You Can’t Ride A Frozen Bicycle

I recently visited Sapporo, Japan. The snow was beautiful and preparations for the Ice Festival were quite interesting.

I was there to teach a seminar about making disciples and planting churches. Brought along an extra suitcase filled with winter clothes only to find the daily weather unusually warm, but still freezing overnight.

We got fresh snow each morning. Then enough sun to make the snow soggy. Each night the temperature dropped enough to turn the soggy stew of snow into a mass of ice. And it is here that our story begins…

Snow is pretty stuff. Don’t know if no two snowflakes are truly ever alike but I do know that they are beautiful.

Snowflakes, falling on your face, feel friendly. They wrap the world in a blanket of loveliness, even hushing the harsh sounds of everyday life. It’s easy for them to lull you into inaction. And that is what happened to the owners of a couple of bicycles I found entombed in an icy snowbank .

These bikes were frozen in place. Encased in a mound of ice that rose higher than their axles. You couldn’t get them out without breaking, melting or destroying them in some other way.

The owners made a crucial mistake when snows first appeared. Perhaps there were a couple of days when the snow didn’t stick. Or maybe they got lazy. Either way, lethargy left their bikes useless while other bicyclists regularly traverse the white stuff as they go about their daily business (Yes, Japanese ride bicycles in the snow).

That’s not the only problem, the bikes could be lost. Snowplows regularly toss the stuff into man-high mounds which are often bulldozed into parks or other off-road locations. A snow- covered bike might get crushed under a mountain of ice.

What’s that got to do with you and me?

Well, sometimes we get fresh new ideas—ideas so good that they lull us to sleep. They seduce us into lethargy. Their very freshness is seductive. We find ourselves wrapped in a sweet blanket of innovation only to succumb to the wax and wane of cultural temperatures. In short, our fresh ideas melt a little over time. If we’re not careful they can then freeze into institutional snowbanks.

The problem with those Sapporo bike-owners is that they settled for ownership rather than ridership. In an unholy mix of metaphors, they got off the pony and left it to freeze to death.

This is no cry against long-standing church tradition, though the metaphor would apply. My concern is for lively new church plants that get stuck in the very ideas that gave them life. What causes you to grow can become a trap that keeps you from multiplying. You get encased with the fundraising, programming and other obligations necessary to keep a church running. Meanwhile, you become frozen in time, forgetting the command to make disciples of all nations (peoples???). Routine can lead to a kind of spiritual paralysis resembling the fate of those bikes.

I think the key is ongoing ridership. We must keep moving to stay out of the icebank.

So, what do you think about what I wrote? Has this happened to you? Am I wrong or right? Please use the comment area, below, to share your opinion. I read the comments and they help steer this ship. Thanks much for reading!!!



7 thoughts on “You Can’t Ride A Frozen Bicycle”

  1. What is “discipleship”? The word itself talks of “learning” to be a student of a “discipline”.
    But what view does Christians see as being a “student” of Christ?
    Is it “studying” under a Pastor? Whether it be bible study, church finances and planning, sermon research.
    I believe all of the above… but … discipleship should also start with “serving” … investing and not consumerism… I come to church, I tithe, I attend small group studies… so I think I’m being discipled…
    Shouldn’t it be also serving at the foundation of church service ?
    I see at all too many churches a handful of servants setting up and breaking down (as an example), this is the grass roots of discipleship.. not out of “duty” but it should be a mind set of love and service.. it’s what we do as disciples…. getting our hands in the dirt plowing.
    I also hold the view that every ministry servant whether elder or farmhand, should be actively seeking someone to replace them especially so leaders can raise others in the church to be leaders., so they can move on and grow (be pruned) keep discipling others.. if we don’t let go of a ministry that we have been leading for years and raise others to take our place, ministries do become “institutionalized” and “stagnant” all of us should be expendable “to be others centered”
    it starts within the church, not just with Pastors but with all the body to be “others centered”
    How else we we raise young leaders .. the book of Acts testifies to this.
    Maybe I’m starting to ramble, but I believe discipleship starts with teaching others in all aspects … a leader of a ministry may be an asset, but unless he or she can teach another that value then that asset turns into a liability.. if it is thought no one else can perform that duty then we’ve reached a dry riverbed.
    I’m passionate about these views.. “let go and let God”
    Thank you for the article

