Monday, June 9, 2008

Two Perspectives

"Joanie" rang the back doorbell at our church late Saturday afternoon just as I was getting ready to go home. Joanie is an older woman, probably in her 70's (I've never met her before), and, as I welcomed her into the building, she asked if we had any pictures of the "old church". (we built a new, modern building over a year ago and tore down the little, white, steeple, country looking building when we moved into the new one). I said I knew we had some pics, but I didn't know where they were. She looked at me and said, "Figures..."

I introduced myself and extended my hand. She looked at it sceptically for a few seconds ( I swear it was clean), and then reluctantly shook it. I could have told you exactly what was coming next...

"My parents helped build the old building, and I was baptized in it."

"OK. That's pretty neat!"

"I'd really like a picture of the old building before they tore it down and built this ugly building."

So, as I bit my tongue, I took Joanie's name and her number and told her that someone would call her if we found some pictures we could give her. On her way out the door, again she emphasized that she missed the old building and how ugly our new building was.

"Well, Joanie, it's a good thing that what a church building looks like really doesn't matter."

"It matters to me! I can tell you that I'll never come to this church again."

"That's unfortunate, Joanie..."

She was out the door by this time, turning around to say something else to me...before she could get the next words out of her mouth, I again told her we'd call her, have a nice day, and shut the door...


"Coleen" emailed me Sunday afternoon. She had read the story of my wife and I in the local paper a few months ago and had been following along on our blog ever since. She saw that I was going to be telling our story in church this past weekend, and wanted to come, but decided not to because she hasn't been to church in forever. She watched along with hundreds of others online.

"All I can say is Wow! I didn't realize that Church could be like that. The positive energy was amazing. The band was awesome! To see people of all ages and backgrounds come together to worship God, well, I think it has changed my life. Thank you so much for sharing your story with the world, and for bringing God back into my life. I plan to be there next Sunday to share in the celebration of God's love."

We hear from a lot of people like Joanie who are angry with us for tearing down that little white church building and putting this ugly steel box in it's place. They always make sure to let us know how unhappy they are and how ugly our "church" is. Most of them also make sure to tell us that they'll never come to church here ever again. To be honest, most of these people from the older generations.

We also hear from a lot of people like Coleen who visit our church (in person or online) after not having been in a church building for a long time. Nearly every single one tells us how they were totally not expecting what they saw and heard, and they mean that in a good way. They make sure to tell us how "inspired" and "energized" they felt, and how much they want to come back and maybe even bring somebody with them. To be honest, most of these people are also from the older generations.

Two different people, both of whom have experiences and feelings of church from days long ago. But, only one seems to get it...and it's not the one might have originally expected...

Our church is filled with people like Coleen, who had not even thought about church in years before being led to check us out. They play in the band, welcome people on the greeting team and help children learn more about the adventure of God.

I can't think of a single person in our church who reminds me of Joanie. We have some Joanies visit every now and then, and they almost always leave church early and slam the door on their way out, making sure to give us a call or shoot us an email letting us know how ugly our building is, or how loud our music is, etc.

If it weren't for Coleen's email, my conversation with Joanie may have still been making me feel bummed. I couldn't care any less if people find our building ugly...I do care that people don't see anything but an ugly building. Nags Head Church is beautiful, not because of anything else than the God we serve and the love we have for one another and for our community. It's depressing that some people just don't get it, and probably never will. They are missing out on a great adventure.

Fortunately, through Coleen's email, God reminded me of why we're here and who we're impacting, and that I can't stay focused on the few who don't get it.

Who are you impacting?

How much time do you spend focused on the people who don't get it?



Rick Lawrenson said...

That's great!

Another thing about Joanie (who doesn't get it). She's also less than honest. No one ever got baptized in our old church building. Just like the new one, there's no baptistry.

So maybe she's just confused...

