I’ve Never Given Birth…But My Wife Has…

11Jan08

Just thinking…

I don’t know what its like to attend a new church. I have grown up in church. My Dad was a Pastor, so I was always in the church he was at. I always knew people. I didn’t know anything about the church down the street. I knew what I liked about our church and what i didn’t, but it was never based on comparison to something else. I can honestly say that I have no clue what it’s like to look for a church.

So what do I have to give as a Pastor to someone who is attending our church for the first time? Nothing. I know how I like to be treated. I know what it feels like to be welcomed in or accepted. I am sure those things can be valuable in understanding someones journey, but the reality is, that I have never been there.

If you are in ministry and you are reading this, maybe you can relate. Maybe you are sitting there and saying you DO know what a visitor feels like. Do you? Can you honestly say you’ve walked in their shoes? If you can, than teach me. I guess this has to be my position in this. Teach me.

Here’s the problem. We all have our likes and dislikes. Our beliefs or our lack of them. When someone goes through a situation, they feel something. It’s proven fact that people remember 100% of what they feel. That seems to me as something pretty important in determining someones knowledge. My wife bore 2 beautiful children. I have been through 2 pregnancies with her. I have been up with her in the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep. I have taken walks with her because she could no longer sit. I ran errands to get the exact food that she had to eat right then and there. I held her hand and wiped her head when she gave birth. I had the amazing opportunity to be front and center in the birth of both our children. BUT, I have no idea what she went through. I can imagine. I saw and heard things. I have my take on it, based on my own feelings, BUT I felt nothing she felt. I did not give birth and I can never claim to know what she felt like.

So what’s my point? I think we as church leaders rely WAY too much on what we think in regards to what people actually feel. I think because of our pride, we miss out on actually caring for people. We’ve all read the greatest book on this subject and spent times at the best conferences and of course we read all the right blogs, so we MUST know…right? Our understanding of how others feel is in direct proportion to what we have gone through ourselves. I believe very strongly that we can never lead someone to a place we have never been. In turn, I can never know better about a situation than a person who’s already been through it.

So, I’ve used Pastors as an example, but place any person in there and it still works. People have a responsibility to listen, learn and understand. We have to accept the fact that we don’t have all the best ideas. We don’t have the perfect scenarios. And we will never know the perfect answer.

I don’t know where you guys and gals could take these thoughts, but have at it.

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27 Responses to “I’ve Never Given Birth…But My Wife Has…”

  1. Powerful thought Brent.

    I’ve been there as a “church shopper” before (although it’s been quite a long time) – I remember simply wanting to feel like I wasn’t an outsider. If that one need was met, I would always come back the next weekend.
    We do studies, and research, community surveys and read tons of books that tell us what visitors are wanting and feeling…but I think it really comes down to simply making people feel like they’re not an outsider..making them feel welcomed, accepted and wanted. All the rest will come later…but to me, that one thing is of the utmost importance.

  2. Hey Jim, I like how you’ve kept this simple. Doesn’t it seem like church can be really complex for people and we as leaders can make it this way? God says Love Him and Love People. That seems so simple. Loving people should create an opportunity to let people know how valuable they are, thus allowing them to no longer feel like an outsider. The church can really damage people, when we make someone feel like an outsider.

    Good thoughts.

  3. Aww Brent, this one made me cry. Well not CRY cry, but I’m sitting here choked up with tears in my eyes….because I remember, like it were yesterday, how it felt to “look for a church” when we lived in Missouri. I can honestly say it took nearly 2 years to find the church we finally globbed onto. And that was in a town smaller than Central Point! It WAS the bible belt so I’m pretty sure there 10x the amount of churches as well! 😉
    I just remember feeling very alone, very vulnerable, nervous, like I was an outsider. One thing I DIDN’T like was whoever I was meeting that day acting like my BEST FRIEND the very minute I said I was “new here.” y/k? I liked friendliness, I liked information, I liked invitation. I liked knowing that the door was open for me to come again, not that I HAD TO COME AGAIN.
    I think someone who is “looking for a church” especially in a new town/state is someone who could just use a friendly smile and for someone to ask them how THEY are doing in their transition, not how much they liked the church or the service. If they liked it, they will tell you, but bottom line is they are looking for someone to care about what brought them there.
    Our biggest draw to our church in MO was that we weren’t BOMBARDED and the people we met were interested in why we were there and what brought us there. But they also gave us space to decided if that was the church for us.
    I think it’s a fine line.
    *stepping down off soap box now*

    I must say though, our church does ROCK. 😉

    😀

  4. AH CRAP. I didn’t keep mine simple! 😉

  5. Simple enough Bran 🙂

    See, you can teach me. You’ve been there, you’ve known it. Even better, you know how to now care for those who walk through the doors. It is a blessing for you.

