Of People and Potted Plants

potted-plant.JPGHave 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

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
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16 Responses to Of People and Potted Plants

  1. Dee Andrews says:

    Wow! Homerun here today, Bill. I’m sure every word of the potted plant story are true because I’ve seen such myself and must add that at times I think I’ve been guilty of such if I am going to be completely honest here. At times I’ve let material things in life come between me and doing things for others that might “mess up” my life in some ways. And that is wrong.

    Thanks for the reminder of how we all should be when it comes to the difference between people and potted plants.

  2. Nick Secula says:

    Good thoughts as usual Bill. When I grew up I always heard the little song you know sticks and stone may break bones but words will never hurt me. I have found having a few more years under my belt than back then and having been in the ministry for a few years that is just the opposite of truth. Physical wounds heal over time words can cut the soul and leave their effect lingering long there after.

    If we could only deal with one another in a gracious way…. if only. May God gives us the strength the restrain our speach and the emotional strength to deal with it when others slip to the same weakness.

  3. Nick Secula says:

    Hope you don’t mind me double commenting here. I wanted to pick up on your thoughts about the building as well. In a HTH publication awhile back this same idea was addressed. Some examples that were used was a new beautiful floor that had been put in at the foryer of a church building. A man commented how beautiful it was and one of the men in chrage of the project answered back “it’s a shame it will get all scuffed up on Sunday.” Another example given was a group of ladies did these beautiful and very artsitic needlepoints on the seats of the front pews. The pews were then roped off so no one would sit in them and mess up the beautiful work.
    Buildings can be a center point of pride for most all of us. The pride, as it often does, can get us off the pieces that are the most important. May always desire the beautiful floors to have the residue of weary feet traveling to a sacred place for healing and encouragement.
    Bill just appreciate your articles they are thought provoking.

  4. Outstanding admonition to all of us busy, impolite people who can’t seem to find the time to be courteous to those we meet. If we can’t treat each other with compassion and caring, where is the world going to receive it?
    I like this a lot, Bill.

  5. donna says:

    WOW !!! This is my second visit to your site and this post spoke loud and clear…and served a dual purpose for me as i am laboring over chapters of my book i am writing; working out details that would put more emphasis on the poor condition of my heart instead of pointing out the shortcomings of others….humbling indeed…glad i stopped by again and will continue. I found you from Dana @ LL&L


  6. Mag says:

    I agree with the heart of this message–the teaching we cannot overstate. Yes…homerun!

    Perhaps the other side of a coin?

    I’ve been a children’s Sunday School teacher a number of times. In defense of the offender…that space has to be cleaned and prepped and recleaned and organized over and over both before, during, (and again and again) and after a class. Cleaning it is like 30% of my job…sometimes more. It becomes discouraging with just one teacher in a room.

    It becomes as much of a personal space as a teacher’s classroom at a school would.

    If there are other meetings that go on there, they do have a responsibility to check the room and make sure it is ready for use for the next group of people. Doesn’t excuse this person’s attitude necessarily, but there are times when I know my pastor will get upset…say, the AV people can’t get his sermon loaded right before he leaves to speak. The unknown throws us off guard for the ministry we have to do, and it’s hard to stay cordial during that time. I know to excuse him. He’s “in his element”. He is kind to most people, but can let his guard down with us. I’m glad he feels okay about sighing, and having faith, but “the look” of…”only by the grace of God” is on His face. Sometimes, the chit chat is not plentiful if one of us has a frustration going on…we just have to give each other “pre-stage” space to get on top of our game.

    In another seeting, evening children’s choir meets in my SS class before janitors can come, so I teach my seven year olds to sweep away crumbs, push in chairs, put crafts put away, stack Bibles, and collect stray papers.

    It is frustrating to a teacher to feel like nobody is honoring her efforts or the care she shows for the space…even the with bare essentials we sometimes have, pulling a lot out of pocket to make it great.

    Here’s an inspirational story: I taught children’s choir last Sunday night to fill in for someone. At the end, older boys (even some who had trouble focusing in class), started folding and stacking the 30-40 metal chairs. I said, “Why are you doing that?” He said, “We always do…to get ready for the next class.”

    I said, “Oh. Then, I’ll help. Thank you very much”. About four of the 4-6 graders stayed and stacked them all…me following.

    A fine line between respecting and honoring each other, and getting wrapped up in peripherals!

  7. Greg England says:

    We had a similar situation after some rennovations to our building. I quickly turned a deaf ear to the naysayers … most of which left. Bless their hearts. I have very little (actually, I have NO) patience for such coversations. The Enemy devours us while we bicker over trash on the floor!

  8. preacherman says:

    Many Church leaders and Christians need to hear this message. Amen, brother!

  9. Dana says:

    wow I enjoyed this post. I do feel we all need to be reminded of how we can become so insensitive. The church is a spiritual hospital, a place where not only broken people can come to find healing, but a place where people can feel secure and loved. I remember a time when I invited a couple to a church where I was attending and someone called them aside because the man was wearing overalls, they told him it wasn’t appropriate dress, so he left and never came back. How can we be so insensitive. I was shocked and appalled, the church should be a place where people feel love and accepted.

    So many of our youth are joining gangs to find a place to belong and the gang is defining who they are, instead of the church reaching out with encourgagement and acceptance.

    We are in the ministry with Incarcerated Youth and we presently have two of the boys who live with us. Both were in gangs, one of the boys parents are both incarcerated and one has no idea who his father is and his mother is an alcoholic.

    Both of these kids are starved for love and acceptance. They are growing in Christ in incredible ways. One attended a church gathering and felt so lost because no one reached out to him, he kept calling me on the phone although there were around fifty youth and a few leaders there. I encouraged him and gave him some ideas on how to get acquainted and he managed to meet some people, so he had a good time.

    I appreciate so much this post because it does communicate how we sometimes place priorities on non issues. We need to go back to what is important, we need to reach out to each other, love one another, and serve one another.

  10. Maria Toth says:

    Thanks! Long post though! 😉

    In Jesus,
    Maria in the UK

  11. Mark Wilson says:

    Hi Bill

    Great post. Really. Your passion and honesty is a key ingredient in the “homerun”.

    Bless you!

  12. ed allen says:

    bill this is so true in everyday life,you are right a hearty good morning is way better, rather then listening to a barrage of questions or houston we have a problem.thank you bill for your words of wisdom

  13. Donna says:

    Great post Bill! I may forward it anonymously to a few people…..

    I know, I know get the beam out of my own eye…..

  14. Cecil Walker says:

    I too have been ambushed at church just before worship. We have tried our best to communicate to our members that just before and just after services in the wrong time to voice a complaint to any of our elders, ministers, deacons, and ministry leaders. The guy I feel the worst for in our deacon in charge of our facilities. He is constantly bombarded with “hey, the toilet is overflowing / it’s too cold in here / it’s too hot in here/ when are going to paint that room” and on and on.

  15. Bill says:

    Such excellent comments! The positive attitude which each one of you has taken is really a blessing. Praise the Lord for each one of you!! -bill

  16. Angie says:

    Bill, how we treat each other in the smallest of ways is a huge heart issue for me. I believe there’s tremendous power in taking time to speak in an encouraging way… I mean, we can’t expect that from the world (though on occasion we receive it moreso there than among our church crowd!), so it’s incredibly meaningful to speak encouragement especially to the household of faith…

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