insuring a good welcome*

This is Lloyds of London’s office, in case you did not recognise it and wondered what it had to do with today’s blog!

Being diligent consumers, when our insurances are up for renewal we shop around. We check to see that the price we have been quoted and the cover offered is the best available. And if we can get a better deal that our current insurer can’t match we will switch to the new insurer.

A while ago I used to think that customer loyalty meant something to these companies. I used to think that because I had been with a company for a while they would give me a better offer. I used to think that because I had been with them for a few years they would consider me a preferred customer. But the reality I have discovered is that they expect customers to switch in the manner I have described and do very little about trying to keep us. They don’t count customer loyalty very highly, in my experience.

At least that’s true of the big companies who process our accounts with computers and think of us as numbers on a spreadsheet.

I have my home insurance with a smaller company who don’t work through a website. I get to speak to a real person each time I have a query or want to renew. They are great. They are friendly. They are personal. I get the feeling they want me to stay with them.

A couple of weeks ago we switched my wife’s car insurance to a new company. Since then they have pestered her with weekly phone calls – offering her better deals on her other insurances, offering to quote for insurance we don’t have or want, and being rather persistent. I think she’s regretting using that company.

It’s a very delicate balance. I presume that these companies would prefer us to stay with them. But it is difficult to provide a personal service when you are as big as them. And you can be overzealous in your communication.

I have tried applying the same concept to churches.

It seems that many people have a loyalty to a particular church. But we can’t take that for granted. If we do they can ultimately feel neglected and perhaps wonder if they would be more appreciated in a different church. Do those who are disaffected wonder whether we would miss them? Do they believe we don’t care? And the larger the church, the more difficult it is to ensure that people are still cared for adequately. As followers of Jesus, who met the needs of individuals in large crowds, we need to ensure that we show his love and treat each person as precious.

Those who are newcomers to a church can be given a warm welcome, but is it possible to be overzealous? Do we see them as potential new leaders for our children’s groups or new house group leaders when they have only been coming for three weeks?

It’s not easy. If we get it right in our church I will bottle it and sell it!

In the meantime, if you are feeling either neglected or overstretched in your church, don’t assume that someone else is aware. If you want it sorted, speak with someone. They will want to put things right. It may require grace, forgiveness, apologies and time, but it is worth it. You’re worth it!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A true story.

A friend of mine was contacted by a salesman who want to speak to him about insurance. He agreed to give him 45 minutes of his time if the insurance salesman would give him 15 minutes so he could talk about a different insurance scheme. The salesman agreed.

He came around to my friend’s house and spoke about what they could offer. After 45 minutes my friend politely declined the offer.

(He is a Rev).

My friend then said, “So I would like to talk to you about eternal life insurance…”

 

*yes I do know that it should be ‘ensuring a good welcome’ but I like the pun

time’s up!

Hello

The blog is back.

timeOf course you knew that because you had already seen a new blog entry was available and had clicked on it to get this far.

I had an email last week that surprised me. During my time working for the Baptist Union of Great Britain I clocked up a few BA Miles. Every so often I get an email from them telling me about the wonderful offers that they have which I can take advantage of. Every once in a long while I go on their website to see how far my BA Miles will take me. It seems to me that the ratio of BA Miles to actual miles travelled is poor – something like 10:1! Perhaps they should stop calling them ‘Miles’.

Anyway, the email that I got surprised me because it informed me that the accumulated BA Miles have an expiry date! I was completely unaware of this and wonder what it is that makes them expire. Do they go off? Do they diminish in effectiveness? Or do BA not want to bother with me if I have not used them for a couple of years?

I fear that some people experience church like that. They discover suddenly that church has an expiry date of which they were unaware. They have not been around for a while and instead of a gentle ‘we’ve missed you, how are you?’ approach I have heard of some churches that send a ‘warning’ letter that their membership will lapse if they do not come back. Seriously!

Approaching people who have drifted away is not easy. They may be embarrassed or even guilty because they have not been to church for a while. The church may be feeling embarrassed or even guilty because they have not been in touch sooner. So we end up with a Mexican stand-off where neither does anything because of embarrassment or guilt and it just gets worse.