    1. Randy, I think you are right in all aspects. As mature believers, we should begin sharing life with others, teaching by our words and example. We should invite our disciples to come alongside and serve with us. If every church member did these two simple things, we would make a much larger impact. I’ve pastored three churches. Whenever we’ve done this well we’ve flourished and multiplied churches. If we didn’t do so well at disciplemaking (including serving others) then we produced far less fruit.

  2. Great analogy Ralph. Though I think much of the cultural church may not look at all like what I read about the church in the New Testament and I see what you are talking about.

    A church I’m helping right now to be fed while their pastor and wife have gone through a huge physical battle. The people in this small gathering of the body are just as sweet and inclusive as they come. However, one thing I noticed is this:

    There are people in the church that have regular respobsibilities in the church. They are kind and nice in every way unless you even come close to the place they serve. Even if your goal is to help them to do their ministry. Though, I’m just a guest pastor preaching, doing some counseling I have no authority to remove anyone or anything. Do you think this sounds, in some way like you are talking about. This territorial spirit over their area of ministry seems very much out of orders. I sure would like to work with this pastor as he gets better on what to do. Any suggestions?

    1. Wow, a turf-war is one tough battle in any church. Probably impossible to fight unless you are the pastor for the long haul. I’m actually writing a book that covers stuff like this. If you are the permanent pastor you can sloooowly work to move people into new positions. If your tenure is short I think it could destroy an old wineskin. Remember that Jesus never condemned the old wineskin, just said that you would lose it and the wine if you put new wine into one. An ossified church still has value to its members, and the Lord, though it will probably never light up the world.

  3. Good points Ron, but I don’t believe removing/ replacing servants is what we are called to do
    And there are those servants who perform task that are gifted by the Holy Spirit. It’s not about micromanaging any ministry but sheparding/ guiding disciples which I see the successful Pastors are gifted with doing.
    In this present times the generational zeitgeist seeks God but are intimidated by conventional “Church” it may be the “perceived” dogma, the does and dont’s associated with them as children.
    Interesting what P. Ralph pointed to the “ossified” church … one that is unable to change … that is very, very interesting, hopefully we can hear more about his thoughts on that.
    Because men that I’m called to disciple have a “fear” of conventional church, I meet with them in small groups, in bible study, teaching and just Bering relational and forming a relationship to follow Jesus. It is a gateway to bring them to church. Even one on one discipleship breaks down the walls and builds fellowship that leads to being comfortable in church.
    We need to put ourselves in their shoes, the men I minister to have storied pasts (as a lot of us have had before believing, and following Jesus) .. and one avenue may be arranging community service through unconventional small groups, it’s a way for us to be in service to the community representing our home church.
    I’m meeting with a number of men this week a couple I have never met before to share Jesus and what Jesus has done in my life (not meeting them to bible thump) .. I hope to begin a regular discipleship group with them.
    I guess my point is I didn’t mean to be legalistic in discipleship doctrines .. in this postmodern era we need to be more flexible, I am not a pastor but we are all called to the great commission.
    I start a small group and disciple the men to go out and form another group.. eventually they attend our church.. which 4 or 6 of them will be attending this week, after being in our small group for over a year now… we don’t have to be pastors to lead men to “The Door”
    We are not all called to plant conventional churches but that shouldn’t stop us from being obidient to those we are given opportunities to witness to and start small mini churches.

  4. Grant Matsushita

    Some people are great at coming up with new ideas, but are not so good at executing. Some are doers but not so creative with original concepts. Other times you have too much going on to take on another initiative. Each of us has our unique gifts. I have been cataloging a lot of ministry ideas and waiting for the right people to come along to execute. One thing I learned from Ralph is start small, and then grow it organically. I have incorporated this as one of our ministry values in the Hope Honolulu Young families and young adults ministry.

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