During a recent research visit with a congregation, I was waiting in the hall for the pastor to finish a conversation with a staff person before we began our dialogue. A well-dressed older gentleman–probably in his late 70s– came up behind me and started complaining about the lights being on in the sanctuary and the money the electricity being used would cost the church.
I thought to myself, “What a classic complaint by a senior adult. I wonder how the pastor is going to handle this when he comes out of the staff member’s office.”
I could tell his agenda was more emotionally urgent than mine, so I stood aside for he and the pastor to talk first. He voiced his complaint to the pastor. Without hesitation, without raising his voice, without any sign of anger or anxiety the pastor said, “Oh, Wanda, our wedding director was showing a family the sanctuary in preparation for an upcoming wedding. Would you mind going and turning them off for us? George and I have a commitment to meet.”
“Sure”, said the older gentleman. “I just wanted to know who left them on. I can handle that.” You see, Wanda is a layperson he knows and respects. He may have thought he was going to get the opportunity to verbally discipline the pastor or a staff person. But not this time.
During our dialogue I commended the pastor for how he calmly handled this situation. He indicated he had long ago figured out that he could not let older people who at times seemed to love their building more than they loved their Lord to hook him into an emotional response.
This congregation ten years earlier had been only senior adults. Now half of the attending congregation is under 50 years old. He regularly coached his staff and lay leaders to honor and respect one another, and realize that it is often more characteristic of older adults to complain about small things that are odd, out of place, or done wrong according to their criteria.
None of these types of complaints should be allowed to distract the congregation from a focus on its primary mission, and the crafting and sustaining of a sense of community and fellowship that must undergird their mission.
Falling In Love with Jesus Again
This is a congregation that came very close to dying ten years ago. In response to the request of this church, the current pastor came to help them out for a while, and ended up staying.
One of his key strategies with the remnant congregation was to help them fall in love with Jesus again. As they had declined, become dysfunctional, and spent most all of their financial reserves, they had focused on to their love for this congregation and its buildings, rather than clinging to their love of the Triune God. If they were going transform as a congregation that had to once again fall in love with Jesus.
Once they returned to their first love they became open to new people with new demographics and new thoughts about how to do church. They became less complaining about things that seemed odd to them, out of place, and contrary to their cultural perspective.
In many ways this was because they had learned to love Jesus again. Less important things did not matter as much anymore. They still crop up from time-to-time when someone leaves on lights, fails to lock doors, or the paper towels run out in a restroom. It’s just that no one takes them as serious as they once did, and fewer people ever get upset about these non-essentials.
How is this going in your congregation?