To anyone who has not been to ‘their’ church for a while and feels awkward about going back I would say, “Go! Do it! Take your courage in both hands and turn up. There may be a little awkwardness for a moment but I reckon you will be welcomed with open arms.”

To churches that have people who have not been around for a while (including ours) I would say, “Go! Do it! Pick up the phone, drop around, send a card, make contact. There may be a little awkwardness for a moment but I reckon you will usually be welcomed with open arms.”

Be blessed. Be a blessing.


A well-worn five pound note and a similarly distressed twenty pound note arrived at the Bank of England to be retired. As they moved along the conveyor belt to be burned, they struck up a conversation.

The twenty pound note reminisced about its travels all over the country. “I’ve had a pretty good life,” the twenty proclaimed. “Why I’ve been to Lands End and John O Groats, the finest restaurants in London, performances in the West End, and even ended up on a cruise to the Caribbean.” 

“Wow!” said the five pound note. “You’ve really had an exciting life!” 

“So tell me,” says the twenty, “where have you been throughout your lifetime?” 

The five pound note replies, “Oh, I’ve been to the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Anglican Church ….”

The twenty pound note interrupts, “What’s a church?”*

*Notes of all denominations are welcome in church!

he who laughs last… didn’t get the joke

Is it wrong to feel happy when someone struggles to pronounce ‘Schadenfreude’*?

I have recently been the cause of a lot of joy for other people. Rotten rail journeys that went wrong have caused a certain amount of glee for people who have experienced them vicariously through my Facebook statuses. I think that counts as schadenfreude.

I think I have also experienced it through the well-meaning comments of friends. I can now confess that for most of last week I was suffering from kidney stones that had shifted into a painful place. People, I think trying to sympathise, frequently told me that this is as / more painful that childbirth (men usually saying ‘more’) or that it is the worst pain known to humans. To be honest, that did not make me feel much better! I was fairly confident that I knew how painful it was. But I am incredibly grateful for the expressions of support, concern and prayers. It means a lot to know that you are not alone.

I am pleased to say that the pain has now subsided to ‘uncomfortable’ and pray that it will disappear altogether soon. Thank you for your prayers, concern, sympathy and other nice thoughts.

I have wondered whether there are times when my well-meaning comments of encouragement come across as patronising or ill-considered. I try not to say, “I know how you feel” unless I really do know how someone feels. I try to be empathetic when listening to someone. I try too not to make fun of someone’s woes unless they first joke about them. But I don’t always get it right. I worry that I may not say the right thing, so the temptation is to say nothing. I worry about not doing the right thing, so I do nothing. My experience tells me that it is difficult to say the wrong thing so badly that I will cause irreparable damage if I am trying to be caring and pastorally sensitive. Saying something is often better than saying nothing. Doing something is usually better than doing nothing. I have found that people would prefer that we tried, no matter how clumsily, than feel abandoned.

However, I am relieved to know that God really does know how I feel. I am delighted that Jesus’ incarnation means he has experienced life in all its fullness and all it’s woes. I am blessed with knowing that God’s Spirit within me is interpreting all of my deepest groans and needs into prayers in the throne room of the Universe.

*Shadenfreude is the German word for enjoying the pain / discomfort of others.


Fred had been a faithful Christian and was in the hospital, near death. The family called their preacher to stand with them.

As the preacher stood next to the bed, Fred’s condition appeared to deteriorate and he motioned frantically for something to write on.

The pastor lovingly handed him a pen and a piece of paper, and Fred used his last bit of energy to scribble a note, then he died. 

The preacher thought it best not to look at the note at that time, so he placed it in his jacket pocket.

At the funeral, as he was finishing the message, he realized that he was wearing the same jacket that he was wearing when Fred died. He said, “You know, Fred handed me a note just before he died. I haven’t looked at it, but knowing Fred, I’m sure there’s a word of inspiration there for us all.” 

He opened the note, and read, “You’re standing on my oxygen tube!”

booking time

Stack of BooksI have four books sitting on my desk that are ready to be read. Some of them have been on my desk for a while. They have not gathered dust (because they keep getting moved around to make space). But they have not been opened in anger or engaged with in a meaningful way.

