Thinking Out Loud

December 6, 2013

Knowing the Whole Person

Filed under: relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:46 am

Today a name came up of someone I know rather superficially.

I think I know what energizes him.  I know what he’s passionate about. What drives him. What he talks about when it’s his chance to control the conversation. What is probably the first thing he thinks about when he gets up in the morning.

And in a way, that’s how people know me.  They know what energizes me. What I’m passionate about. What drives me. What I talk about when it’s my chance to control the conversation. What is probably the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning.

Sensing a pattern in them paragraphs?

But there’s a reason why I say know this person rather superficially, and it occurred to me in the car driving home from work.

I don’t know what breaks him.

To borrow from my old sociology notes, I know what holds him together, but I don’t know what tears him apart. This is the problem in the church, we really don’t know each other.

And in a way, that’s what people don’t know about me.

They don’t know what breaks me.

January 4, 2013

How a Community Goes About Helping

Think of this as a Part Two to yesterday’s post. It’s easy to curse the darkness, but requires slightly more skill to light a candle. How would a community go about helping one of the students mentioned here?

We live in a very small town.  I grew up in Toronto where resources are more abundant. Actually, we are two adjacent towns with a population of approx. 16,000 each, separated by about four miles (eight kilometres).  In the one town there are three evangelical churches and in the other there are five. I envision these eight churches being able to come together for a project of this nature, though as stated yesterday, the initial reaction I got to this proposal doesn’t bear out that possibility so far.

Twice this year, at one of the churches we took up a cash offering after the service to meet two very specific needs. Some churches call these “retiring offerings.” You don’t get a receipt for tax purposes in this type of giving. Some would call it a “loose change offering” even though you’re tossing in bills as well as coins; it’s money you won’t miss.

One offering was for a guy who needed help paying his rent that month. He isn’t a member of that church, and a very infrequent adherent. But he asked. He had a need. We helped him collect the $200 he  needed and had $100 left over.

The second was for a family that hit a somewhat sudden financial crisis that left their next mortgage payment in doubt, and this is a family that’s never been flush with money to begin with. They are not members of this church either, nor do I believe they have ever attended.

In both cases, I was the only one who knew both recipients and was responsible for delivering the cash to each. I’m not sure that even the pastor knew who the second family was. They trusted my judgement on this.

I thought it would be nice to do a third project like this before the year was over, but then I reconsidered. I don’t want people to think I’m running some kind of scheme here. (We decided it would be a bad time to buy a car!) Actually it would be nice if someone else came up with a third project.

Anyway, this church has an average Sunday morning attendance of around 90 people, and each time we raised around $300.  With some adjusting for the demographic makeup of the congregations, I’ve estimated a typical attendance for each of the three (given letters) in the one town and five (given numbers) in the other, with a suggested offering total.

Benevolent Cash Offering From Eight Churches

Yes, that’s right; we live in a really, really, really small town; we have really, really, really small churches. The combined attendance from all eight churches (1,230) wouldn’t even fill one section in some mega-churches you’re familiar with.

And yet, possibly without even knowing who they are giving to, we’ve raised $4,000; a significant chunk of what R., N., and T., in yesterday’s example would need to kick-start a semester payment. Plus, I’m thoroughly convinced that knowing more details, people would give more generously. (The people in the two stories I mentioned were giving “blind” so to speak; even the nature of the need had to be somewhat veiled to protect the identity of the people concerned.)  I’m also convinced that people currently on the fringes — not presently attending a church — could hear about this via a newsletter — the very newsletter that gave birth to this blog five years ago — and add another $1,000.

And think about what a group of churches in your much larger community could do with a similar project and what a HUGE difference it could make to a student.

Spontaneous, New Testament-styled giving. Approval needed, yes; but no budget committee needs to meet on it, because it’s off-budget.

And yes, ultimately the money goes to some very large institution. I’m not content with that. (See yesterday’s comments.) But it’s the only way to a future these kids can foresee. And what a wonderful statement it makes about Christian community. And what a wonderful thing if those givers covenant to pray for that student throughout the semester. And what a wonderful thing if five years later, graduates are willing to give back something to help kick-start other students on their way to a decent education.

And why not do this not once, but two or three times in a year? And a couple extra times for a family with unexpected medical costs? Or a family where both wage earners are out of work? Or…

Well… why not?

January 3, 2013

Helping Youth Attain College Education

University LibraryThis fall our youngest son began attending a Christian university. In the process, we are quickly learning that higher education really means higher priced education. Dang, this is costly.

When were helping him transfer some funds in September, I really though he was paying for a full year, only to realize later that we had only covered the first semester.  Double dang.

