Monday, April 27, 2015

Ten or Eleven Gentle Suggestions for Church Members

            Sundays at Lawrence Park Community Church (LPCC) are fun. People come early for a cup of coffee, and stay long after worship for another. Kids run up and down the halls. Worship services are marked by great music. On the whole, they’re also theologically challenging, and creative. We take Paul’s suggestion that we should rejoice always seriously, but know there is a place for lament too.
LPCC's Motto

            So this morning, I sat down and asked myself what are the personal qualities or practices members of LPCC bring to the table that help to positively shape the church—besides their unique beliefs and personal piety? I made a list of ten such practices and turned them into gentle suggestions. Take your pick. And remember, I’ve thought of these things because mostly, at LPCC, people do them!

ONE: Come early for coffee and stay late for coffee and refreshments. At root, churches are communities. Communities are healthy, in part, to the degree that people feel they really know each other and belong. So building personal relationships among church members is crucial. Besides coffee time, everything from meditation classes to Bible studies, from choir practices to committee meetings are also opportunities to build community. Sign up!

TWO: Besides staying for coffee, keep an eye out for strangers. Remember, the Old Testament tells us to love our neighbours only twice, but it tells us to love the stranger something like thirty-six times. Few things will attract new members so much as a warm welcome that stretches into their third, fourth and fifth visits. Remember that every time you look deeply into a stranger’s eyes, you’re looking at your own soul.

THREE: When you’re visiting with church members, and the conversation happens to touch on another church member, remember that we aim to build people up rather than tear them down. If there are serious issues involving other church members that need to be resolved, you should probably go talk to them rather than another member.

FOUR: Let the minister know about pastoral needs or other expectations. Ministers don’t read minds. We don’t know if you’ve had a troubling diagnosis, a spiritual concern, or something else you may want to discuss. Still, we’re always happy to sit down and talk. It’s one of the main things we decided to do with our lives. So call.

FIVE: Learn the names of as many kids as you can, and when you see them, say, “hi.” Make a game of it. See how well you can do. Church is a family. Kids need to feel a part of that. How will they feel a part of that if when they walk down the halls no one calls them by name?

SIX: Make at least one long-term volunteer commitment. I’m always amazed by how much needs to be done at church—from getting coffee ready to buying communion supplies, from singing to administering to attending youth retreats to collecting coats. The list is endless in both length and variety. So sign up for something, anything. Then, whether your commitment is a large one or small, make sure we can depend on it.

SEVEN: If you are on a committee that has serious responsibilities—the church council perhaps, or the Flower Guild, resign if you don’t have time. There are other opportunities that will work with your schedule, so why frustrate both yourself and fellow committee members?

EIGHT: Sing. I’ve been in churches where people mostly listen to the choir, and in churches that lift the roof up off the walls even for hymns they hardly know. Few things make church seem exactly like church than every voice joining in. I know that not all of us have the voice of angels (I certainly don’t). But it’s about letting what lives in your heart out through your lips. Church isn’t a reality show like American Idol. No one is judging you.

NINE: Contribute generously. Not only of your time, but your resources. Do it through PAR, or through automatic withdrawals from your account. Make sure the church is a beneficiary in your will. I still like the idea of tithing toward your charities as a guideline. If the poor Hebrews could do it, why can’t we rich Westerners? We have so much to be grateful for, we ought to figure out how to be grateful in concrete ways. Consider giving a third or a half of your tithe to your church, and the rest to other worthy causes. Of course, none of this applies to people who really can’t afford to tithe!

TEN: Tithe your complaints, too. There is another area where tithing is a great idea. Complaints. Your complaints about what is going on at church should never amount to more than a tithe of your compliments about what is going on in church. By the way, sharing thoughtful suggestions with the pastor or a council member about the preaching, or the music, or the finances of a church is not complaining. It is participating in the life of the church.

ELEVEN: Attend annual meetings. Even if you don’t have time to contribute as a volunteer, and even if you don’t have financial gifts to be generous with, participation at congregational events is crucial. Inform yourself about church priorities, congregational health, and the plans of the church’s leadership. Offer constructive input. Not only does this build a sense of shared responsibility and community, it will bring important viewpoints that might not otherwise have been considered into play.

            I’m sure I’ve managed, at best, to touch on some of my pet peeves, and that most church leaders—whether lay or ministerial—have their own list. But at a minimum, these suggestions will make for a good discussion starter. What items might you add? Or subtract?

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