There’s More Than Apathy in Church Pews

Since I know most people don’t read an entire blog, and will form their opinion after getting half way through, I will start with the end.  To those who I’ve discouraged through my “Motivation” in recent posts, I’m truly sorry.  I thank you for taking the time to share your words to help me grow as well.  As a church family we are all in this together; and only together can we truly make a difference.

I seem to have struck a chord with quite a few people recently with my posts about “Christian Apathy”, volunteerism, and active church involvement (see “An Open Letter to My Church“; “Saying You’re a Christian Doesn’t Make You One“).  The sentiment of “Why don’t more people do more” resonated with a lot of people who feel the burden of making ministry happen despite the lack of support or enthusiasm from others.  There are more people involved in our churches than those who are up front and actively doing ministry, and those who don’t.  There is a third group who is seeking to find their place and are caught in the middle.

They want to do something, but for a variety of reasons don’t.  Whether they feel they lack the gifts, time, or see those involved as politically motivated; they inherently get lumped into my “Apathetic Christian” corner when there’s so much more to it than lack of interest.  These individuals see those up front pushing for volunteers as leaders with skills and abilities.  And it can be intimidating.  Like King David they ask “Who am I and what can I offer”?  I’ve been there.  Sitting with the weight of life on you as someone asks you to do one more thing.  They don’t give you a lot of details, just a statement of “would you like to help”. You insert your own job description of what it would take for you to feel like you were being helpful and it seems overwhelming.  Your heart says yes, but for one reason or another you talk yourself out of it.

And it is people like me who fail them.  We sit on the board and look past the work of all those behind the scenes who keep the church going as it is.  We focus on steadily decreasing attendance and the ministries that have been mothballed; then as we feel ourselves getting discouraged we go into “group motivation mode”.  Like a high school football coach we take on the team  with “you bunch of momma’s boys.  Get out there and play like men.”

When I was a sophomore in high school I played basketball for my school’s varsity team.  Being an underclassmen meant I didn’t get much playing time.  At the time my dad was driving a truck and wasn’t home as often as we would have liked, but one game he drove home 5 hours just to see me play.  The game was awful.  Our starting 5 kept turning the ball over and by half time we were in a 20 point hole.  Just before the half, I played for 1 minute 38 second, in which time I scored 3 points, 2 rebounds, and a steal.  (Yes, I remember all those details to this day).  I was proud of my small accomplishment and thinking I would play more in the second half because of it, I was excited to go into the locker room at half time.  When we got there however, our coach came into the locker room, through his clipboard across the room, and simply said “I’m ashamed to be your coach right now” then left.  I sat on the bench the rest of the game and watched our starters lose by 40.  I turned in my uniform the next day.

Our role as leaders is to inspire and encourage.  And too often that get’s overshadowed by our own discouragement and frustration and even burn out. We forget to nurture and grow, responding in the true manner of Jesus.  I do this well with my youth group, protecting them from themselves and the burden of ministry, but too often overlook the same qualities when dealing with adults.  Because we literally have a pulpit to speak from, we make a general call for revival to which many would respond if only we told them how.

That third group is the future of any healthy congregation.  Because when a church learns how to respond to them, building a relationship that goes beyond programs and positions, we have truly learned what it is to disciple.


One thought on “There’s More Than Apathy in Church Pews

  1. Thank you for this follow up post. Admittedly I wrote my comment on your previous post before having read all of your other past posts- and so my comments did not recognise the good work that I now have read about. I apologise if any of what I wrote was too harsh. We all get frustrated with situations when we feel that we are giving our all, but we aren’t feeling that back.

    I really do believe, as you have pointed out, that in group situations, adults need to be nurtured and made to feel valued just like the teenagers you work so hard with. As you would know, if you can boost a teenagers self esteem by pointing out skills that they excel at, you then make them feel much more valued as an individual and they are much more willing to serve as a part of the ‘team’.
    I imagine it would be hard to get to know every adult in a congregation if it quite a large one, and to discover those certain talents and skills they have. But if you and the other volunteers are able to slowly begin to do so, I believe that you may find that you can encourage those skills and thereby also make them feel valued and an important part of the team/church rather than just someone that fills a seat once a week.

    So if you find someone has a love and a knack for baking, you could say something along the lines of (but not as corny as this sounds!) “well hey, that’s fantastic, sounds like I may need to place an order for some cupcakes! Actually, we were planning on having a fundraiser in December, and I would love it if you could give us a hand with some yummy baked treats?”
    I know that sounds corny, but obviously you just match the encouragement and then suggestion as to who you are speaking to, the situation etc. (and not make it sound as corny as it does written down!!)


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