Justin, Tray, Miss Pillar, and the Smiths…

I’ve only been at this church leadership game for a few years, but I grew up in a strong United Methodist Church when I was younger. Throughout college and seminary, I had heard about several people who were going to be in every decision a church makes. Every new idea, or new approach would inevitably get their input. Here’s the kicker, they’re not on any roster, official committee, and they don’t come on Sunday morning.

They’re ‘just in case’, traditions, and the pillar of the church (Okay, I admit, they’re not really people, but they may as well be). But I wonder what would happen if we would start to think about them as actual people in the meetings. Like, if we set out chairs for these three people, would we begin to realize the difficulty in our decision making processes. Maybe then we would realize just how crowded our meetings are.

I remember trying to have conversations and make decisions that I felt like would help steer the church in a good, Godly direction, only to have ‘Justin’, ‘Tray’, or Miss Pillar shoot it down. We couldn’t make room by getting rid of things that hadn’t been used in two decades, just in case we’d need them again. I’ve been told we can’t allow coffee in the sanctuary because of tradition. And I’ve been told that we can’t remove a tree because Miss Pillar’s late husband planted it, even though it desperately needs trimmed and no one likes parking near it.

Now, I’m not opposed to traditions within churches. I’m a big fan of contingency plans. And I understand that the church I am serving now was built and sustained by many, many people. But these three voices often crowd out any new ideas, innovations, or needed transitions. These three things will stifle a decision making team like nothing else. And more importantly, these three voices don’t leave room for the Smith’s to say anything.

The Smith’s are that new family that just moved in down the street, and are looking for a church. They’re the people who have been coming to the church for a few months, who are looking to get more involved but don’t know where to start or even if they fit in. The Smiths are the people who the church keeps saying they want involved, who the church wants to take leadership, but only if Tray, Justin, and Miss Pillar stay on the committees. So long as those three people get the final say about the decisions the Smiths make, the church will be happy. So the Smith’s never become leaders. They never fully engage in the church. Maybe they even leave. And the church is left wondering why there’s no new life in leadership. So what do you do about this? I’m glad you asked (well, I mean, asked for you…)

1) Begin with Prayer– I know this sounds obvious, but I have had more than my fair share of meetings that didn’t begin with prayer. Now, I know some of this is my fault (I am the pastor after all), but a lot of churches simply don’t have a culture of prayer. They don’t begin their team meetings, worship services, or fellowship events with prayer. Without a good culture of prayer, the congregation, and it’s leadership, will not be able to hear and follow the voice of God. Ultimately, we can’t make the best decision without a culture of prayer.

2) Ask ‘Who is this decision for?’ – If your church is trying to grow and make disciples, that means you’re looking for younger families and people who don’t go to your church. That means the people you’re trying to reach, are not at your meetings. And if you don’t remember who your decision is for, you and your team will gradually gravitate back into thinking about the people who are familiar to you. So ask yourself and your team, ‘How does this decision help the Smiths?’ Caveat here: There are definitely times and places for the decisions to be made for the long time church members. Their service should definitely be honored. Holding special services, offering formal ‘thank you’s’, and other ways to honor them are definitely good and Godly things. In those cases, you should definitely be answering ‘who’ with ‘Mr and Miss Pillar’.

3) Have guidelines for Justin and Tray– Traditions and contingencies are important. They really are. But your church doesn’t need piano receipts from 1956. And you should be able to explain why the tradition is important to the Smiths. I hated being told ‘because I said so’ when I was a kid (to be fair, it was easier than explaining that traffic is dangerous to a seven year old) and I imagine you did too. Being told that we can’t move the pulpit ‘because it’s formal’, despite not using it, is not going to answer the Smith’s question anymore than ‘because I said so’ did when you were a child.

Traditions can be vitally important to a church, but only if the church knows what they mean. Why do some churches light candles at the beginning of a service? Why do the kids go forward for a few minutes with the pastor? Why do we celebrate communion when we do? Why do we keep the pews instead of chairs? Why does or doesn’t the pastor wear a robe? All of these questions can mean something. But if we can’t explain those ‘somethings’ to the Smith’s coming in off the street, we are in trouble. And as far as dealing with contingencies, have a general guideline for when something is obsolete. How many years do you need to keep the piano that no one plays? How long do you need to keep the choir music?

If a person has thirty years and hundreds of songs worth of sheet music stored in a spare room, even though they only sing about twenty different songs a year, we would call that person a hoarder. So why is it normal for the church to do it?

So there you go. Three things I think can help us deal with the pseudo people at all of our meetings and in all of our decisions. Let me know your thoughts down below. If you find something helpful, share this blog with your friends.

Let me know your thoughts down below.

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