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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Book Entry #3

The Round File

We have adopted a filing system for comment cards that come in to the office unsigned. They go in the round file—a.k.a. the trash can. We don’t look at them, ponder them, or consider them in any way. All comment cards go through our assistant and she looks for the signature.

Some may think this is cold. As a matter of fact, our assistant hates the idea. She thinks people should be heard no matter what. From time to time we have the discussion where she says she believes everyone should have a voice, all comments can be helpful and some people just don’t have the guts to sign their names but it doesn’t mean they don’t have something meaningful to say. I agree with all those things. I also believe that those helpful and meaningful unsigned comments amount to about 2% of the ones that come in on the weekend. Do I only like to hear good news? No. I want to know the word on the street. I can take a hit every now and then. I have just come to realize that the majority of people who spout off on comment cards and toss them into the offering basket are not interested in change. They are interested in complaining.

I want to hear from the people who are interested in change because they feel we are being ineffective somewhere. I want to hear from the people who are genuinely concerned for others’ wellbeing. I want to hear from the people that think they have some ideas to improve the way we reach out to our community with the hope of Jesus. They are few and far between.

Every negative comment with a signature is an invitation for a discussion. When I have a name to contact, I have a chance to make a friend and seek mutual understanding. When I know whom to call, I have a chance to let them know I have heard them.

Unsigned comments more often than not fall into gripe categories where good men and women line up on both sides of an issue. And, sometimes the issues are downright silly and no one needs to take sides. They are sometimes issues of preference and style.

I have been vocal about this with our people. We laugh about it. I tell them stories of how my assistant has tried to sneak me a comment she thinks I should read that is unsigned. And, we openly talk about the issues they need not waste their time commenting on. We have a style and a personality that some will not like and that’s okay. They can go somewhere else. There is a place for them. We sing certain songs at certain volumes that some don’t like. We are cool with that. We say and do things that are unconventional at times. We are proud of that unique freedom.

I am also confident we need to make opportunities to teach about why we do things the way we do. The more we talk about our methodology, the less likely unsigned comments regarding those things will occur. Sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand. Clue them in. Save yourself some heartache.

Invite them into Your Environment

To be honest, part of me enjoys coming home from the church office at night and hiding. It is my safe place. The cell phone goes off. I will only take a call at home long enough to determine whether or not it is an emergency. Most of the time, if it isn’t an emergency, I politely ask them if I can call them the next day from the office.

But, I am not a hermit. I have come to find one of the best places I have to connect with people and let them see me as a real person is in my own home with my real family. Eating my food. Drinking my wine. Watching my movies, playing my games, listening to my CD’s and hanging out on my deck.

I threw a Christmas party one year for everyone on the “Experience” team at church. Our Experience team consists of a wide variety of folks that work to pull off a weekend at the church. Artists, musicians, technicians, the coffee people, ushers, and the folks that burn copies of weekend messages and sell the CD’s in the lobby were all at our place—upstairs, downstairs, in the basement, everywhere.

My youngest daughter –who was six at the time—wanted to be a hostess. I loved the idea because I love it when people get to see me with my kids in our element. I like to remind people I am a father. My daughter did a fine job—polite and helpful—until it was bedtime. We happened to be in a season of life where getting my daughter to bed was not the easiest task. She usually expressed her disappointment with the idea of bed in no uncertain terms. Party night was no exception.

I flashed back ten years when my oldest daughter was the same age as my little party princess who was now in full denial of her impending appointment with her bed. Ten years ago, I am ashamed to say I would have been embarrassed with this caliber of breakdown. But, if we are worried about keeping up appearances we set ourselves up for certain disappointment—not to mention the fact that if we don’t want people to have unfair expectations of us we certainly don’t help our situation by painting for them an unrealistic picture of who we really are.

That evening, my church family witnessed me playing a role I accepted before I became a pastor. They saw a father and a husband in a teachable moment with his precious baby girl—complete with tears and ultimatums. It was a scene they had witnessed many times in their own homes. Allowing your church to see your human side does not make you loose your credibility—it establishes a healthy picture of your real identity.

Our congregations need not see us as experts; they need to see us as practitioners. At the core of our being, we are not pastors—we are Christ followers. Our identity should not be wrapped up in what we do for a living but rather wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ.


Anonymous said...

John, your story reminded me of a time when my own daughter, who is now a 24 year old neurology student in Van Couver, never wanted to go to bed.
She was 5 yrs. old and it was bed time. She threw the tantrum you spoke of and it was in the middle of January. She was in her pjs and 'stepped out side' onto the porch in the dark, I might add. I thought, well, she's 5, it's freezing, it's very dark, she's all by herself. She'll come in soon enough.
Wrong! In her complete fleshly, stubborn self, it was at least 40 minutes, I watched her through the window, before I couldn't bear my own pain any longer.
I remember after finally retrieving her and getting her safely to bed thinking, one day this personality will take her far.
I didn't completely belong to Christ then. Now, as I remember back, I can almost see how God feels when WE go in our fleshly ways. It has to pain Him so to see how we hurt ourselves.

J. Blanchard

Mark said...

I'm with you on the "round file." Around our church office, we call them "Notes from the Nuts," and take great delight in ignoring them. I think my record was 30 or 40 unsigned cards on a single issue, but that was a while ago.

I'm coming to re:create for the first time this year. Look forward to meeting you there.