  6. I think that assumptions are one of the biggest mistakes that we in the church make. These assumptions are dangerous to members and visitors alike. I remember wondering why all these women around me were tapped to take part in a discipleship class for up and coming leaders. I was part of leadership, yet I wasn’t being discipled. I asked our women’s pastor about it, and she said that she had mistakenly assumed that I was or had been discipled. Not the case. She also said that because it seemed like I had such a close family that I wasn’t in need of encouragement as much as others.

    I also chatted with a woman who’s husband’s career in college ministry left her feeling isolated because they had moved so many times and she didn’t have any family. She longed for the opportunity to go to a Sunday dinner with more than just her husband and 20 or more college students. It made me aware of the need to reach out to other women even if they looked like they were surrounded with support.

    I don’t know if this helps at all…

  7. visiting an unfamiliar church is the WORST feeling ever – especially when we don’t know anyone there.

    imagine walking into a meeting/party slightly uninvited. i say slightly because there’s this unspoken rule that they have to let new people into the room…. but we don’t really know if they want us there, do we?

    anyway, drew and i spent about 4 months wandering all over the north shore of Massachusetts looking for a church home.
    where did we land? in the church that did the best job of welcoming us.

    my advice: take a few sundays (as a part of your job at YOUR church) to wander to other churches to experience “blind churchgoing”… its kinda like a blind date, but with less conversation.
    😉

  8. If you really want to know what it feels like to walk into a church for the first time, then go to someplace that is totally outside your demo/phsycographic comfort zone. Not other churches… try going to say an urban dance club where you are the only person of your race…OR…maybe a country bar is your a city dude.. or ( if you middle class) walk into the richest country club/restaurant/store you can find.. or walk into a gay bar and hang out for a while. Not only will you have the chance to hang with the least of these. You’ll get the idea of what people feel like when they walk into your church for the first time. I walked into an evangelical church for the first time ever 9 years ago and going through those doors was the scariest 30 seconds of my life ( and I had hung out in those other places)

  9. Pete, that is great! Going to another church is beneficial to sit back and watch how they do things but we still won’t get a feel of a first time attender if we’re looking for a response from going to “church” for the very first time. So you’re right, if I wanted to take up hip-hop dancing, or was curious, and walked into an inner city dance club for the first time ever in my life, that might really be uncomfortable for me. Not that they’d be “the least of these” BUT it would be a whole new experience for me in trying something completely new and foreign to me.

  10. Amy – You’ve nailed a great aspect of the church’s personality. We are really good at assuming. Of course, I don’t just hold the church in that category, but that is the focus for now. I think there are great practical applications for how we do church, but the reality is that people need to be treated uniquely. This show them value and connects.

    Mandy – I am so happy that you still come over here and say nice things even when I give you a hard time 🙂 We are in the process of leaving our existing home and finding a new one. A lot of my thoughts on this have to do with a lot of the thoughts I am having right now just going through this new situation and everything that goes along with it.

    Pete – This is valuable insight. Allowing ourselves to be a part of the journey of those who are uncomfortable will at least get us closer to understanding and being able to be compassionate. I have realized over my life that I am not a very compassionate person and I think God is being faithful to continue teaching me this.

    Tam – You wanna take a hip hop class 🙂

  11. Hey Tam, Hopefully “least of these” didn’t sound condescending it wasn’t meant to. All I meant was in each one of those environments ( as in most any environment) you’ll find busted up broken people that the world/people have either run over or forgotten.

  12. Not all Pete. I put it in quotes to refer to the bible not what you had said…Honest… I didn’t get you were being condescending one bit 😉 I thought your angel was right on!

