Right. If you’re artic water birds fighting to survive in subzero temperatures. But if you’re a church trying to live into the life and work of Christ, and you’re circling in instead of reaching out. . . ? Not the best strategy.
Kingdom building beats penguin huddling
I’ve thought a lot about this image since that conversation. The thing is, we do need to keep each other warm, to provide a shoulder to the weary, and to accept the loving care of others. That’s a part of being church–it’s a beautiful, life-giving quality of church life. The problem is when that’s all we do, when we only shuffle around each other, taking turns among ourselves, shouldering the burdens of our tribe in turn. If we never look beyond ourselves to those outside our huddle who are facing struggles . . . well that makes us great emperor penguins, but pretty poor servants of King Jesus.
That brought to mind Christ the King Sunday. It’s the Sunday we dedicate to imagining what the world would be like if Christ truly reigned over all humanity. In order to do that, we must dream big, and exaggerate all that might be possible if instead of acting like a bunch of emperor penguins, we all truly lived as children of the King.
What would that look like? Well, here’s a place to start: Psalm 146:6-9.
. . . God: who is faithful forever,
who gives justice to people who are oppressed,
who gives bread to people who are starving!
The Lord: who frees prisoners.
The Lord: who makes the blind see.
The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low.
The Lord: who loves the righteous.
The Lord: who protects immigrants,
who helps orphans and widows,
but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!