How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone Not to Proselytize?

Francis Schaeffer on the Origins of Relativism in the Church

One of My Favorite Songs

An Inspiring Song


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

They Got It All--Now What?

I think it likely that at this point, my anonymous comments on an unnamed church will not cause any trouble. Only a handful of souls read this blog anymore, anyway.


I'll try to keep it brief.  No one likes long blogposts.

I belong to a church that is in decline.  It was declining when I joined, probably about six years ago now.  The ministry team then consisted of one semi-retired pastor with a background in sales and self-publishing who was serving on an  interim basis, the music minister, who'd apparently been there since the dawn of time, and the youth/education minister.

Within a month or two of me visiting, they'd called a youngish former missionary to the pastorate.  He did, in my opinion, well, but like any other man, he wasn't perfect, and the church continued to decline.  I think there was a definite turning point when he called a series of meetings for Sunday School teachers so that we could, once again, go over his self-authored booklet outlining what the church was all about and what was expected of the membership.  I distinctly recall looking at another Sunday School teacher and saying, "So, I guess the problem is that the membership and teachers haven't been through this booklet enough times?"

Not too long after that, he apparently felt called to go into politics.  I will say no more save to note that it may have been a mistake.

When he left, the church--or, rather, a handful of committee members--invited one preacher after another to preach in our pulpit.  One or two of them I thought might have a chance, particularly one young fellow who, it seemed to me, actually demonstrated an attitude toward outreach and evangelism that might stand a chance of success in our neighborhood, which has changed dramatically since the church's heyday.

And then, they decided that the best thing to do was call back the interim preacher who'd been there when I first started visiting, five years earlier.

I found out later that this man and the music minister had worked together at another church before this.

And then, REMARKABLY, the next step in the plan toward reversing the decline was to call back the youth/education minister who'd been there when I started visiting, even though the man had been let go, oh, three years earlier, as the church had already declined to the point where we couldn't afford to pay him.

And just like THAT, the ministry team that had been there when I started visiting was reconstituted.  Was it intentional?  Was it planned to be like that from the moment our pastor left?  I do not know.  Maybe.

But whether it was planned or not, I couldn't help but think, "Wasn't the church declining under these people?  Why is rehiring them now considered a solution?"

But I know how these things typically go in church life.  I didn't say much, for I knew I'd be accused of divisiveness simply for asking reasonable questions.

Within, I think, six or eight months of this staff's return, attendance dropped from about 150 or so to about 80.  We do have some new members, but we have lost enough "old" members (for lack of a better term) to keep attendance at about that level (or so they say.  I never see more than about sixty.)

That is not a sustainable level for us to keep paying the kind of staff we have, pay the bills on a building the size of ours, and keep running the kinds of programs we always have.  We are either going to go to a totally bivocational staff and shut off parts of the  building and quit doing some things, or we are going to go bankrupt.  Or we are going to grow.

Naturally, NO BAPTIST CHURCH will EVER admit that they are not going to try to grow, so our new/old interim--now permanent, if part-time--pastor announced that the plan to grow was to become a "metro" church, by which he meant that it was time to quit worrying so much about the local population and let people know that we were "worth the drive."  I found this so much hubris--after all, we have a huge number of churches in our city, and saying that OURS was worth the drive necessarily involved saying that OTHERS were worth only driving PAST--and, without naming names or naming churches, said something to that effect on Facebook.

I was shortly told by the preacher that this was a Matthew 18 situation and advised that part of the plan was to do things in a spirit of unity and harmony.

He wouldn't have even seen my comment had he not been looking over the shoulder of a Facebook friend who was helping out in the church office.  He wasn't on my "friends" list and I have long had all my settings to "friends only," so make what you will out of his statement that he was in the habit of reading all the things I say on Facebook.

I agreed to keep any further comments off Facebook whilst noting that I disagreed with his proposed approach and, while I hoped to be proven wrong, I thought it likely that the church would be closing its doors within three years.  He agreed that we certainly had a challenge ahead of us.

Since then--several months now--"the plan" has come together.  It consisted of:

1) Removing the pews from our largish sanctuary and spending thousands of dollars on new chairs, and taking up much less space, so as to create a more intimate worship atmosphere.  I spoke in favor of that, actually; anything to get the members to do something DIFFERENT.

2) Focusing mainly on the Sunday morning worship service, de-emphasizing, to a degree, Sunday School, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings--even going to the point of not having Sunday nights at all during the Summer and not having Wednesday evenings consistently.

3) Making sure that all our friends knew that we were worth the drive.

4) Reaching out to the neighborhood businesses.  Exactly why the local businesses were worth reaching out to when the local people were (at least initially) NOT is as unclear to me as it likely is to you.  In practice, all this has meant is that the local Wendy's has given us coupons for free Frosties to use as prizes for a few of our events.

5) Creating a "Welcome Center" for our guests.  In practice that has meant putting two airpots full of coffee, some donuts, and cups into what used to be the foyer and is now the welcome center.