  13. 13 lazrus2

    I wholeheartedly agree that we should seek to understand ‘how people feel’, but believe that applies not just to newcomers we want to attract but also to ‘oldtimers’ we might want to keep. I think perhaps too many times we focus more on making ‘converts’ than ‘disciples’ while its really the latter who by their consistent lifestyles (more than their weekend church attendance – though the challenge for that should come from there) will attract the newcomers to ‘come and see’ the basis for their daily living. When they do come then Jesus said they’d ‘know we are His disciples by our love’ (for one another as well as for them). If they don’t see us ‘loving and caring’ for one another there, why should they think we will ever for them either if they decide to ‘join us’?

    ‘Understanding’ and loving (even when the ‘tough’ kind is required) people we already know well is a lot greater challenge I think than trying to ‘relate to where outsiders (whom we’ve never met) are coming from’. Still I do agree both are important.

    I’ve never given birth either, but I did have a 3 hour bout with a kidney stone 5 years ago, and some pretty severe ‘spiritual labor’ (just my own personal ‘hard to understand feelings’ of course) for about 10 years so far. ‘Think that could qualify for ‘hanging in there’ to try and understand ??
    D-

  14. Dana, your exactly right. This post is more about the general idea of knowing and understanding than specifically pinpointing visitors. It relates to all. Just as Amy said, we often assume people’s needs and thoughts and many get caught in the middle of that. Visitor or regular attender or family member or friend.

    As you have said both are important, because it all boils down to all needing the same care and attention.

    We all have to figure out how that looks for each of our lives, ministries and the people we have direct influence on. That’s what pastor Tom is going to talk about this weekend. Stewardship of our Influence. Should be challenging.

    You speak of your own “hard to understand feelings”. That is a personal place for all of us. Ideas, Expectations and hopes all play into that. I pray we all are able to understand through his love and patience with us. I believe we can.

  15. 15 Ed

    Being a new person in any environment can be a difficult and scary experience. I was the new kid when I was sent to the local Catholic church after my mother died. I was overwhelmed and it was a mostly negative experience for many reason.

    I would guess that, as Brandy suggested, it might be best to give someone new to your congregation the opportunity to get a sense of your church on their own. Let them the first to ask questions or volunteer to help.

    When I first starting visiting a local Catholic church on my walk around town, a beautiful quiet place to just relax and think, the priest did introduce himself but did not start asking my a lot of questions. Overtime we starting talking and have had many interesting discussions. At no point have I felt he was trying to “sell” his church to me, even when I told him I was an atheist.

  16. Hey Ed – You’ve brought up a thought regarding churches specifically that I think is an important one. I think churches try too hard to sell themselves. I think we need to be welcoming and accessible, but many people just want to get a feel for it as they visit.

    I do however also think that many come with preconceived or skewed ideas of what they will experience. They then allow any issue in their experience to only reinforce how they felt before they even showed up. This is not directed at you, I assure you. it is a thought in how we as a church move forward. In one hand we want to be welcoming, but may be criticized for being too friendly or fake. on the other hand we may be criticized for not saying hello or talking to a person. I hear that one all the time. “No one ever said hello to me”. I guess it is a constant balance.

    I think being real is the best option.

  17. 17 Ed

    I agree with your point about a pastor introducing themselves to welcome any one new to the church. It’s been forty years since I haven’t been to a Sunday service at any church. I presume that pastors still stand outside the church after service and talk to everyone coming out.

    It would interesting to see how much of a difference there is in the way churches in different parts of the country bring in new members. My guess is that where there are a lot of churches, like in the “bible belt” or in big cities like New York a church would have to be more aggressive(?) in promoting itself.

  18. 18 Ed

    Okay, minor correction.

    “It’s been forty years since I ‘have’ been to a Sunday service”.

    It’s also been at least forty years since I have written anything with making at least one spelling or grammer error. 🙂

  19. This post, and the comments, have been encouraging to read. I can’t add much to the conversation except to say that the effort at understanding new church visitors needs to extend beyond the church walls.

    We have been looking for a home church for 3 years. We thought we had found the right place. We felt welcomed and the message was good. Upon our third visit we were told of an outing being held at the local park. My family decided to attend and were surprised when when the people that would normally say hello in Church said nothing to us at the outing. It was a very awkward and disappointing experience.

    We continue to look.

