Every week I take it upon myself to call the first time guests. Although I personally meet them in the hospitality room, I also like making follow up calls and connecting with them again personally. Today I was making the usual calls, as I do it first thing Monday morning. One of the calls was quite entertaining.
One of the families who visited Sunday live near our church but they've been driving to another A/G about 45 minutes away for years now. They are getting tired of it and wanted to look for something closer so Sunday they visited Northside. I spoke with the Mom of the family and asked her what their intentions were and how they felt about the service Sunday. She said, "Well, I can tell you love the Lord a whole lot, and your church has a lot to offer and is very friendly...but...well, how can I say this nicely?.........." and she halted for a minute like she didn't know whether she should go on.
I said, "please, just feel free to say whatever you think..." (because honestly you're not going to offend us - maybe surprise us - but offend? No. We don't expect everyone to fall in love with our church...each church is different and while we are the church for some people, we aren't the church for all and that is why there are thousands of churches in the area to choose from. There are different cultures in the body of Christ and this is the beauty of it. We aren't so desperate that we'd want Christians to come here who aren't really in agreement with the mission, vision, and values of the church. What we really exist for anyway is unbelievers - reaching lost people. We are a church that desires to grow by conversion, not by hoppers.)
So she says, "well, quite frankly, it's your pledge that bothers me. I have to be honest, I was offended by it." Ironically enough this is not the first time I've heard this complaint. One other lady had a fit over it one Sunday when she visited for the first time as well. The other 98% of all people who have ever visited, attended or become members LOVE our pledge and it's a reason why some of them are there in the first place. But let it go on record, two ladies in the Tampa Bay area hate our church pledge and find it extremely offensive, controlling and in the words on the woman on the phone today, our church pledge is, "inappropriate, a personal matter not a corporate matter." She said to me that she refuses to take any vow or pledge dictated by a pastor or church. Just what is this "offensive pledge"? Here is our Northside Pledge that has these ladies in a tizzy:
This pledge hangs on a large wall hanging that looks just like the graphic below, in our foyer, along with another wall hanging of our mission and vision. (Mission and vision wall hanging is also printed below FYI.)
Every service, we as a congregation 'say' the Northside Pledge together and let our first timers know what we stand for and what we're all about. This is the "culture" of our church - loving, caring and accepting. We want to declare each week, our commitment as a church body as to how we treat one another. Let me say, one thing we really don't have in our church is mean spirited people. People with problems? Yes. People who are works in progress? Of course. But mean spirited people don't do well in our church. Because we have tried so hard to not reward meanness or give mean people the results they are looking for - and to create a culture of kindness.
My husband led us in the pledge the first time we did it when he preached a message about it a few years ago. The very next week, we just started saying it every week to remind everyone. I led it for probably a year or so and then when Pastor Lindsay came on pastoral staff she started leading the people in it during our announcements.
People love it! At the end of saying it each week, our Northsiders clap and cheer when we shout, 'and there is nothing you can do about it!!!" It's like a celebration of the fact that we care about each other and have a commitment to treat each other as the Bible says to.
Strangely enough these two women that I've encountered both told me they felt the pledge was inappropriate and "controlling". (The first visitor actually had the nerve to call me a "control freak" for calling the congregation to this type of living and making it a 'church pledge.') Please know these are not women who sound like they are mentally unstable or something - in fact both of them seem quite intelligent and well spoken. Never the less, they are highly offended by the Northside pledge.
Well this lady today had issue with our pledge and she then went on to say: "I'm also concerned about elders." I said, "what do you mean?" She said, "well, do you have them?" I said, "yes, absolutely." She said, "well who are they?" I said, "well I guess I should ask what you consider an elder to be. I'm assuming you are asking if we have board members since many churches refer to the board as elders. (We don't, but I realize this is a common practice with many churches.) So I said, "We do have board members but we do not call them elders." She said, "No, I wasn't asking about board members - I am referring to ELDERS." I said, "Well, the way my husband and I see things, the scripture refers to pastors as elders, and yes, we have a pastoral staff here and we pastors ARE the elders of the church."
Wooo-eeee, that didn't go over too well.
She went on to say that she did not consider us as having "elders" in the church (in her view elders are an appointed group of older people to oversee the spiritual decisions of the church) and said that we had "opened ourselves up to impropriety." (That was such an interesting quote I wrote it down on my notes to take into staff meeting to let them hear it exactly for themselves. (LOL) She said it seems like we're really in love with the Lord at our church however, we have opened ourselves up to great danger by not having elders. Hmmmm...
She said, "I'm so sorry to be discouraging you like this...I know it must be hard for you to hear..." and I quickly and calmly said, "Mam, you are not discouraging me at all..." She seemed surprised to hear that. I said, "This is why there are hundreds if not thousands of churches in the Tampa Bay area. This is why so many churches are provided, because the way church is done in each location is different and suits different people depending on their tastes and beliefs. Perhaps our church is not for you, and that's perfectly okay. We are not offended by that in the least. We hope that you find a place for you and your family to grow and be happy and we wish you the very best."
She was shocked by this response, I could tell.
Then she stammered around and said, "but...but...I really wanted this to work out...I'm driving so far to church and I really want to go to an A/G..." and I quickly said, "well, I'm sure that's the case but quite truthfully, if you are not in agreement with the mission, vision and values and the direction our church is headed, I'm afraid you are probably going to be very unhappy here."
Then a moment later she struggles to explain to me, "But...my kids love it there. They were crazy about the children's church...I just wish we could work this out..."
(Do you find this as laughable as I do?)
I said, "Well, you are welcome here, however, it appears unless you start to fall in love with our pledge or accept the fact that our pastors are our elders...you are probably going to be very unhappy here. It probably isn't the place for you. Really 'mam, I wish you and your family the very best..." and with that she slowly came to the realization - the conversation was over and I wasn't going to beg her at all costs to please start coming to our church. I wasn't going to pray about doing away with our Northside pledge. I wasn't going to quickly run out and get "elders" as she defines them so that she would be happy and choose us as her church. I think some people think pastors want anybody who is a warm body to start coming no matter what they believe and will do or say anything to get them.
For the life of me I can't figure out why anyone would be offended by our pledge. And I guess the truth is, normal rational thinking people aren't. In fact, listen to this...
When we first took the pledge as a church years ago, we had a large wall hanging designed at a graphic arts place and framed to put in the foyer. I was the one who worked with the graphic artist and met with them. The artist was not saved and in fact was an agnostic. This guy was a 20-something-funky-glasses-wearing-latte drinking-artsy type. I didn't try to push my Christianity down his throat...I just went and dealt with him on the business of creating the wall hanging. We had the usual conversation people would have in doing this project. When done I said, "So, what do you think of the finished product?" And he said..."I think it's fantastic, and you know - I don't go to church - at this point I really am not sure if I even believe in God, however I will say this. When I got this assignment and read your pledge and started creating the wall hanging, as I read the words I thought to myself, "if I ever DID decide to give church a try, this would be the one I'd go to first, based upon reading this pledge. I think it's awesome."
I knew we scored a home run. If someone who is already a believer reads our pledge and is offended and never comes back, really - what have we lost? Not really much especially if they are opposed to our vision at the church. However if unbelievers come in and say, "wow, that really resonates with me...I'm going to give this Christianity thing and this church thing a try", what have we gained?
EVERYTHING. JUST WHAT WE'RE LOOKING FOR.