6) Doing everything in a spirit of unity and harmony.  Since, as far as I know--actually, to my certain knowledge, in some cases--the staff has routinely but politely dismissed input from church members, and those members are now FORMER members, having voted with their feet, and I agreed not to put comments on Facebook and to keep my thoughts on these policies out of the church arena (remember: I blog anonymously, and I am naming neither people nor church here, and the odds are very good that only one of my readers even knows where I go to church), the staff may well not really know what it is to experience disunity and unharmoniousness. It seems to me that the staff may not be able to distinguish the silence of the silenced, disinterested, and tired from a spirit of unity and harmony.  It may be that they think a lack of open criticism constitutes having approval.  It may be that they don't realize our near-halved attendance, despite leaving only the non-critical in place, is indicative of anything but harmony and unity.

And maybe there really is unity.  Certainly they've gotten everything they wanted.  They got their old team back.  They got the Welcome Center.  They got the changes in the sanctuary.  They got the focus on the morning worship service.  They got "unity and harmony," or at least an absence of criticism and a series of near-unanimous votes.

So, my question: what now, guys?  The decline hasn't been halted, at least as far as I can tell.  I see nothing--zero, zip, zilch, nada--being either pursued or proposed that is in the smallest iota different from exactly what has failed for a quarter-century now.  We pretty much run the same programs in the same way.  We do nothing different in terms of outreach.  I don't even think we HAVE outreach, unless you want to pretend that doing VBS is outreach (which most churches do; they say that VBS is the church's greatest outreach effort of the year, which, if true, is pathetic, because it is, judging by the numbers I've seen for the last decade, a failure, year after year after year).

You got everything you said you wanted.  What now?  I'll give you credit for wanting to get something done.  But to tell the truth, you three--four, if you count the former pastor--have been instrumental in convincing me of something I had suspected for a long time: most professional ministry staff go to seminary and come away with no more idea what to do, no more real knowledge, no greater grasp of the Word, than the average old lady in the pews.  I suspect that the three of you, and probably certain committee members, thought that if only you were in place as a team again, people who'd left would come roaring back. That the church was declining under you, too, when you were together before, was overlooked.

You all read the same books and the same magazines and go to the same conferences and you all think the same officially approved groupthink.  You just don't THINK.  You just parrot the same stuff everyone else parrots,  and I really do think that if the decline of the North American church in general, and the Southern Baptist Convention specifically, is ever halted, it will be in spite of ministers like you instead of because of ministers like you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Memory Dredged Up

Just a little while ago, I had occasion to remember an incident with my boss, about nine years ago, shortly after he first started.

For context, it is important that you know that it was, at the time, quite routine for me to work 11-12 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, due to the routes I had to cover.

And also let me note that he seriously proposed having me go home early on Fridays, so I wouldn't draw any overtime pay.  Not that there wasn't anything to do; he just wanted to avoid having the overtime on his payroll sheets.  Guess he thought it made him look bad.  I let him know in no uncertain terms that I had NO liking for the idea of working 24 hours in two days and not getting an extra nickel out of it. 

Okay, moving on: at this time, my son was 15 years old and not able to drive, obviously.  He had taken a part-time job with the local library system.   He had to be there at six.  I got off at five.  It took me twenty minutes to get home and at least fifteen more to get him to work.  There was obviously next to no time for error, and, in order to avoid complications, when necessary and when I knew I had a busy day, I would come in early.

I had a co-worker, a very intelligent and fine worker, who nevertheless committed something of a faux pas one day; she had promised someone in our little town that I would swing by after normal hours to deliver something.  She thought it no big deal; it was only a few minutes.  I said I didn't HAVE a few minutes, explained why, and in the end, SHE did the delivery.  It was she who'd made the promise, after all.

The next day, that prince of a boss of mine lectured me on it, saying that I should think about putting my kids in daycare, "...because, MOTW, sometimes we have to work late."
REALLY.  That I WAS working late or coming in early at least two days a week and often more was completely forgotten.  That the child in question was FIFTEEN FRECKLING YEARS OLD and TOTALLY IRRELEVANT to daycare never occurred to him.

It was the sort of totally insane and inconsiderate thing that only a true chucklehead untethered to reality would say.

I've been putting up with more of the same for about nine years.  Just today, I looked at my route for tomorrow: eleven stops, leaving from our little town to Harrah (about two hours away), on up through The City, and finishing in Edmond.  Three new people with attendant sets of paperwork to fill out and three installations.  That is about an eleven to twelve hour day.  I don't mind, in a way; I'll take the OT money.  But it galls me that I am so taken for granted that I never get the courtesy of a "MOTW, are you able to do that tomorrow?"

As I've said before, I have to see how someone's health looks and pass an important test, probably early next year.  Then we'll re-evaluate how long I'm staying with these people.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pointless Griping and Moaning

I have to admit to being a little embarrassed about all the workplace griping I've done lately.  I don't like to listen to it in other people, so I expect that others don't like to listen to it from me.

