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.

A Colossal Waste of Time and Energy

They came. They ate. They listened to the music, and they left a mess behind them. That’s my slightly grumpy report on the 2019 Widows Luncheon at my church. Hosted by the deacons, this event is an annual thing, gathering several dozen widows and about 20 deacons and their wives. We feed these ladies, provide moderate-quality musical entertainment, and then clean up after them. That, all in all, is the colossal waste of time and energy–not to mention resources and talent.

Honestly, what benefit is there in this production. The deacons are asked to toss money into the till to cover much of the cost. We give up a high-quality spring Sunday afternoon. We make awkward small talk with women that, in many cases, we’ve never met before. And what do we have to show for it at the end of the day?

“Is there going to be a program?” one lady asked me when I finally stole a moment to eat a bowl of soup.

“Yes!” I wanted to say. “Don’t we always have a program?”

“You should do a dinner next year,” another woman said. Really? Then we’d have to run a taxi service for all those ladies who don’t drive after dark. And it would cost more, because she was thinking of more substantial food.

Apparently somebody told a lady–a friend of mine–that she couldn’t sit at their table. This pushed her over the edge and out the door. I think she drove through Arby’s on the way home.

Is this sort of work really worthwhile? Wouldn’t it make more sense investing ourselves in evangelism or in discipling kids–you know, people who have a longer potential span of ministry ahead of them? Sometimes I think the problem with the church is that we just don’t run it on sound business principles. I’m proposing a cost-benefit analysis on the widows luncheon next year.

But then I pause and reflect for a moment. When, in John 21, Jesus tells Peter to “feed my sheep,” I notice that there aren’t a lot of conditions or modifiers attached to that directive. He doesn’t say

  • Feed them if there’s a profit in it.
  • Feed them if they’re nice to you.
  • Feed them if it makes sense to you.
  • Feed them if it fits into your strategic goals and enterprise objectives.

No, he just says, “Feed my sheep.” So that’s what we did yesterday afternoon. That’s what we’ll do next year, I’m sure.

And in reality, most of the ladies were polite and appreciative. The work was light and shared by many hands. The time invested was redeemed when I got to play with my granddaughter during the evening, and the twenty dollars I put in the hopper didn’t keep me from driving through Arby’s on the way home.

When I started writing this, I didn’t intend to bring it back to Matthew 6:33, but there it is again. When we seek God’s kingdom, even when the means of seeking seems pointless, good will flow out of it and all of our needs will be added to us as well.

A young man unjustly murdered on a Roman cross. That would seem an even more colossal waste, but it seems God made something out it. Who am I to hold back my efforts?