But as hard as this probably was for some of our local acquaintances to believe, I didn’t have Kid Two in mind when I drafted a letter to some of our local clergy suggesting that university and college education is priced out of reach of many kids leaving high school, and where these students are a part of our local churches, if we are really family, we should rally together and offer to help.

By rally together, I’m forming a mental image of some ethnic groups where, when one family wants to buy a house, everybody contributes to help maximize the down payment. That sort of thing.

The actual students I had in mind are difficult to pin down here, since I have a handful of local readers  at a blog that is written with a worldwide audience in mind. So I’ll use initials:

  • R. wanted to attend an out-of-town two-year business program this fall. But in the process of getting housing he was, for lack of a better word, swindled out of much of the money he had set aside and is now working a lackluster job to try to gain enough from scratch to revisit the process next fall. R. has so much potential; I feel like he was simply born into the wrong family, and wish I could just hand him the life he wants.
  • N. has actually completed almost half of a four-year degree program at a Christian college. Her major is her passion and her giftedness in this area is renown among students her age. She would love to go back to this Christian college, but as the days tick by, it seems less and less likely.
  • T.’s story is the one I am least familiar with. Essentially, he was among the brightest and the best in his high school, but university remains just a dream, though I keep thinking that whatever he winds up doing, he’s going to excel; but right now probably feels a little lost with most of his cohort off to school while he works a low-paying job.

So on September 5th, I asked our local clergy if we couldn’t borrow a page from the ethnic house-buyers and have money pooled together to kick-start education (or return to school) for at least one student per year.

…This is a community that stands behind people in crisis.  Is there something we can do for kids in our local churches who need a ‘leg-up’ in the area of higher education?

Currently, a couple of churches offer a small scholarship for kids pursuing Christian education, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed in the three stories I described above.

I now know this first-hand. [However,] the program that I am envisioning would not be something [our two kids] would subscribe to; rather, I’ve tried to approach this with some objectivity and with a vision for students like the ones I described, two of which find it impossible to get started

Furthermore, I want to recognize that there are young men and women out there who desire to serve God with all their hearts, but have an education vision that does not necessarily involve [various Christian universities].  I also believe that if something were established long-term, there are recipients of this type of help who would be willing to give something back after they graduate.

Is there something more we can do as the body of Christ … to come together to support students in a significant way?

I hope you’ll pray about this; and I would hope that pastors receiving this would be willing to discuss this at the next … ministerial meeting.  While we are often ‘tapped out’ in our giving, and while it would be easy to say we don’t need one more ’cause,’ I believe that this is the kind of project that is worthy of our consideration and viable, but only if we work together.

So that’s what I wrote. And that’s what I believe. And I would love to be able to report that our community established a scholarship fund and this fall one or two students will be able to create a proposal and receive some significant help. And that we now have a structure in place that is going to be of benefit to students for the next decade and beyond.

But it never happened. The response was under-whelming. As in nil. Another email from Paul that got quickly deleted.

There is a saying that “if a man thinks he is casting a vision that nobody is actually catching, he is merely throwing a tennis ball against a brick wall.” 

Well, it should be a saying.

I’ve been tossing visions in our little corner of the world for years, but few have been caught. But maybe, just maybe, someone in some other part of the world is reading this and will adopt something similar that will brighten the corner where you are.

It may not help R. or N. or T., but it may change a student’s life, and that student may change the world.

March 28, 2011

Building Community Through Church Directories

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

~Theme from Cheers TV-Show

It was a heated congregational meeting that had been called nearly twenty years ago to address the implications of the rapidly growing church going to a two service format on Sunday mornings.  The usual pros and cons were being kicked around when a woman at the back stood up and voiced an issue I hadn’t foreseen; “But we won’t all know each other.”

I never thought of that.

This was a church where, heretofore, everybody knew who everybody was.  The kind of thing you expect in a rural church environment.  Suddenly, that was about to change, and there was apprehension if not plain fear about the implications of going to church on Sunday morning and not being in command of the first and last names of all the people in the auditorium.

# # #

Some churches have always resolved the identification issue by having a bulletin board at the back with photos of “Our Church Family.”  A local church in our area raised the quality standard on this a few years back.  When the professional company doing their photo directory was done, the church was presented with a couple of beautiful, framed wall prints showing everyone’s directory photo and name alphabetically.  I’m sure it is often referred to, given that church’s size.

Another option is name tags.  Besides the risk of the pin-type tearing clothing — many churches opt for the lanyard type –  I’ve always felt it reminiscent of the “elder” name tags worn by the Mormon (LDS) missionaries who come knocking at your front door at inopportune times.  But some churches thrive on this system, with visitors quickly assigned a quickly-scribbled Sharpie version which, I’m quite sure, would make seeker-friendly advocates like Bill Hybels shudder in horror; although it beats asking visitors to stand up and give their names, a practice I sincerely hope has disappeared by now.

