Some cliches live on in our language long after their original context has faded. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is one of those cliches. Though no one I know has brought their market wagon into the wheelwright’s barn to get some grease applied to a wheel’s grinding squeal, the truism embedded in the original observation-turned-cliche persists: vocal complainers attract action.
Oh, do they ever.
I’ve relied on the squeaky wheel strategy when dealing with consumer issues. Michelle vs. Goliath Industries, but Michelle uses her mad, noisy, persistent complaints to wage consumer warfare. And then Michelle wins. Jackpot! Grease applied! The reward stokes reliance on squeaky wheel skills. Most of us instinctively do the squeaky wheel when there’s something important at stake.
I see this principle at work in most churches. It’s amazing what sorts of issues take on a life of their own due to the squalling complaints of a handful of people. Christendom is littered with the carnage of those who’ve chosen to run their squeaky wheel right into a gathered crowd based on their pet peeve of music style, carpet color, sermon length, lobby decoration and countless other minutae with absolutely no eternal value.
And yes, though some of those items in the list seem like they might have some eternal value, such as music style or sermon length, I contend that the real (and negative) eternal value comes from the sin that gets stirred up by turning these items into squeaky wheel cage matches. If we lived in a place where gathering to worship might cost us our freedom or even our lives, would we squeak about the stuff we squeak about?
Of course not.
During my high school years, I snuck to any kind of church gathering, fellowship group or Bible study I caught wind of. My Jewish parents forbade me to participate. Though I didn’t face jail time if they caught me visiting a church, it created huge problems in our already-strained relationship. I walked on razor wire as I balanced their request to abstain from Christian activity with my desire to grow in my new faith. The net result was that I valued the simple act of gathering with other believers, and had little desire to squeal over the small stuff.
I have lost some of that kingdom urgency in the years since, and have been drawn (sometimes against my will and/or better judgement) into some pretty dumb crises, driven into my life at Indy 500 speeds by squeaky wheels. I’ve also been the squeaky wheel, usually when it comes to injustice within a local church body, and I’ve been on the receiving end of the squalling whines of others when I’ve been in a position of leadership.
It helped me immensely to have a wise friend once tell me that at least some of those Squeaky Wheels might in fact be my “weaker brothers” (a la this chapter), even if they’re more powerful, better educated, more experienced or extremely vociferous about their concerns. The thought gives me a modicum of compassion for them, at least once these squeaky wheels have moved on after they’ve finished running me over.
So – a word to squeaky wheels everywhere: It is vitally important to constructively, prayerfully share your convictions when you see there’s a problem. It is perhaps even more important to be able to pray “Your kingdom come” over the din of the squealing taking place in your soul. That is the prayer that nets the eternal answer in your life (and on behalf of the others for whom you claim to squeal) that all your squeaking will never accomplish.