It seems a bit rude. Like inviting some people around for a meal and then not listening to anything that they have to say. The four books are quite different in content and subject matter:

  1. Real Scientists Real Faith – 18 esteemed scientists talk about the difference their faith makes to their scientific practice and their science makes to their faith
  2. God on Mute (Pete Greig) – engaging the silence of unanswered prayer
  3. Love Wins (Rob Bell) – looking at big questions of life and death
  4. The Fourfold Leadership of Jesus (Andrew Watson) – leading as Jesus led

My only problem is that I have not got the time I need to sit down and read them. I reckon that if I read book 4 there may be some guidance about taking time out to refresh. I reckon that if I read book 1 there may be some inspiration about how research supports and strengthens science and faith. I reckon if I read book 2 there may be something there for me about asking God for answers. I reckon if I read book 3 there may be something there about needing to dig deeper.

I know I need to read more than my Bible and books I use to prepare sermons. I want to. But there are so many other things going on that this is one of the things that gets squeezed out. I have tried putting it in my diary but then it can get pushed out by the need to visit someone. 

I have tried putting them beside my bed and reading them at night but that is not a good idea if I want to think about what I am reading when I am trying to calm my brain down, or if I want to remember what I have read the next day.

I have tried leaving the pile next to my computer so I see them whenever I log on to write this blog, but they have turned into a handy-sized pile on which to rest my Bible. Somehow it seems self-indulgent to spend time reading.

If I am not being fed as a Pastor how can I expect to feed others? That was a lesson we had drummed into us as trainee ministers and I know the truth of this. So this is by way of a New Day’s Resolution. I am going to spend more time reading to bless, edify, encourage, inspire, challenge and expand my soul.


One day the zoo-keeper noticed that the monkey was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In surprise he asked the ape, “Why are you reading both those books”?    

“Well,” said the monkey, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

chill

 

Still Not Convinced My Parents... funny fridge magnet
Fridge magnet available at Amazon…

In the big scheme of things, this is rather a petty post. We are having a new fridge today. In fact the blokes are bringing it into the house as I type. It was needed because our old one kept freezing everything – things in the fridge bit, not just the freezer. It was being over-zealous. No matter how much we turned it down (as close to ‘off’ as possible while still being ‘on’) the fridge kept freezing.

It’s a simple thought, but I wonder whether there are things that I am doing zealously for God where he does not want me to overdo it. When has he turned the thermostat down and suggested I ‘chill’ and instead I am still going all out for ‘freeze’? Examples may be the guilt I feel about not visiting enough people in the church, or the sense of responsibility for everything that goes on in the life of the church, or the expectation that I will know everything that is happening.

So, deep breath, relax, sit back and trust that God has got it all under control and does not need me to burn out on his behalf (to change the temperature setting inappropriately).

Bless you!

ring ring, ring ring

ringI have an interesting task ahead of me today. I have been asked to bless someone’s new ring. It’s not a wedding ring. I think it is a ring that they wear to bring them good luck. What to do? All sorts of theological issues are raised.

It reminds me of an occasion when I was on a two week hospital chaplaincy course. ‘Nev the Rev’ (the chaplain who was running the course) started off by telling us all about something that had happened to him. He had been walking down a ward, wearing his clerical collar (and other clothes!) when a lady called him over. She explained that she and her sister (the patient in bed) were Spiritualists and asked if Neville would pray for her.

Neville stopped his story and said, “What would you do?” He gave us a while to discuss the appropriate response. I should say at this point that all of us were theological students at Spurgeon’s College (Vicar Factory). We came up with all sorts of Bible verses, theological objections and different reasons why we should not pray for her.

Finally, when we had demonstrated our theological orthodoxy and exhausted our evangelical zeal, we asked Neville what he did.

He told us that he sat down with the sisters. He held their hands. And…

[tension builds]

… he prayed God’s blessing on them both.

Psssssshhhhhhhhhhhwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeeee [sound of theological egos being punctured]

Of course that’s the right thing to have done! It’s the Jesus way of doing things.

So what I am going to do today? What would you do? What would Jesus do?

[leaves story dangling for dramatic effect and self-reflection]

Hospital-related story
A middle-aged woman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she has a near death experience. During that experience she sees God and asks if this is it. God says no and explains that she has another 30 years to live. 