Tricia said...

good thoughts natey
too bad J judged a book by it's cover. and your right, it's not about the building but the people inside (&out)

silly joanie
i am excited to see colleen soon!

Andy Lawrenson said...

She probably had not darkened the doors of the old white chapel in a long, long time either.

I had some one gripe at me about it and I said, "We tried to give it away."

You can't fit 500 people in a 100 seat chapel. Just doesn't work.

Rick Lawrenson said...

So I called her to let her know I'd make some prints for her.

"Where do you go to church?", I asked.

"I go to my own church".

"Where's that?"

"In my house."

A bitter, grumpy old lady. Too bad.

Jackie said...

It is unfortunate that some people can't get past the fact that the little white building is gone. It is even more unfortunate that there are those who call themselves Christians who can't that there is more than one way to worship and praise our Lord. I grew up going to a church where there were Bibles in the pews. When I began going to the church I go to now, one of my family members commented, "They don't even have Bibles in the pews!" Seriously?! Thankfully, this certain family member has come a long way in the last 8 years!

If Jesus Christ was humble enough to be born in a barn, surely we can worship him anywhere...a fancy church building or an ugly gray building. He doesn't care and we shouldn't either. If our highest priority is the look of the building, our priorities are all wrong.

Apple said...

Hi, Nate.

I'll humbly admit that I was probably, at one time, a little like the fact that I liked pews, pulpits, and choir lofts. I'll also tell you that, at the time, I was immature in my Christianity...the church was the building and the building had to be just so.

I've grown quite a bit since then and I'm discovering so much more about Jesus' intentions for his followers. The fact that our church (I like saying that) is open and friendly rather than intimidating and stuffy is such an absolutely fabulous thing!! People want to come...and isn't that what we're all about...reaching others?!

The Smith's said...

It is hard to get past the old views of "church" and the "church building" I read an amazing book not long ago titled "Trolls and Truth" (re: the church under the bridge) Have you read it? We need to reach out to the unchurched and the choir lofts and the pews are why some people dont come to church. We have to reach out to them in a different way. I too was amazed at your church service but loved it! I havent seen to many Baptist churches like that but I loved it! Its a lot like my church (that is not Baptist) Keep it up- I hope to visit your church some time.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...just found this blog and spent some time thinking about this. I basically agree with what you said about Joanie, Colleen, and what matters most. But I think you may have missed the point with Joanie. She was grieving. She didn't need (or want, obviously!) someone to convince her that the new church is fine; she was hurting and wanted someone to affirm the validity of her feelings of loss. And chances are the distress about the building is just the surface; it sounds like she is mourning the loss of her parents, a way of life, a style of worship...all kinds of things.

It is so hard, when face to face with these negative folks, not to get defensive and to remember to listen for what is very often hurt and sorrow behind the anger. You were leaving and she was nasty (and I've been there many times, so I don't say this accusingly!)...but I wonder what might've happened if you'd said, "Sounds like you have some special memories of the old church; it must hurt to see it gone. What was something/someone you particularly remember?"

Now, if I can just remember this for myself! ;-)

MilePost13 said...

I have a feeling, if I had asked her that, I'd have wished I'd of shut the door on her...

Betsy said...

I'm the "anonymous" above...I just couldn't remember my Google log-in!

You may well be right; for some people, the only "right" way is the way it used to be (I'm an Episcopalian, champions in this respect). And I find my ability to be patient with that attitude and any fear/anger/hurt/powerlessness behind it depends a lot upon what's happening with me at that moment; at the end of the day with home beckoning, I'm rarely very sympathetic.

What I have yet to learn is how to tell quickly the folks who might actually be helped by having me listen from the ones who just want to whine and not grow or change (though even the former may not realize they are ready to do's only after the burden is laid out and set down that they discover they can move on). And then, of course, every once in a while God brings me up short when I listen to someone I had tagged as a complainer and I later discover it really did make a difference for him/her...Go Holy Spirit! because it obviously wasn't me in those situations.