I've had people close to me ask why I don't just leave, if I hate the place so much.  As I've said before, there's more than one reason.  For instance, as my other driver has often said, it's  not the job, it's HIM, referring to my immediate boss.  If it weren't for his bizarre shenanigans,  life'd be a lot more bearable, and we all keep kind of half-waiting for him to stroke out or get caught in some illegality or something.

One thing that just ****** us the **** off (supply your own words) is the way the man either wildly exaggerates, or flat-out makes stuff up.  The senior office lady, a very sharp lady of many years' experience and deep knowledge (far exceeding our boss's), has observed more than once to a couple of us that our boss craves drama, drama that he needs to solve, to make himself feel needed, and if there isn't any drama, he'll create it.

Boy, howdy.  Ain't THAT fun to live with.

You may recall, a few months back, that I was read the riot act over my "attitude," that he was telling me that people were calling in and saying things about how I'd spoken to them, and "the girls" in the office were cringing every time someone called or they had to give me a service ticket?

Turns out none of "the girls" corroborated that, and the only two specific instances of my alleged bad behavior he cited--well, when I next went to those places (by accident--he did not intend to send me!), turns out they had no problem with me at all.

God knows what he heard, but he apparently blew it all out of proportion and used it as an excuse to lecture me about a "chronic" problem--about which I've heard NOTHING for the last three months, which I find odd, for an ongoing problem.

Yesterday and today, the little so-and-so ticked me off by...

Okay, we get a lot of stuff given to us, donated, okay?  And it is pretty much up to us how we use it, and we have done a lot of good with it.  We have also committed a lot of idiocy, so much that I tend to think of it as routine.

Yesterday, there was a ticket in my stack, a donated item ticket, and it had a handwritten note from my boss warning me that the address was changed and that the new address was NOT figured into my route (My boss makes out my route.  Routinely butchers it, too, as he consistently ignores the time frames printed on certain tickets).  Okay.  I checked.  It really wasn't anywhere near the paying customers, and since the ticket was already a week old, and I had been to the City in question three times last week, and despite ample opportunity to insert it into my route last week, I had never seen it before, I just assumed that, LIKE MOST "DONATION" TICKETS, it was something I could do  when I was next in the neighborhood.  Yesterday, I just stuck it at the bottom of my stack and thought I'd go do it if I didn't run out of time.

Well, I DID run out of time.  I was trying to get back in time to take my two younger kids to evening VBS, and I barely made it.

In the meantime, the lady had called our office and wanted to know if the item was going to reach her that day.  Our office lady had the misfortune of having to tell her no.

Remember: this was a GIFT from us to her.  WE DID NOT OWE THAT LADY A THING.  Nor had anyone given me the slightest inkling that timing was an issue.

Well, we're working a short week this week, as we are closed on Independence Day (Not that we get a paid holiday, oh, no no no no NO, those are for MANAGEMENT STAFF), and as a result, we have been cramming a lot into each day.  I worked 11 and a quarter hours on Monday, came in half an hour early yesterday, and when I came in an hour early today, did my boss thank me for helping to keep up?

Oh, no no no no NO.  Instead, he first let me know my vehicle was a pit (it WAS dirty, but I literally have not had a chance to touch it up in a week), then let me know that I wasn't filling out a form I created (I am not making this up!) correctly, and that I should have gone by that "donation" household yesterday, that when I didn't tend to things like that, "the girls" had to answer the resulting calls!

Really?  We had that ticket since last MONDAY, I was in the City Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and it was such a burning priority that I never saw it ONCE until  yesterday?  If it was such a hot issue, why didn't he have me take it last week?  Why didn't someone put a sticky note on there alerting me of the fact?

Well, when I took it out today, of course, it wasn't a big deal at all.  The lady had just called to inquire about it, and if someone had just said, "He hasn't been able to get to it yet, next time he's in the area he'll drop it off," that would have been just FINE.

In the meantime, I'm putting in more hours than any other employee, and far from getting THANKED for it, I'm getting castigated for not doing MORE.

I am going to leave.  In about six months, I'll know what I need to know about a certain relation, and I should pass a VERY IMPORTANT TEST, and then, I will consider myself to have a little more freedom.  I am antsy, for my employers--wonderful Christian people that they are--have been known to fire people merely for looking for another job. (I am not making that up).  So when I do decide to start looking, I have to be prepared for the possibility that I may be out of this job before landing the next.

But I will be spectacularly ready to look for work, having spent six or seven months preparing, and if the Obamaconomy allows me the opportunity, I will leave, and frankly, the place will experience a disaster.  There are some things that (literally!) only I can do, I (literally!) cannot be replaced due to a unique set of circumstances that allowed me to acquire qualifications that ordinarily, only college graduates acquire (and if you think a college grad with my certification is going to put up with the pittance I make [I have never been rewarded for the work I had to put in to acquire that certification--never!] and not having any paid holidays, you are out of your mind), willing to work the oddball hours, and, last but not least, I am probably the only thing that's been keeping my other driver there.

My other driver is the best friend I have in this world, and it is likely that my other driver will leave about the same time I leave.  Maybe the same day.

And I won't deny that the ensuing debacle will be fun to watch.