During the worship service two weeks at The Peoples Church, attendees were encouraged to fill out a card that was randomly inserted in the bulletins. There were three options – write your hopes and dreams for The Peoples Church 1 year, 10 years, or 100 years from now. I challenged the congregation to participate in a similar exercise during my first Sunday here in East Lansing. I asked the congregation to share their hopes and dreams for the future of the church without being so specific about the time frame. I took those pieces of paper and put them on bulletin boards all throughout my office for the first year. This time around, we are displaying all of the comments by the church welcome center.
All of them…without any exception…will be displayed.
That’s important because some of the hopes for the future were surprising, positive, negative, helpful, confusing, and a whole lot in between.
Some of my favorites? “In 10 years I hope we have chocolate cake after every service.” or “More transformers in the future.”
The kid ones were the best.
Some even contradicted one another. One said – “I’d like to be part of a church that doesn’t spend money on magnets and thank you notes.” Yep, earlier that week we spent $70 on magnets and hand written thank yous to everyone who participated in the annual campaign.
The comment right after that one? “I love the magnets and thank yous!”
(The magnets were a response to some in the congregation who hopes the leadership would do a better job of saying thank you to the gifts, talents, and time offered on behalf of the church.)
There is no winning.
Anonymous comments are a challenge to any organization I take full responsibility for this conundrum. I did not ask anyone to put their names on the dreams they offered to the church. So, there are very few ways to respond to the comments that are a bit more critical. I left myself in a bit of a hole. Is there a better way? A safe way for people to voice their ideas, concerns, and worries while trusting they will be heard, not ridiculed, and allowed to speak with authenticity?
Is anonymity the only safe way people have to reflect their concerns, ideas, and critique?
Every pastor has received something along the lines of this anonymous note in their time in ministry – “Pastor – I don’t want to cause any problems, but you need to know how rude/awful/bad/loud/quiet it is when (insert issue). Many people think this and wish it were different/better/the-way-it-used-to-be/a-new-way. Sincerely – no name”
If you haven’t received something like this, then you’re obviously not trying hard enough.
The problem is my reaction to said critiques – they kill me. I do not have thick skin and my ego is WAAAAAAY too attached to the church. That is a HUGE problem and one I am desperately trying to work through.
I can hear 400 people say, “Thank you,” but the one who says, “You’re the worst,” is the one I believe and internalize. And when there is no name attached, there is no chance for conversation, relationship, or dialogue.
So, this is my own passive-aggressive form of continuing the conversation. I’d like to post some of the hopes and dreams of The Peoples Church, but more importantly, I’d like to have genuine, honest conversations about our thoughts, ideas, and critiques of the local church in ways that allow us to still be the church at the end of the day.
Any suggestions how?