Customer Service–or Church–Fails, Part II

I felt like Odysseus recently, traveling from island to island, facing various monsters and opponents as I went in search of a handful of tools I had been seeking to own. As in the stories from The Odyssey, the encounters I experienced seemed to center around the idea of hospitality or, more precisely, customer service. Last time, I shared my least troubling encounter. Today, I’ll be sharing my adventures on the Island of the Low Conversers.

Just to bring you back up to date, rather than seeking to get home to Penelope on Ithaca, my Odysseus-like quest had me off trying to buy an air-powered stapler. My search took me first–before yesterday’s encounter with Megan of Sutherland’s–to another island. I do not want to be negative and name this place, besmirching their reputation among my myriad readers. I will note that this building supply depot is not at my home. Instead, it is the Island of the Low Conversers. (Get it?)

Struggling ashore at this island, I made my way through a forest of plumbing supplies where I did not find what I sought. Then, traveling by dead reckoning toward the front of the store–or island–I ventured into the perilous Aisle of the Air Tools. They had many treasures, mostly chained and zip-tied to the display. Clearly the lord of the Low is security minded. After pushing past finish nailers and framing nailers, I spied my quarry, the elusive crown stapler. I tried to take the tool from the display to inspect it, but was foiled by the zip-tie. Still, I determined, this was the item I wanted to own.

My eyes jumped around looking for a non-display stapler to buy. None were found. Then I decided to seek the help of one of the locals. Three residents of the island stood not 20 feet away. They knotted together and talked. And they talked. And they talked. Clearly, they were either utterly unaware of or apathetic to my presence. I could have interrupted their super-important conversation, but I elected not to.

Let’s consider what this has to do with the church and leave this belabored Odyssey parallel alone. Not long ago, I had a very pleasant conversation with two fellow deacons in the time before the Sunday service began. It was good to talk with Kevin and Michael, but I recognized that we could have made better use of the time. We could have been meeting new people or catching up with others. Instead, we just stood there and talked among ourselves.

How can a church hope to be better than Amazon if it isn’t connecting with potential “customers.” People can be ignored while streaming a service on their computer. Why would they get in their cars and visit the bricks-and-mortar church only to have the Low Conversers ignore them. That apparently wasn’t what the early church did:

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house.–Acts 2:46

The church is not intended to be a place where the insiders gather up and ignore the outsiders. All that Lowe’s–er, make that the Island of the Low Conversers–lost was a smallish sale. We as a church can stand to lose immeasurably more.

Jesus: Introvert, Part 1

The job applicant, K., came in and made such a tepid impression on me that I assumed we were wasting our time listening to her for the next hour. By the time she finished a teaching demonstration and answers to our questions, she’d moved to the top of my list.

K., you see, is an introvert, doing her best work inside her own head, relating to the world in quiet but profound ways. The glad-handing and networking necessary to get a good academic job are things that she simply has to grit her teeth and struggle through. She’s far too smart not to do that, but it does not come easily.

8520610I’m an introvert as well, although you wouldn’t know it from my teaching. When I walk into the classroom, I bring the bells and whistles, but that is a studied act. I, like K., do my best work inside my own head. It was this aspect of my personality that drew me to Susan Cain’s book Quiet when a friend mentioned it. Cain discusses the powers of introverts and the way that they are misperceived in (especially American) culture.

As I read the book, a question bounced around my mind. Was Jesus an introvert? I almost feel heretical suggesting such a question, but that feeling gets to some of the thoughts that Cain explores in Quiet. We have a tendency to assume that Jesus was an extrovert and to think that introversion is somehow problematic, even pathological. So maybe we can sneak up on the question by rephrasing it: Did Jesus have introvert tendencies or behaviors?

To begin to answer that question, let’s all agree that Simon Peter is definitely an extrovert. Peter is the guy who, on the Day of Pentecost, does not seem to hesitate a moment before jumping up and launching into his famous impromptu sermon beginning at Acts 2:14. I can imagine the other eleven standing there and looking at each other, knowing that somebody had to say something. I can also imagine the introverts among the eleven being greatly relieved when Peter opened his mouth.

Peter is the guy who, as a former pastor of mine said, “Only took his foot out of his mouth long enough to put the other one in.” Peter’s motto seemed to be “Speak first; think later.” He’s the one who tries to lop off a guy’s head in Gethsemane. It’s Peter who wants to step out of the boat in Matthew 14:28-30:

 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.

No introvert would have done that. They might have thought it. They might have even envied Peter his boldness, but they wouldn’t have done it.

So yes, Peter was an extrovert, and I believe that Jesus chose him for those qualities, but that really does not answer the question suggested in the title. Before we do that, we’ll need to look at another disciple who, I’d suggest, shows more introversion. But that’s tomorrow.