It also raises an issue I don’t have space to get into here:  The artificiality of the “turn around shake hands” type of forced fellowship.  Or name tags themselves.  If you click the image on the name tag at right, it will take you to a blog post on that subject.

Then there are various types of mixers including Newcomers Lunch, where established church leaders get to know recent arrivals; or the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events where, each quarter, people alternate between being a “host” or being a “guest” at a mystery house with mystery guests.  (You can even heat things up by sending the charismatic-leaning, Arminian Smith family over for lunch with the conservative Calvinist Jones family; but who gets the Black family with their ten children?)

Of course, the organic approach to getting to know people is small groups.  You won’t know everyone, but you’ll build deep relationships and strong community with the others in your group.   And possibly at that point, knowing everyone’s name won’t be so high a priority.

Which brings us to church directories.

# # #

When my oldest son was about six I showed him an entry in our church’s directory where one couple’s name was listed, but there was no address or phone number.  It was easy to see why if you knew that he worked for the RCMP.  (U.S. readers: Think FBI.)  So I asked him, “Why do you think they don’t have an address?”

His answer was; “They’re homeless.”

I then explained the nature of his job, and the notion of privacy.  There are other examples I can think of where families have chosen to opt-out completely from even having their names listed, but in most small and medium-sized churches, a church telephone directory is still considered useful, even though some online people haven’t picked up a phone handset in years; so most people participate.

Directories easily fit into the collection of things listed above (name tags, photo boards, etc.) but offer something else: A means to get in touch, or stay in touch with other people in your church throughout the week.  You can call the kid’s teacher to see if he left his Bible in the classroom, ask the worship leader’s wife for the title of the book she mentioned in the lobby, and e-mail the woman who said she had a great recipe for carrot cake.  You can see where people live, and the names of their children.

I am convinced that these directories — with or without photos — are in another category altogether, and sincerely believe that, where feasible, every church should have one.

Especially in an age of e-mail.

I know there will be pushback on this — some people will not want their e-mail address published — but I am convinced that we live in an electronic world where not having e-mail is like buying a house and taking down the mailbox.  I believe there is potential for abuse, but it is outweighed by the contact that can take place between church family members.

As a business owner who does a monthly e-mail newsletter, I’m always tempted to steal e-mail addresses from directories, but we’ve learned over time that we’re better off initiating contact some other way before pursuing electronic communication.  However, one local church meets this problem halfway by giving business owners a back page to list their name, the name of their business, the nature of their business, and business phone and e-mail information.

That same church also has a strong push for people to submit photos.  They produce their own directory, and so there isn’t the hesitation associated with commercial photographers trying to sell families additional prints and print packages.

In an environmentally-conscious world, some churches have put their church directory online.  A login is necessary so that only members and adherents can access the information, though the same login allows those listed to update their own data.

At the other end of the spectrum, in another church that we are actively involved with, the directory is simply a list of names and phone numbers.  No indication of where people live or if they drive a great distance for worship.  No opportunity to send an e-mail; which really grates on my wife and I, who use online communication extensively.

The other major liability of that system is that children under eighteen are not listed at all.  I’m not sure I can even begin to grasp what kind of message that sends to, for example, the teens in the youth group.  (“You’re not really part of our church family.”)  It’s an oddity that sticks out all the more if your kids are accustomed to seeing their names in such a publication.  The church in question doesn’t really have a large number of children.  Coincidence?

# # #

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…

~Lyrics from the Beatles, “When I’m 64″

In a world where privacy concerns dominate so many discussions, and insurance companies advise churches against anything with the faintest hint of liability, the idea of a church directory may seem like a throwback to a bygone era; however this writer is sold on them.  I even keep a few old ones now and then as a sort of yearbook of memories of what the church family looked like in the past. Once in awhile, I discover someone in the church family who only lives a few blocks away, or someone who lives next door to someone with whom I’ve recently shared my faith journey.

I also remain absolutely convinced that creating e-mail community is absolutely essential, especially as various factors seem to add to the isolation people experience.  Your church may prefer to do this through Facebook community; but do update the thing now and then, okay?  Computer contact is not the same as face-time, but it’s better than nothing.  And those with hesitation can always choose to opt-out of listing their online address, but I find that most choose to share their full contact information.

Also, I cannot minimize the role that both standard telephone contact and e-mail contact can play when someone in the church faces an urgent need for prayer.

# # #

If we’re a family, then family members talk to each other, right?

And church isn’t just something we do on Sunday.

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