Great Expectations - The (not so great) Sequel
A pastor friend recently gave me a book he wanted me to read: ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens. Since he’s frequently given me church growth books, I didn’t have to read it to know what it was about. It’s obviously a book written for pastors who are constantly pressured to meet everyone’s expectations.
I’m so glad someone finally wrote a book on this topic. I need it myself. But I’m too busy pleasing people to read it, but the title alone makes me wonder, 'Should leaders aim at pleasing God, people or both?”
Since I’m always going back-and-forth between trying to please the Lord or please the people, I decided to try and find out which way works best. I’ve heard of churches doing 50 day adventures, so I designed a 50 day experiment. It’s innovative, creative and original. I used those exact words when telling my wife about it. She cried. So I explained it in detail and she wept. I said ‘You’ll thank me later’ and she laughed.
Here’s how it worked. For 25 days I would attempt to please every single person in the church and meet everyone’s expectations. The next 25 days are the Lord’s. I will only do what pleases Him. Though I will keep people’s needs in mind, my goal in all my decision making, will be to do whatever He wants done. Then at the end of the 50 days, I’ll find out which works best. (Probably by means of a survey or a poll.)
Now that my experiment is finished, here’s what happened. The first 25 days went just like clockwork. (Think clock without numbers + small hand goes backwards) In order to meet everyone’s expectations, we first had to know them. So we sent a survey to everyone we knew. Asking what changes they’d like to see in our church. My question must have hit a nerve. I’m pretty sure everyone on earth responded.
We even received 17 responses from ex-members who either attend other churches or live out of state. One came in from Sweden in proxy for a charter member who died in 1903. They included a letter that supposedly came from the deceased before she died. Asking if we’d give half our Christmas offering to her 2nd cousins great nephew. We didn’t. Why? The croissant she included as a thank you was still fresh.
We had so many odd interesting requests, I think I may write a book: ‘Great Expectations – the Sequel’.
After reading through enough surveys to fill the baptismal, I realized that to actually pull this off, we’ll need to hire 6 full-time assistants. For the first 25 days, that’s $12,000 or $47,300 including airfare and hotel. Not including costs of doing this project. Since that exceeds what I can spend without approval, I should have called a board meeting. I didn’t. Why? The first survey said I should stop asking the board for approval on everything I do. (The handwriting looked like my wife’s. But I doubt she meant $47,300.)
As soon as the six pastors arrived, I explained the plan, handed out assignments and put them to work.
“Tom, please form a choir from the Senior Adults class and teach them to rap. Work with the organist.”
“Jim, remove the pulpit and replace it with a corduroy recliner that Alice Nocker has on her back porch.”
“Fred, you’re in charge of bagels, our new thriftstore and our new retirement home for belly dancers.”
“Bill, you’ll call out Bingo at Fred’s retirement home. As for temptation, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Sam, can you turn the youth center into a lazer tag arena?” and “Clem, you are to replace me in leading the annual vision meeting. As for me? I’ll be busy trying to trim down my messages to seven minutes.”
Well you’ll never believe it, but we did it! We pulled it off. We did everything people requested from us. That’s why it took me three hours to find the church today. They moved it 20 miles out of town so Alma could walk rather than call a cab. On day 25, they whined that we didn’t do it right or showed favoritism. So I binged on Rambo movies and Rocky Road for days and my friend brought me ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.
Didn’t read that either. It’s not grapes that stir up my wrath. It’s nitpicky people. So it’s time for Phase 2! Effective immediately, I will focus only on what the Lord wants. I’ll still seek counsel, listen to people and pray over their ideas, but at the end of the day, my #1 priority will be to do what God put me here to do. I also just decided to extend the second phase to 25 years or the rest of my life, whichever comes first.
Let me show you how unpredictable these precious and picky sheep can be. When I made it clear what my new stance will be from now on, they applauded. To which I fainted. (Yet I still heard my wife laugh.)
When I came to, the treasurer asked me if I had approved reimbursement on plane tickets for 6 pastors. I told him the truth and admitted to the board that I was wrong to make that decision without approval. I also told them that I would return the funds to the church account within a month. Which I did. How?
Well, the belly dancers said they would do a fundraiser concert for the 5th + 6th graders to raise money.
And the Senior Adult choir agreed to do a rap concert for the city. Their homemade pies brought in 10K.
I also found we didn’t build a lazer tag arena. That saved us a lot. (Students didn’t want it. My mom did.)
Nor did we build a home for retired belly dancers. We don’t know any. Gus knows one. (It was his idea.)
I’m so glad this escapade is over. I read the Bible today instead of another survey. Here’s what I read:
“When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Prov 16:7
I suppose if He can give me favor with my enemies who I never please, then He can work things out with those I love when they don’t agree with what I do. In the end, they want me to please God first anyway.
My wife's thrilled with my decision. So do I tell her I think God wants us both to skydive as a fundraiser?
P.S. Speaking of expectations, I got this card from a parishioner? On the front it said, 'You're the answer to our prayers!' And when I open it? 'Not exactly what we prayed for. But apparently you're the answer."
What am I not encouraged? Unsure how to reply. Guess I'll take a poll. Scratch that. I think I'll pray first.