You, pastor, must understand the challenges here: people in their late sixties and seventies are afraid, and they bring that fear to the boardroom with them. Usually without realizing it, they vote that fear, fear manifesting itself as hostility, condescension and skepticism. Theyíll call a new idea bad or ridiculous not because it is but because they donít understand it and are too embarrassed to admit it. These folks are vital to the health of the church as younger people are too focused on themselves to take much of an active role in church leadership. These folks are extremely resistant to change because they're afraid of being left behind.
Thereís this mother I know who sings in the choir. When sheís
singing lead, sheís effusive, with a big grin, full of energy
and drive, exhorting the congregation, bursting with love and
worship. But, when sheís singing in the alto section, she looks
bored, disengaged, annoyed, with this put-upon look on her face.
She needs to be down front, holding that mic. In
most churches Iíve known, folks love to grab that mic.
The leadership in many of our churches tends to skew toward
older folk. This is mainly because younger folk have less
interest (or, frankly, less need for validation) than older
folks. Our society tends to push older folks aside, which is
incredibly stupid since they tend to be smarter and wiser than
us anyway, but a lot of older Church Folk gravitate toward
church leadership because they have more time than we do, need
something purposeful to do and need the validation of being,
Because the older folk are the most faithful givers, and because the older folk tend to seek leadership roles more so than the younger folk, the older folk tend to be the churchís shot-callers. Change comes slow to most of us, but even slower to the older folk. Older folk tend to fear change the most. Their fear of change tends to embarrass them because, most older folk donít want to feel that theyíre out of touch or have been left behind. They tend to become hostile toward new concepts, not because the new concept is a bad idea but because the older folk, the trustees and deacons and what have you, donít understand them.
Itís been nearly seven years and I canít get any pastors to write for this web ministry. In fact, Iíve given up trying. I know dozens of pastors, many of whom are powerful speakers, but they donít write. Thereís always some excuse. Oh, Iím too busy, which is a lie; most of these guys are just chilling all week. The truth is, writing is a gift. Not everyone can sing, not everyone can write. But, rather than say that, say "I can't write," I get lied to. By pastors. ďOh, Iím tied up.Ē Nonsense. You canít write. You write like a high-schooler. Bad grammar. Incomplete sentences. Worse, many of our older pastors, especially, canít type. For our elder generation, typing was a womanís job. Thatís what the church secretary is for. Typing was not a skill most men acquired or, frankly, needed back in the 40ís and 50ís. So, I get, ďIíve got too much on my plate,Ē because heís too embarrassed to say, ďI canít type.Ē
Embarrassment is a product of fear. Lying is often a product of fear. Weíre afraid to admit who we are, to admit our shortcomings. I canít hit baseball. I have terrible hand-to-eye coordination. Iím a lousy basketball player and a mediocre pianist. Iíve made my peace with the fact Iíll never be a rock star. Iíve come to terms with the annoying fact Iíll spend the rest of my life being a half-inch short of six feet. I want to be six feet. Itís not going to happen. But fear will have me saying things like ďIĎm five foot eleven and a half.Ē Whatís this, ďand a halfĒ nonsense? Itís ego. Itís fear.
The black church is stuck in the mud
largely because of fear, because the people who embrace change, who work for change, who
are excited by change, usually end up having to go to the older
folk to get approval for that change, and that approval is
usually not forthcoming. Before I can implement change at a
church, I have to sit down with the shot-callers and explain
what this is and why we need it. Itís a daunting task
because, usually, these folk are so far in backfield that
trying to explain, say, what PayPal is, requires me to explain
what a website is and before I can do that I have to explain how
the Internet works and who is on it. Usually, this is too much for the
shot-callers to absorb in one sitting; itís overload. Their attention span maxes out at
about ten minutes and they get cranky. I canít explain the
Internet and how a website works and what PayPal is in ten
At a website presentation last spring, I had one sister take me to task for her churchís website not being user-friendly. She said it was difficult to navigate and confusing, and if sheóa church memberócouldnít navigate the site, how could we expect visitors to find their way around? The very premise of her question told me she knew nothing about websites, the Internet or ďvisitors,Ē as most people surfing the web are veteran surfers acquainted with how websites work. Any websiteóours, Google, MSNórequires a bump or two for the visitor to acquaint themselves with the site layout and navigation, with where all the buttons are. My ongoing frustration with church websites (and why I now no longer build them) is most black churches seem to want their church websites to be so easy to use that the site leaps out of the screen and punches the keystrokes for you. The reason for this is these folks are not terribly computer literate. They are not web people. They may know how to check their email but thatís about it. When pressed for details, this sister finally admitted to me, privately, that she hadnít been to the site in months and then only once, and she didnít know an awful lot about computers or websites. But the damage was already done. Once sheíd made her criticism public, a dozen others at the meeting mumbled in agreement, shaking their heads in a rambling chorus. This is what small children do: first one says he doesn't like spinach, then all the others at the table chime in, even the wee little ones who don't even know what spinach is. To an ever-increasing degree, Church Folk are very much like children, speaking when they should be listening and making irrational Spanky And The Little Rascals arguments for refusing to embrace the future. Iím sure, if I pressed each one of them individually, they, too, would admit the truth: theyíd never even been to the site. But sister girl had given them cover to hide their embarrassment over the fact they knew little or nothing at all about their own website, computers in general, or most anything newer than Alf and Murder, She Wrote.
This is what fear does: it turns us into liars. It robs us of our dignity, our strength, and, ultimately, our usefulness to God. Not one person at that meeting had the strength of character to admit they hadnít been to their own website and knew very little about computers. Instead, they let this woman attack me, just let me get beat up. Itís an occupational hazard, particularly when working with black churches, to get criticized and castigated as a cover for folksí embarrassment over being unprepared for something, uneducated about something, or having dropped the ball. Nobody accepts responsibility anymore. Itís all Blame The Other Guy.