Last week I blogged about my life as a preacher’s kid, and the lessons I learned about change under the guidance of a father who helped struggling churches recreate themselves. Revisiting the past has been like opening the doors of WalMart on Black Friday . . . memories have come flooding in. I thought about the time my father was at the pinnacle of his sermon when my mother, sitting behind him in the choir loft, saw a wasp crawling up his neck. You can’t imagine her fear of wasps, nor can you imagine the pain my father felt when she picked up a hymnal and from a significant distance threw it at the back of his neck. She hit her mark, and the congregation got to go to lunch a little earlier than usual. No real lesson there, unless it’s the fact that your fear can cause pain for other people.
In no particular order, following are a few more life lessons about change and influence that I learned as a P.K.:
1. Resistance is more about dishes than drama. The only fist-fight I can remember was at a business meeting that was about . . . dishes. Supper dishes. Cheap, Cornelle dishes needed for the Wednesday night dinner. Why the fight? Maybe because there had been other big changes occurring, and this was the one tangible thing people could battle over. They didn’t know how to fight the new people joining their church, or the new minister’s challenging sermons, but they did know how to fight for dishes.
Lesson: Resistance to change usually finds its foothold in the little things.
2. Change needs more alter calls and fewer prayer benches. Most Baptist services end with an alter call, where people come forward to profess their faith or make some personal prayer request. When first creating change, it’s critical that at least one person come forward each Sunday. Why? Because it shows that people are joining the movement, and it creates positive energy.
One church we went to had prayer benches at the front of the sanctuary. This created some negative association, since too often at that church the same needy people went to the prayer benches each Sunday and cried . . . loudly. In addition, they had no real sense of when they should stop praying, so we would stand in awkward silence once the hymn was completed. Not a real powerful way to end the service. (By the way, when you get up from a prayer bench be sure you have your clothes in all the right places.)
Lesson: Change needs positive energy and must create a critical number of followers.
3. Sometimes change can make your piano player collapse. One Sunday my dad was finishing up his sermon when we heard a cacophonous slamming of piano keys. We looked up, and our pianist has slammed her hands down on the keyboard for no apparent reason. She laughed awkwardly, and dad kept going. Then we heard it again. Now she looked nervous. We knew she’d been under a lot of stress since new, more challenging music had come via our new Minister of Music. Dad continued, only to have her completely collapse on the keyboard, hitting every single key all at once. Now she was playing the piano with her face.
Her husband came up to the podium and dramatically carried her out (much like the scene in “An Officer and a Gentleman” only without the hat). A little cold water and some lessons on the new music and she was fine.
Lesson: During change keep your eye on people and make sure they don’t get overwhelmed.
There you go – three more lessons. I’ll let you know when my book is completed if anybody would like to pre-order their first copy :). Until then, remember that change requires guidance, energy, and a little help from something larger than yourself. Treat it with respect, and maybe your piano player won’t poop out!