Who left on those lights? That electricity costs the church money!

During a recent research visit with a congregation, I was waiting in the hall for the pastor to finish a conversation with a staff person before we began our dialogue. A well-dressed older gentleman–probably in his late 70s– came up behind me and started complaining about the lights being on in the sanctuary and the money the electricity being used would cost the church.

I thought to myself, “What a classic complaint by a senior adult. I wonder how the pastor is going to handle this when he comes out of the staff member’s office.”

I could tell his agenda was more emotionally urgent than mine, so I stood aside for he and the pastor to talk first. He voiced his complaint to the pastor. Without hesitation, without raising his voice, without any sign of anger or anxiety the pastor said, “Oh, Wanda, our wedding director was showing a family the sanctuary in preparation for an upcoming wedding. Would you mind going and turning them off for us? George and I have a commitment to meet.”

“Sure”, said the older gentleman. “I just wanted to know who left them on. I can handle that.” You see, Wanda is a layperson he knows and respects. He may have thought he was going to get the opportunity to verbally discipline the pastor or a staff person. But not this time.

During our dialogue I commended the pastor for how he calmly handled this situation. He indicated he had long ago figured out that he could not let older people who at times seemed to love their building more than they loved their Lord to hook him into an emotional response.

This congregation ten years earlier had been only senior adults. Now half of the attending congregation is under 50 years old. He regularly coached his staff and lay leaders to honor and respect one another, and realize that it is often more characteristic of older adults to complain about small things that are odd, out of place, or done wrong according to their criteria.

None of these types of complaints should be allowed to distract the congregation from a focus on its primary mission, and the crafting and sustaining of a sense of community and fellowship that must undergird their mission.

Falling In Love with Jesus Again

This is a congregation that came very close to dying ten years ago. In response to the request of this church, the current pastor came to help them out for a while, and ended up staying.

One of his key strategies with the remnant congregation was to help them fall in love with Jesus again. As they had declined, become dysfunctional, and spent most all of their financial reserves, they had focused on to their love for this congregation and its buildings, rather than clinging to their love of the Triune God. If they were going transform as a congregation that had to once again fall in love with Jesus.

Once they returned to their first love they became open to new people with new demographics and new thoughts about how to do church. They became less complaining about things that seemed odd to them, out of place, and contrary to their cultural perspective.

In many ways this was because they had learned to love Jesus again. Less important things did not matter as much anymore. They still crop up from time-to-time when someone leaves on lights, fails to lock doors, or the paper towels run out in a restroom. It’s just that no one takes them as serious as they once did, and fewer people ever get upset about these non-essentials.

How is this going in your congregation?

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See www.ConnectWithFSCLC.info. George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at www.NABF.info. This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at www.TCPBooks.info. More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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  • GMG248

    Well said. As a pastor (now retired) I met many whose first love was the institution rather than the Lord of the institution, let alone the people of the community in which the congregation gathered. As a senior adult myself I often am qualified now to admonish other senior adults to behave and be respectful in their relationship with their church staff. Many senior adult church members need to become outspoken advocates for the full inclusion of new generations in every aspect of the church’s life. This includes sometimes stepping aside to make a place for the newcomer and their priorities. God bless all those who have the patience to live with us and our egocentricities.

    • George Bullard

      Yes, it is a long way from being a senior adult to being a twenty-something. It is easy for senior adults to have difficult with that gap. It is also easy for senior adults to see the problems rather than the opportunities. But then, it is also easy for leaders able to see the horizon and beyond to way too quickly dislike the comments of senior adults. We all need emotional maturity. We all need to see it is about being in love with Jesus in ways similar to how Jesus loves us.

  • StephenBurnette

    You nailed the older, traditional, transitioning congregation. Perfect capsule comment: “It’s just that no one takes them as serious as they once did, and fewer people ever get upset about these non-essentials.” The pastor will do well there.

    • George Bullard

      Steve: Thanks for our comment and your affirmation. To help a congregation of a lot of senior adults to transform, leaders must be non-anxious persons. If they are anxious they will soon be highly stressed and perhaps in trouble.

      What are some ways you believe people can help congregations fall in love with Jesus again?