  20. Ed – Our Pastors mingle around and hang out all weekend. there isn’t a specific spot, but they are involved with the people all over campus. the intent is always to be accessible. I think this is definitely necessary. Also, at the end of all our services, you have a chance to talk with r pray with the Pastors as well. I’ve always found that the availability of whoever is teaching that morning is a huge need.

    Chuck – Welcome. thanks for stopping by. You’ve brought another aspect of this up and that is that often people are one way at church and another way away from church. It’s like they have God compartmentalized to Sunday AM and then the rest of the week, He goes back in the box and put on the shelf till they go back to church the next Sunday.

    Christians have to realize that Sunday AM is probably the smallest aspect of who we are in our relationship with Christ. Every facet of our lives have to be affected and every moment of our lives need to be an outpouring of our relationship with God.

    I hope you are able to find a church home soon. Be patient and you will. Where are you located?

  21. 21 Cheryl

    WOW Brent!! So many memories come to mind. Coming from a very small church (100 in attendance) in a different country to Redding, I have to say I was blown away and scared when I went to church down there. The churches were SOO Big in terms of numbers. I remember asking people which church they went to. It was easier to tag along but I have to say I hated looking for a church. I am shy and to have to walk into a place where I knew not a soul was an undertaking. But I knew what I wanted…contemporary worship and strong teaching of the Word. I also knew that I needed to find that on my own without being “poached” as the newcomer.

    But I have to say one thing that really struck a cord with me at our church… Greg and I had been attending another one in the Valley but we weren’t at ease. I can remember seeing an ad for TRF and thinking that we should check you folks out. You had me with the worship for sure! 😉 But I can also remember Pastor Tom preaching about being open to other cultures. He was quite direct and said (I’m not going to quote him) to the congregation that if anyone didn’t like seeing faces of color here then they should find a different church! I remembered thinking right then and there that this was where I wanted to be, and where I want the kids to be. THis is NOT a very diverse area and that does concern me but when Tom said what he did…all I have to say is WOW!

  22. I am so glad to hear from you here Cheryl. The Hodge family has missed your blog 😦

    Size of the church is huge. Some say they are intimidated by the large and others say they want large because of the ability to hide in it and get there feel for it before really being known there. It was really telling when a couple of us met with a group of people at TRF last month and one of them said we were a huge church. I know we have a lot of people total that come on the weekends, but we have 4 services, so I figured a person would only feel Table Rock was as large as the service they attended. Not so, they all felt we were huge. Our valley is small, so I am afraid no matter how many services we have, Table Rock will always feel like a large church.

    It is always encouraging to hear people’s perspective of Table Rock, because it’s hard to really get an unbiased idea when we(who work there everyday) talk about it. I love to hear stories. Good and bad.

  23. Here’s a question i’ve been pondering.. do you think when looking for a church as Christians we spend too much time looking for what we want VS looking for what God could do with us or how we could partner with what God is doing with his kingdom in that community? It’s always stumped me how people.. say.. I like the size…teaching..music..and never so much… I feel like God wants me here in this place with these people glorifying him..( hope thats not a tangent Brent)

  24. This is quite the awesome post. I believe this to be so key…”I think we as church leaders rely WAY too much on what we think in regards to what people actually feel. I think because of our pride, we miss out on actually caring for people. ”

    The reason Jer and I began to go to TRF to begin with is because we heard that you except people where they are, don’t leave them there, and encourage tham to be who God intended them to be. Honestly we thought “nice conceopt” but after 8 years we still keep coming back. I don’t believe it can ever be about the building, style of music…etc. People have to see Jesus being lived out, and that’s what happens there. God has us on different ministry treks all the time, but when we’re in town, we’re there. We have to be in a place where God’s spirit is prominate…and although there are tons of people we can always find that intimacy with God. People will come and go, and it’s good to do the survey like we did today…but not if it’s to try to raise number. (I know that wasn’t the reason for us) God will draw the people. The transperancy of our pastor today made me weep. It’s why we keep coming back…it’s real, it’s God, and we are truly blessed.

  25. Pete, right on! IMO, not a tangent but a great thing to talk about!

  26. Pete – Definitely some great thoughts here that I would love to tackle. I want to start a new post with your comments. I think you are right on in your take on people treating church like a commodity. I’ll have something up tonight.

    GG – It’s fun to hear the kind words for TRF, but more than that I am encouraged to hear people saying the TRF is encouraging this atmosphere!


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