Have you ever had an experience that stays with you, no matter how hard you try to put it out of your mind? It seems to me that the things that linger longest are those which would easily be categorized as “not-so-positive”. Some are traumatic. We would give anything to put these behind us. Some are pesky; the fact that these memories keep rattling around in our brains is more of a nuisance than anything else.
One of those nuisance occurrences has replayed itself in my mind several times since it happened. Now, when I arrive at the church building on the typical Sunday morning, I usually have a fairly long list of things to do, all of which are time-sensitive and crucial. Well, the experience that is staying with me is the unexpected, intense interrogation which I was once subjected to upon my arrival at the church. I was in a reasonably cheerful, whistle-while-you-work sort of mood. I was minding my own business en route to make my first early morning delivery. That’s when I was greeted by a barrage of questions.
There was no “good morning” offered. No “how are you doing?” inquiry. There was just a machine-gun-like series of questions fired at me. These questions centered on whether or not I knew who recently used the building and left evidence of their presence in a couple of rooms. To my knowledge nothing had been abused. There was no damage, either. Through the questioning I learned that a couple of pieces of furniture had been moved and tell-tell candy wrappers were left behind. Note: The building had been used for a group of about 30 young people who had a great time. If invited to return, they would probably do so.
One of my friends has attempted to convince me that I’m overly sensitive about this sort of thing. “Don’t let it bother you.” he says. This sort of thing does bother me, though. I’ve thought about similar occurrences long-and-hard over time. After some serious soul searching, what I’ve come to realize is that the problem really is not about me. My skin may not be as thick as it ought to be. However, you don’t remain in the ministry for 25+ years, if you are an emotional weakling.
So, what is the problem? As I’ve reflected on this, it has become obvious to me that there are a couple of things about this sort of exchange that vex my soul. The first has to do with how we treat one another. I’m sure that I don’t like to be treated this way. I’m sure, also, that others don’t wish to be treated disrespectfully. When I feel the sting of this sort of exchange, it should cause me to really think about how I am communicating with others. A flood of passages come to mind. One that I’m reminded of is Peter’s exhortation found in 1 Peter 3:8-12. Here we read:
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever among you would love life and see good days must keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. 11 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
The second thing that comes to mind is how easily we become obsessed with our church buildings, even to the extent that we lose sight of what our priorities as Christians ought to be. More than 20 years ago I had a conversation with a deacon who was deeply troubled about the fellow-leaders of the church he served deciding, over his objections, to discontinue a ministry which brought about 75 children to the building every Wednesday evening. The reason for this decision: They had recently completed a major renovation and didn’t want the building to be messed up by all the “extra” traffic.
This reminds me of an article that I clipped from a church bulletin years ago. It is attributed to O.J. Russell. The title is: What Happened to the Potted Plants? Here’s what Russell wrote:
This story is true—only the names and places have been withheld to protect the guilty! A congregation moved into a new building with gleeful delight and some degree of pride over the elegant material surroundings in which they would worship. Someone supplied two beautiful five-foot plants to adorn the front of the new auditorium.
Some months following the opening service the new building, to the dismay of the elders and building committee, the plants disappeared. Said elders and said committee sound the alarm. The congregation was bombarded with announcements. Men were deputized to seek the whereabouts of that which was lost. Apologies were made to the donors of the decorative plants. For two months, the missing potted plants became the conversation piece of the church at worship and at home. The search was intensified and the announcements and pleading seemed unending.
The quest ended quite abruptly when the local preacher dared to solve the problem. It took nerve to do it! Since the potted plants had a long announcement about the lost decorations and said, “We have heard a great deal about the missing plants that were lost. For two months, at every service, announcements have been made and people have earnestly looked for that which is lost. For years, we have known that sheep have strayed from the flock. Prodigal sons are away from the worship and the Bible declares that they are lost. Each soul missing here today is more valuable than the whole world—and yet we have not heard one announcement nor have we seen anxious concern about precious souls whose eternal welfare may hang on our concern. If we had put forward 1/10 the energy in locating the lost souls of this flock that we have the lost potted plants, surely angels in heaven would rejoice!”
Suffice it to say, no other announcements were made about the plants.
My heart’s desire and prayer is that we begin treating people with the love and respect each precious soul deserves and utilize our buildings for something other that expensive storage houses for potted plants.
© Bill Williams, November 7, 2006