This post from Wednesday has caused a little stir. I’ve received several private messages from readers who shared it with their congregational leaders only to experience wrath and outrage. How dare someone suggest that a volunteer’s offering of time and talent needs improvement?
I remember the old Tom Bandy Church Addiction True-False Quiz which included this statement:
True or False? Accepting whatever volunteers offer is not good enough.
(The answer is false.) God deserves our very best and if our service is indeed about God and expanding the reign of God, then we will strive for perfection, right?
Instead of being outraged at the notion that our volunteer service needs improvement, what if we had a culture of healthy feedback? This also assumes that we have a culture of training people to do the service they’ve signed up for.
So, let’s say that we train church members to do hospital visits and we hear back from a recovering parishioner that it didn’t go well with one of the Deacons visited him on the cardiac ward:
Recovering from Heart Attack Guy (to the Pastor): Please never let Deacon Bob visit me in the hospital again. It almost put me back in ICU.
Pastor: What happened?
RFHAG: He sat down beside me and said he was sorry that I’d had a heart attack, but that he’d had a heart attack once and it was the best experience of his life. And then he spent 20 minutes telling me about his open heart surgery.
Clearly Deacon Bob needs more training. Role playing. Constructive criticism that doesn’t shame him but does remind him why he is visiting. (e.g. It’s not about him.) Have a conversation with Bob about how he can improve his bedside manner. Because we love Bob. And we love RFHAG. And we love Jesus who wants us to care for God’s children well.
Spiritual communities are healthy when we work together to serve to each other and beyond. The apostle Paul talks about this.
And note that neither he nor Jesus say anything about avoiding conflict or ignoring harmful comments or accepting behavior that damages the community because we don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings and they might leave the church.
Those who are mature in faith will welcome loving criticism for the sake of the kingdom. And we all want to grow spiritually mature, right? Right?
Training…that’s just the issue I brought forth with our pastor a month or so. We need to train people for the position of deacon so they can feel comfortable in the position and be more capable of doing a good job. Perhaps a reminder that it’s not just a title, but a full-blown job for which one must accept responsibility.
One of the most painful conversations I had was with a congregant who I had to “break up” with. She had invested so much time and energy in the church but had become angry and bitter in many of her interactions. I’d had a few conversations with her about it and her dissatisfactions but nothing changed (including her ongoing participation on committees/teams). I finally said, “I care about you and I want to see you thrive. If this doesn’t bring you joy, don’t do it. I’d rather you left the church thankful for what it’s been and done in your life than resentful of what you gave.” She came back one more Sunday and then never again. Sometimes, I think people just need permission to leave. And, even if a committee is no more, I feel like that’s better than trapping unhappy (who become toxic) people in the church.
In October of each year I give a Ministry Review form to elders and deacons. They are to answer four questions:
1. What am I most thankful for …
2 What am I least thankful for …
3. How would I like to serve differently (or better)
4. What do I need in my life to serve as well as I want