The Landlord Mindset

mindset-imageContinuing the conversation re: yesterday’s post . . .

I once served a congregation that shared the building with a Korean Presbyterian Church.  That is to say that 1) we “owned the building” and 2) the other church – which had no other place to worship – was comprised of people in our own denomination who happened to speak Korean as their primary language.  Their pastor and I were members of the same Presbytery.

We treated them terribly, in my opinion.  At every Session meeting, there were complaints that they were “using our stuff,”  “breaking our stuff,”  “taking advantage of us,”  etc.  Eventually, they found another space and they have flourished there.

About ten years or so later, my same congregation agreed to share space with a Pentecostal congregation.  We still “owned” the building but something had changed in our culture and in our hearts.  We lived as partners.  They indeed gave us a tidy sum each month as “rent” but it was considered a gift which allowed us to keep our own ministries going.  We prayed for and with them, wanting them to thrive and looking out for them in terms of what we could do to make their ministry prosper.

Two totally different situations.

Technically, I suppose, we who “owned the building” were landlords in both situations, but the difference was in our attitude and mindset.  Now – in a different place and time –  when I visit churches who are sharing their building with others, comments like these show me that the arrangements are a matter of survival:

  • “They now owe us $30,000 in arrears for fixing the boiler.  They are in the building more than we are and they should pay for the heating.”
  • “Their children run all over the building.”
  • “They cook awful smelling food and I can’t understand them.”
  • “They use too much toilet paper.  We should increase the rent.”

As everybody knows, a church in survival mode is a dying church.

And then there are comments like these that show me that the arrangements enhance their mission:

  • “The ___ church’s pastor is having surgery next week.  Who can take dinner over to her house Thursday?”
  • “Some of us are getting together with the other church for caroling Friday night.  Anybody else want to go?”
  • “The AA group is having a New Year’s Eve Party on the 31st so we’re love-bombing them with hors d’oeuvres to be left in the kitchen that afternoon.”
  • “We need to be sure to leave the bathrooms cleaner for the groups coming in on Monday.  Can we make a concerted effort to do that?”

Churches that partner as equally as possible with “outside groups” tend to thrive.  But here are some questions to consider:

  • Do we know our partners?  Do we know what they do?  Who they are?  Why they meet?  (Even anonymous 12-Step Groups are not so anonymous that we can’t chat in the halls or set up coffee for them and ask how we can serve them better.)
  • Do we consider ourselves equals in ministry?  Or are we The Overlords and they are the Underlings?
  • Do we appreciate them and tell them so?
  • Do we admire their ministry and showcase it to our congregation?

Stewardship Season Idea:  Take members of your congregation on a Mission Tour of your building.  (“Here is where the computer classes happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Over _________ people have learned computer skills through this program and they often need volunteers if you’re interested.” “This is where the women’s NA group meetings on Monday nights.  Most of the group comes on a prison bus for court-sanctioned NA.”)

If we have no idea who is in our building and we have no relationship with them, we are merely landlords.  A different mindset makes all the difference.

2 responses to “The Landlord Mindset

  1. Dare I ask what the demographics of the Pentecostal congregation was? I was on an AC for a congregation that shared space with a Korean congregation and there were many similar comments made as those you listed. Many of the comments had to do with cultural differences and an inability to accept those differences (like the smelly food – Koreans make comments about how smelly cheese is, but would never think of asking people to stop eating cheese at church because it offends their sense of smell). My home PC(USA) congregation ended up moving to a new building only a year or two after having taken over the majority share of an Anglo congregation’s building, financially and otherwise. Many in the Korean congregation felt that the Anglo congregation did not like “not being in charge any more,” especially vis-a-vis a minority, “foreign” congregation. I totally believe you that your congregation’s mindset just changed over the years, but I have run into many congregations for whom the issues of racism and privilege are part of what makes them complain so much.


  2. Great question. The Pentecostal congregation was predominantly African American (but they didn’t cook, for what it’s worth.) In terms of theology, the Pentecostals were more “foreign.” But I totally agree that racism is a huge issue.


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