Upon her recovery she decides to just stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, etc. She even has someone come in and change her hair color. She figures since she’s got another 30 years she might as well make the most of it.

She walks out of the hospital after the last operation and is killed by an ambulance speeding by. She arrives in front of God and complains, “I thought you said I had another 30 years.” 

God replies, “I didn’t recognize you.”

coffee time

 

I had an interesting experience on Sunday morning. The churches in central Colchester did a ‘pulpit swap’ as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For the uninitiated that does not mean that we swap our pulpits, lecterns and daises but that Ministers go to different churches. I was at a church whose service starts half an hour earlier than we do, so we finished earlier. After speaking to people at the door of the church I joined them for a cup of coffee and had a bit more of a chat before I walked back to our church.

The service was still going on, and the visiting preacher was into the final 10 minutes of his message (which was good – see below!). I sat in the entrance area and listened. At the end of the service I went into the hall where we serve tea and coffee and refreshments and was first in the queue for the coffee. That is a first for me. I am usually speaking to people at the door of our church and a kind member of our church brings me a cup of coffee after he has fought his way through the crowds for me.

What was unusual was being in the hall the whole time. It was a very different experience because I had time and space to chat to people, which is not really possible when ‘on the door’ because there are so many people coming past.

I am reminded of a role play we did at Bible College where we were set up to be talking to someone who had serious problems they wanted to discuss and people were gathering around to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘where’s the toilet?’ (Ministers know EVERYTHING about their churches. Allegedly). We realised through the exercise that it is almost impossible to carry out pastoral care ‘on the door’. The best thing to do, once we had realised that it was difficult and important was to make an arrangement to go and see that person later in the day or the week. I try to have my diary with me ‘on the door’ now for that reason.

No matter how well-intentioned we are there are limits to what we are able to do. We have a choice. We can seek to exude ‘omnicompetence’ and try to do everything (burning out in the process) or we can accept that sometimes we need to tell people that we cannot help them right at that moment. That is difficult to do, especially because we want to be a servant to those around us. But even the Queen’s servants know that they have limitations of time, resources and ability. We are not helping anyone if we try to do everything for everyone at once. And we are heading for a fall…

And although I have heard great things about the preacher who came to our church I am wondering whether we should not agree next year to tone down our sermons in order to make the congregations happier with the preachers they get week in, week out…

The Baptist preacher just finished his sermon for the day and proceeded toward the back of the church for his usual greetings and handshaking as the congregation left the church. After shaking a few adult hands he came upon the seven year old son of one of the Deacons of the church.

“Good morning, Jonathan,” the preacher said as he reached out to shake Jonathan’s hand.

As he was doing do he felt something in the palm of Jonathan’s hand. “What’s this?” the preacher asked.

“Money,” said Jonathan with a big smile on his face, “It’s for you!”

“I don’t want to take your money, Jonathan,” the preacher answered.

“I want you to have it,” said Jonathan. After a short pause Jonathan continued, “My daddy says you’re the poorest preacher we ever had and I want to help you.”

 

I am over 100!

Little things please little minds. I have now had over 100 people visit my blog since I stuck a counter on it. If one of them was you, thank you. And thank you for coming back. Your visits make it all worthwhile. Eventually the counter will be spinning so fast it resembles an old-fashioned petrol pump gauge!

I hope that the visitors who have read my blog have found it helpful. I am interested to see that yesterday’s post achieved more hits than any other. Did people come to the page because they thought I was offering phone upgrades? What did they think when they found out what was really happening on the page? The stats behind my counter do not tell me how long people stayed!

What would it be like if we all had counters attached to us for the number of people we met? I bet we would be surprised. Just a short visit into town today I met one person I knew in the menswear section of M&S (I did not buy anything) and another in the church car park. Add to that the people to whom I spoke in the different shops I visited and contact on the phone with a garage to arrange to get my car serviced. Then I have to include personal hits with my family. And it’s only just midday.

Would any of those people have considered their encounters with me on their own personal hit counters?

And now vaguely relevant jokes:

Cigarettes are a major cause of statistics.

Statistics prove that the number of children you have is an hereditary trait. If your parents do not have children, neither will you.

You can always tell a statistician.

But you can’t tell him much.