Thinking Out Loud

December 13, 2010

How Not To Run a Youth Banquet

When it came time to sign up for bringing food to the youth Christmas banquet, there was no need for my youngest son to deliberate.   He loves Caesar salad, and loves it done right.   Furthermore, he’s taken a culinary course, he’s worked a paying job in the food services industry, and he also comes by his kitchen talents through hereditary factors, given that when I met his mother she was the food services director of a Christian camp.

So when he was preparing to take his salad to the church, he was very careful to pack the ingredients individually — the bacon bits, the croutons, the lemon wedges and the dressing — to be tossed just before the banquet began.

Instead, he found the kitchen occupied by some older women he didn’t know who assured him that they knew what to do with a salad, and told him to, “Get out of the kitchen.”

Strike one.

His table was the third one called up to the serving table, and it was at that moment he was horrified to discover that instead of mixing the bacon bits, croutons and dressing, they had simply placed them randomly on the table; but the lemon wedges were scattered throughout the greens, making the whole thing look like a lemon salad.

Strike two.

At that point, I would have set my own plate down and done what needed doing, but he was so devastated by what he saw that, like a deer caught in the proverbial headlights, he didn’t quite know what the etiquette was for a moment like the one he was experiencing.

So…his salad was not received with the enthusiasm he expected, and this is a kid whose feelings can be somewhat fragile.  But he decided to just carry on as if it wasn’t happening and enjoy the rest of the meal.   When it came time for desert, he discovered his bacon bits were still being offered, and in fact were experiencing a new-found popularity.   Apparently the kitchen crew didn’t know what they were.

Strike three.

When he went into the kitchen to gather up his left0ver salad, he discovered that they had thrown everything in the garbage.   Good, edible food; prepared in love and submitted — in addition to a $10 admittance charge — by a family that buys 90% of everything we eat from the discount food shelves because we don’t actually have a normal food budget.   By this point he was mortified.

Strike four?

We’ll come back to this story in a minute.   Believe me.

The rest of the banquet had some good moments.   Kid Two (aka Kid, Too) has a great attitude and can always find the full half of the glass.   But when he got in the car he had to vent his frustration and anger, and so that the night didn’t end with just ugly memories, we went for a drive to the town park where they had a number of Christmas lights set up, and walked around the display for about ten minutes.     Yes, I know; great parenting move.

Now then, back to the banquet.

How is that people who lack basic interpersonal skills (“Get out of the kitchen”) and lack basic culinary skills (not knowing how to toss or serve a salad), and lack basic Christian stewardship (throwing good food in the trash) come to be in charge of the kitchen at the youth banquet?   Did nobody else volunteer?   Could the youth not have staged their own banquet without adult supervision?

This sort of crap happens far too often in local churches.

Sunday after Sunday, Mrs. Green sits at the organ with two hands and one foot playing what sounds like entirely different sounds.

Week after week, Mr. Black makes a display of ushering on the west side in a manner that is totally distracting, seating people in the front row during solos and prayers and the sermon, and totally distracting people from the act of worship in the process.

Service after service, Mrs. Jones puts up the lyrics to the wrong songs on the PowerPoint screen, or worse, seems to inexplicably fall asleep (or something)  in the middle of a song leaving the screen locked on the second part of the second verse, and the audience standing with shrugged shoulders and nothing to sing.

Does nobody care to give their best to God?

(Let me add, parenthetically, that errors do happen.   I spent the better part of the week of November 28th beating myself up over missing a cue on an instrumental part in a Sunday worship service; and there are two errors in our music video which nobody else would notice, but they drive me nuts.)

There has to be allowance for the fact that people aren’t perfect, and the church has to be a place of grace, and God’s people agents of grace.   However…

It’s time to consider the need for confrontation.   So I have provided here, for your use, some phrases you can cut and paste and send off to Mr. X or Mrs. Y. in the hope of reclaiming the pursuit of excellence:

Dear __________,    It has come to our attention that you can’t really sing.   Your pitch is terrible, your song selection is most often totally inappropriate, but most important, the world has changed and the musical and lyrical expectations for church music have shifted somewhat as well.  Thank you for your help in the past, but now we’re going to move on.

Dear __________,    It’s true that gas was once 49 cents a gallon, there were only three television stations, and you actually shared your phone line with another family through a ‘party line’ system, but this is now and the junior highs are tired of these stories, and don’t quite get the point.   We’ve hired a part-time youth worker who will be taking over the group next week.

Dear __________,   It’s not easy being the church sound engineer, especially when people keep craning their necks and looking back every time there’s a glitch, but in fact there’s been a lot of glitches and a lot of neck craning lately; the mics are never turned on in time, or it’s too loud, or you can only hear the alto and tenor parts when the trio sings, never the melody.   We’re going to offer this job to someone else in next week’s bulletin.

Dear __________,  For twenty years our children’s ministry has been defined by your presence in the Toddler room, but with the passing of time we think that what was once a labor of love has become a bit of a chore; especially given our recent insight that all the children in the room are totally frightened of you.     So if you don’t mind, we’d like to pass the baton to a series of helpers and invite you to simply enjoy the service in the main auditorium next week.

Dear __________,   There’s nothing worse than going to church and then leaving and in between nobody spoke to you; so we appreciate your years of frontline ministry as a door greeter.    But as the first person people meet when they attend church for the first time, the job unfortunately carries with it a responsibility for setting the tone for the whole image of the church.   We’d like to change that image up a bit in the weeks to come.

Okay, maybe these don’t sound very nice.   Maybe they can be improved on.   Maybe they can’t.  Or maybe there isn’t a nice way to deal with musicians who can’t play, Sunday School workers who scare the kids, or kitchen help that can’t keep the banquet dinner rolls warm without burning them.

I just hated to see my son in the situation of being hurt, horrified, mortified, devastated and having his favorite food insulted.    Hurting feelings is dumb, and as I’ve written here before, the things done in church kitchens matter more than anyone realizes.


  1. An amusing way to highlight a basic truth.
    Another area of service: Church secretary. Why is it that a person with NO qualification, no aptitude, no willingness to learn etc gets the job? Because he’s the only one who offers?
    The Lord’s business, done the Lord’s way will get the Lord’s results.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — December 13, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

  2. I would reckon it was not so amusing for his son!

    Seriously though, these are the kinds of things it takes the grace of God to get over. Someone lacking in maturity could be seriously hurt and even turn away from the church!

    Comment by Rick Apperson — December 15, 2010 @ 12:27 am

  3. I think all of this comes down to a basic lack of one thing: humility.

    Church people too often lack the ability to simply ask, “What do you want me to do?” rather than living in a fog of self importance, the grace to make space for other people to contribute and to learn, and the purity of spirit to take suggestions and criticism.

    Comment by Ruth Wilkinson — December 17, 2010 @ 10:42 am

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