Friday, March 26, 2010

Church "Friends"

Because of may factors all coming together recently, I've come to a realization: most "church friends" are really a lot more like co-workers than they actually are friends.

Now, before I get to far into this, I want whatever non-church-going friends I have (that actually read this) to understand that I'm not so much downing the church as I am just pointing out the nature of the beast (if you will). So don't add this as another "black mark" against the church, please! :) Instead see this as an introspective on how I, personally, need to be better. Yes, it applies to much of the universal church too, but mostly it applies to me.

But back to my point. See, you have no (or little) choice about who your co-workers are going to be. But whether or not you would have been BFFs in high school, you're still expected to act "professionally" around and to them. Yes, your co-workers can be a decision point for whether or not you'll take or stay in a certain job, but unless you're the one doing the hiring, you have little say in who else works there.

Similarly, you can pick a church with people in it that you get along with and enjoy (maybe they're all in a similar life stage as you), and you can choose to leave a church if you don't get along with the people there...but really, you have no say over who is admitted into the community of people who meet in your particular church building. It's not like it's acceptable for you to stand at the door of your Sunday School class and ask for the secret handshake, kicking out anyone who doesn't know it. In fact, not only do you not have any control over who comes, but you're also expected to "love" everyone who shows up.

So how does this work itself out in the day-to-day operations of a group of people attending the same church? Well, a group is thrown together for some purpose (let's call it a committee that is supposed to administer a certain ministry or activity within the church). Now, this group will have _something_ in common (other than just attending the same church), namely they all (theoretically) have some desire to see the ministry/activity succeed. Beyond that, however, they may have nothing at all in common, especially when talking about personalities. (Thinking back to the co-workers analogy, your project team all works at the same company on the same team, but that doesn't mean that your personalities are well suited for actual friendship.)

So even though your personalities may not go well together (or may even conflict greatly), you're expected to work together towards this purpose. So just like in your office you might put on a mask of "professionalism" prior to working with these other people, in church, you'd put on the mask of "love" for everyone. You put up with them at the meeting and say hello to them if they see you at the grocery store, and when you talk to them it's only about the "work" that you do together (relating to whatever ministries you're both a part of), but you don't know (or maybe even really care) what's going on with them beyond how they get their job done as it relates to you. Maybe you know the latest news in their life through Facebook or the grapevine, but you don't really know _them_.

Do we do this on purpose? I don't think we do. I think we're just too busy to take the time to get to know people in general, and have gotten into bad habits of assuming friendship where there really isn't any.

Maybe a more apt analogy is that a church is like a family (go figure). You have no choice over who comes into it, no ability to kick people out of it, and are expected to maintain a certain level of decorum around those with whom you interact. Some families are more "functional" than others.

So how do we (I) change this? I think it has a lot to do with the follow-up. In pretty much any ministry in a church, we take the time to share "prayer requests." One of the sweetest things anyone ever did for me was call me up after a doctor's appointment they knew I'd been worried about to see how things went and if there was any way they could help. That particular person, even though she had no ministerial reason to follow up with me on that thing is someone that I know actually cares about _me_ and isn't just putting up with me.

It think it also has to do with learning to be a better conversationalist. Instead of always resorting to the easy prey of common job functions, we (I) should have in our proverbial back pockets questions about something they mentioned the last time you saw them (maybe one of those prayer requests). I know that I, for one, am TERRIBLE with small talk. It terrifies me to the point that I'll just sit there and say nothing rather than try to think up something to say to someone. Apparently that's intimidating. But if someone can get me talking, it's hard to shut me up. Occasionally I might even be funny or insightful. I wonder if, in this age of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, we have lost the ability to have normal conversations? Or maybe it's just me sucking at it and assuming that everyone else does too. I don't know. Like I said, this is introspective.

I also think that we need to stop pretending like everyone is actually friends with everyone else. Co-workers with the same goal? Sure. Friends? No. We can be on the same committee and not go to each others' birthday parties without it being a big "thing." It's ok for people to have circles of friends that do not include me (or you). And I'm not forming a clique if I want to go camping with a group that's not all-inclusive of the whole church.

But having said that, it's also not ok to ONLY ever do stuff with that one group of people to the exclusion of all others. Sure, you might be closest with a small group of folks (that's natural), but you might be missing out on a lot of wisdom and fun by not ever talking to anyone else.

I think this works both ways though. There's a great movement within the church for "authenticity." Usually this involves admitting that you curse or drink or something. I think what this should really mean is that when someone asks you in the hallway how you are, you actually stop and give them an honest answer. I'll bet you money that the next time you ask that same person how they are, they'll be honest with you as well. I'm not talking about over-sharing ("well, little Timmy's got this boil on his hiney that we can't seem to get to go away..."), I'm talking about giving something more than just "fine how are you?" as you race past each other.

I'm also talking about actually paying attention when someone is speaking to you. I know I find my eyes wandering when speaking to folks. And usually when my eyes wander, my brain isn't too far behind. And if my mind's wandering when I'm talking to someone, then I have no idea what they're saying and have been far more rude than if I'd just walked on by without saying anything at all.

Anyway....this is long and rambly. Think about the people with whom you interact (especially in a "church" setting). Think about how you actually treat them. Then try to change so that you're actually friends instead of just co-workers. Or find something you can learn from them rather than just putting up with them like you do "crazy uncle Bob." If you feel so led, share about an experience (for good or bad) in the comments.


Stroba said...

Interesting comments...I too have felt convicted to be more 'intentional' in my conversations lately. I think this is just as important outside of the church setting as within. By being this way, people may wonder more about the Christ that lives in us and is urging us to care for them rather than the fact that we are churchgoers.

Lea said...

Great post and great "food for thought." I have thought a lot about this very thing. It is so easy for cliques to form and often others do feel excluded and that was certainly not the intention. I know I need to get outside my clique and connect with others more often. Thanks for this entry! Blessings to you!

Rooh said...

Interesting thoughts ... they apply so much to life and how we interact with people in general. Whether it's church, school committees, work, family.

I hope your weekend is full of friendly people that love to be around you ;)

Cheers ...

bashtree said...

Thought-provoking! I've only worked for nonprofits, where some of the staff work there because it's a job, and some work there because it's a passion or their life's work or it's a cause that is meaningful for them, so as far as my own work history, I think the church-to-coworkers analogy really works.