As I was driving to Warrensburg on Monday, I saw a large Red-Tailed Hawk fly overhead carrying a long heavy stick. I smiled at this indisputable sign of spring arriving. The non-migratory birds of our area are beginning to build nests. A couple of hours earlier I had seen an American Crow carrying straw for the same purpose, and the day before I had watched House Sparrows tucking threads of grass into the hole of a convenience store sign.
During the months to come, birds of all kinds will pour extraordinary effort, time, and ingenuity to the construction of nests, the protection of eggs, and the feeding of their vulnerable young ones. After the little ones hatch, I’m always amazed at the unceasing effort of care offered by the parents. From sunrise to sunset, Mom and Dad will search for food, deliver it to the hatchlings, and then search for more, often with little regard for their own nourishment. Every ounce of the adults’ energy will be devoted, not to their own comfort and feeding, but to the survival of their young.
The notion of building nests is often used as a metaphor in English to describe people successfully providing for their own comforts. Have you ever heard it used that way? If someone has arrived at a career position of some ease and security, friends might say, “You’ve built yourself quite a nest here!” When we are comfortable, secure, and feel at home in our workplace or living area, we talk about the space being “our little nest.” In these examples, the word “nest” connotes shelter, coziness, homelike, comfortable.
In actual fact, the nests which birds build are not for the birds who are building them, but for their young, for the next generation, for the future of the species. The weeks of carrying straw, sticks and mud, and the weeks of defensive watchfulness, and the weeks of endless feeding are all about the new ones, the young, the future.
Now take a leap with me to think about the nests we build in our churches. The buildings, programs, ministries, job descriptions, and services we build – are they for our own comfort and coziness? Or are they to further the faith, nurture new folks, and provide for future generations? Vibrant and fruitful congregations focus as much energy, prayer, and planning on those who are outside the congregation as they do on those who are already active in the congregation. When they initiate new Bible studies, support groups, outreach ministries, or worship services, they give less emphasize to “what do I want, desire, like, prefer, or find convenient” and place more weight on “what will feed the souls, nourish the spirits, and sustain the steps” of those outside the church or new to the faith. Those new to the faith are as vulnerable as hatchlings, and require a steady and dedicated effort of feeding. And the budding faith of young people requires our committed attention, our extra care, our overtime in planning, teaching, encouraging, mentoring, and supporting. For the mission-focused church, the nests we build are not for ourselves; they are for the next generation, those new to the faith, the future of the body of Christ.
Jesus noticed the natural world around him, and he drew lessons from such things as fig trees, rising water, falling rain, budding leaves, and even nesting birds. As the signs of spring begin to show around us, what reminders do we find in the regenerative activities of birds building nests for the purpose of life and future.
Yours in Christ,