10 Things the Church Could Learn From Parks and Rec
Tonight at 10 PM, Parks and Recreation will air the final episode of its seven season run. After taking some time to find itself during a truncated first season (seriously, going back and watching those first handful of episodes is downright weird), Parks and Rec grew during its sophomore year into one of this century's greatest sitcoms. The writing is fantastic. The ensemble, led by Amy Poehler, is one of the funniest and deepest casts on TV. In fact, I would say that its overall run is better than that of The Office, the show from which it was originally conceived to be a spinoff.
I am going to miss the heck of out of this show. Even in its seventh season, it is still going strong. Few shows can combine laughs, heart, and satire like Parks and Recreation. One of the things that I have appreciated over the years, is the show is genuinely committed to the idea of civic responsibility. It actually has some important things about how one does his or her job and the idea of service. So to celebrate one of my favorite television shows ever, here are ten things that the Church could learn from Parks and Rec.
1. Be committed to your community.
Poehler's Leslie Knope is passionate about her hometown of Pawnee, Indiana. It is far from perfect (more on that in a moment), but she commits herself to do everything that she can to make her community a better place. Oftentimes churches are solely interested in growing their congregation size and have little interest in making the places where they live as good as they can. We would do good to love our hometowns like Leslie Knope.
2. The world is full of crazy, irrational people. Love and serve them anyway.
Over the course of seven years, the producers of Parks and Rec have made Pawnee a fully realized community that feels like a real, lived-in place. Many have compared it to Springfield in The Simpsons. Pawneeans are a difficult bunch, to say the least. As television critic Alan Sepinwall put it, the city is full of lunatics. At countless town meetings, they have yelled at Leslie and her colleagues, been completely clueless, tried to have her fired countless times, and yet she still fights for these people. It is easy to love the ones that love you back; to love those that are crazy people is something to emulate.
3. People on opposite ends of ideological spectrums can work together (especially if they love each other).
One of Parks and Rec's greatest feats is the friendship between the progressive Leslie Knope and Nick Offerman's staunchly libertarian Ron Swanson. Leslie believes that government should seek to help people in any way possible. Swanson believes that government should barely exist at all. They openly disagree but respect each other deeply. And they are able to find things on which they can come together and work for the good of others. I wish the warring factions of the church would take a cue from Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson.
4. Go big or go home...
In the third season, Pawnee is in dire financial straits and the government is in danger of shutting down. Leslie comes up with a gambit: to revitalize the town's Harvest Festival in order to bring money and tourism back into the community. It is a risky idea and the entire Parks Department will be out of a job if it doesn't work. But Leslie dreams big and follows through in spite of the large risk.
5. ...but sometimes you'll have to go home.
Season four is built around the story arc of Leslie pursuing her dream of being elected to Pawnee City Council. There are many ups and downs, twists and turns and in the season finale, her dream is realized (how Poehler did not win an Emmy for that episode, I'll never know). And yet, in season six, she is recalled. Despite being the only person on council that seems to know what they're doing, this crazy town kicks her out of office. It is okay to dream big, but sometimes those dreams are going to fail. That is okay too.
6. The best man for a job may be a woman.
A lot has been written about what a good role model Leslie Knope is for females, because it's true. In the male-dominated world of government, Leslie is just as capable, passionate, and successful as her male colleagues; usually more so. There are plenty of women in the church who would be fantastic leaders, ministers, and pastors in the church if they were just given the chance.
7. Anything of value takes a team.
Lest you think this show is just about Leslie Knope, she could not have done anything without the rest of the Parks gang. Every big project she took on required Ben, Tom, April, Donna, Andy, Ron, Jerry/Terry/Barry/Larry/Gary, Ann, and Chris. They are the classic comic definition of a motley crew, each with strengths and definite weaknesses. But when they unite under something they believe in (or get behind someone they believe in), there is little that they cannot accomplish. We often think of churches in terms of a few prominent leaders. Anything of value requires a team.
8. Things take time.
The project that sets Parks and Rec in motion during the pilot episode is Leslie's desire to turn a massive pit into a park. The project moves forward in fits and starts, but they don't actually break ground on the park until midway through season six. We are used to things happening instantaneously. We believe for something to be good then it must explode in popularity. We need to remember that things often work in a more slow and organic manner.
9. Let people know that you love them.
Leslie is a wonderful friend. One of the things that she never fails to do--from giving the best gifts to calling her best friend Ann a "poetic, noble land mermaid"--is to let her friends know how much she loves and appreciates them. Sure sometimes it can go a bit over the top (or frighteningly way over the top), but the Parks gang knows that Leslie cares about them. It should be just as apparent that the church loves the people in its congregation and outside of it.
10. Be optimistic, but work your tail off.
One of the things that I love about Parks and Rec is that it is an incredibly hopeful, optimistic show in an era where most people opt for detached cynicism. There is still darkness and cynicism in Pawnee, but the majority of the characters believe that things can get better. That hope can be a powerful thing. But the show demonstrates that hope alone is not enough. Again and again, we see Leslie and the others work their tails off trying to make those hope come true. This is a variation on something I have long heard my dad say: "Pray like it all depends on God. Work like it all depends on you." The church should be full of hope, but also fully committed to the work of seeing that hope realized.
Bonus. Waffles are fantastic.
This just seems like a general rule by which any person or institution should live.