is it our culture or our rudeness?

by Jerrie Barber

Often I hear conversations about why many churches aren’t growing. Many blame our culture, materialism, or some other outside source. Those may play a part.

Let me relate something that happened to me less than fifty years ago, and less than 500 miles from where I’m sitting in Nashville, Tennessee.

I’d started preaching at this congregation a few weeks before this situation. I was the new preacher.

A few weeks later, a similar situation occurred. I was talking with a different member. Here comes a fourth member. He interrupts. They discuss where they wanted to eat.

I was talking with a member in the foyer immediately following Sunday morning services. Another member approached and interrupted our conversation. They talked between themselves about where they were going to eat. The interrupter left. We ended our conversation. The person I was speaking to left.

The person I was talking to said, “I want to go somewhere I can eat breakfast.”

The interrupter said, “I would like breakfast too.”

They agreed on a restaurant. Our original conversation ended soon. Gail and I left for lunch.

Both conversations were similar. In neither case did one of the four say, “Excuse me,” or “Would you like to join us for lunch?” Both times there was no malice on their part, no thought, and no shame. There was no followup. Not one of the four returned Sunday night and said, “What I did this morning was unthoughtful. I shouldn’t have interrupted. I wish we’d invited you to lunch with us. Would you go next Sunday?”

From every indication, this was their rule: “We go to eat together every Sunday. Please complete your conversation so we can get to the restaurant. You’re not invited.”

I have no intention of quitting the church, becoming angry or ugly. But that’s not a good way to welcome your new preacher, new member, or visitor. Four different households — all prominent families, and leaders. They’re the ones who set the tone for the congregation. I would expect others to be less sensitive than those who lead.

This is a well-known congregation. They’ve been declining several years. What I heard for months after I arrived was how bad the world was and how other churches entertain, and we can’t compete with them.

This attitude thrived because everyone liked it the way it was more than what it would take to change it. Their Sunday-eating rule was so entrenched not one of the four leaders recognized how insensitive he was.

That’s rude. If you treat your new preacher that way, you’ll do it to a visitor or weak member and then wonder, “Why isn’t the church growing? It must be our corrupt society.”

My Observations

  • Members follow their leaders.
  • The answer to our decline isn’t to entertain or wish others wouldn’t entertain.
  • People want to be valued, led, trained for meaningful service, challenged, and encouraged to serve in meaningful ways.
  • There are Bible principles to encourage us and attract others.
  • We are to follow Jesus and point others to Jesus.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3, 4, NKJV).

How can we practice this “mind of Jesus” principle and encourage it in other Christians?