Posted tagged ‘fifth grade’

The Fifth Grade Congregation (Part 2)

April 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 23, 2016

                            

I recently substitute taught in a fifth grade classroom. What an awesome experience! It gave me several revelations about the fifth grade and a typical church congregation. I wrote in Part one about “the system”, and how foundational it is in both groups. In Part 2 I’ll ponder another discovery- personalities.

It only took a few minutes of being present in the classroom to discover the personalities of this fifth grade class. Most of them were delightful in their uniqueness and yet predictable in their reactions and responses. It was very similar to a congregation, where uniqueness is applauded in terms of callings and giftings as long as they don’t upset the system.

There were the two or three students who saw their role as being the “irritators.” They were the ones who seemed to always drop their books at the quietest times, the ones who made farting sounds, and comments that brought laughter and attention for a moment. The typical church has a few people like this as well. Sometimes it is “the sacred child”, who has grown up in the church and can do no wrong…and offer nothing positive, as well! Sometimes the irritator is the one who wants the pastor’s attention and time. He/she is usually spiritually immature and wants to be needed. In the classroom the irritator is the one who slows down the completion of the day’s objectives and learning. In the church the irritator is the one who could care less about movement and progress. The church is their playground.

There were also the class leaders. When I started straying outside “the system” the class leaders steered me back onto the road. Class leaders can lead to achievement or lead the herd to run off a cliff. Thankfully the two class leaders I had were more like Moses and less like Aaron.

In the church the leaders are not necessarily the elected officers. They are the ones who guide officially or unofficially. There are leaders who lead the congregation to their kingdom and leaders who understand that they are servant leaders for the kingdom of God. I remember Bill Hybels giving a talk about getting the right people on the bus. That is, the right people to lead the church need to be on the bus. Too often the wrong people are the ones who fight to get on the bus. The right leaders will rarely push to be in a seat of power.

The fifth grade class had a couple of “helpers.” They were the students who picked up paper off the floor or straightened the desks at the end of the school day without being asked. It was part of who they were. They were self-motivated to help. If we had been in a rowboat they were the ones who would have manned the oars without being directed to do so. They saw their role as helping the class get to the finish line of the school day.

In the church the helpers are God’s blessings upon the pastor and leadership. Sometimes they serve in recognized positions, but “the helpers” stand out on a Sunday when the pastor is gone, or people are absent because of sickness. They fill in the gaps. They pick up trash off the floor…naturally…without thinking “That’s the custodian’s job!”

Helpers need leaders, but, in the loneliness of leadership, leaders are extremely indebted to helpers.

The fourth group of the class were “the silent.” They were the few students who never raised their hands to answer questions or offer opinions, the ones who needed encouragement and to be valued. The silent can easily get run over by the irritators and leaders. Like scared kittens they need to be coaxed to come out of their hiding places.

The congregation has the silent group as well. The interesting thing about the silent is that they will often come out of their hiding place in the pew if the leaders personally encourage them, or if one person invites them to come alongside him/her in some simple ministry. The silent can be there every week and yet be invisible.

Finally, in that fifth grade classroom there were “the outliers”, the couple of students who stood outside the expected, and surprised the teacher. They didn’t fit into any one category, and could not easily be described. They were the ones who didn’t fit in the grading curve, like the one student who was in our seminary Hebrew class and had studied Hebrew for years in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah! What!!!!

Outliers are simply surprisers! They hadn’t read the manual on what a fifth grader is suppose to be like. They were the special secret spice in the class recipe.

A congregation has outliers as well. They are the ones who surprise the pastor with a theological insight dealing with social justice, and yet are also card-carrying members of the NRA. They vote Republican and watch CNN, play the saxophone and run marathons. Congregational outliers are the few people who the pastor has a hard time getting a handle on how to describe. They often are the few who have a completely unique perspective on the church that is a revelation to the ears who are willing to hear it.

A fifth grade classroom….and a church congregation- different, and yet so similar!

The Fifth Grade Congregation

April 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 22, 2016

                            

I substitute taught in a fifth grade class this week. It was really an awesome experience, and I’m not just whistling Dixie! I found myself liking these kids! They didn’t try to tell me that their teacher gives them an hour for recess, or lead me down the wrong stairway, or shoot spit wads at me with their luncheon drinking straws…as some of us did a few decades ago to our substitute! (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned!)

I also found myself connecting dots! A fifth grade class is a lot like a typical congregation.

First of all, there was “the system”. Every church has a system, sometimes written down in documents, but most of the time unwritten but known by the members. When someone veers away from “the system” there is much consternation. Special meetings get called. Phone calls get made. Side conversations become more frequent. In many churches “the system” is sacred!

In the midst of the fifth grade math class that was dealing with something called “line plots” I foolishly veered away from “the system.” It was as if a dark family secret just got revealed on Jerry Springer. There were a couple of gasps, several confused looks, but then one “rescuer” brought me back under control before I drifted too far into math curriculum heresy.

Close call!

Systems are important to help the congregation know there will be order in the midst of the journey. It’s kind of like serving the salad and main dish before you can get to the dessert. There’s an accepted order, a process for getting things done, and…processes that “we don’t do around here!” As a pastor there were a few times I didn’t follow the system, didn’t follow the order, and those were the most gut-wrenching, stressful times of ministry.

Clarification! There are times to go outside the system, but the “trailblazer” better have a well thought out plan before that path gets taken. If the congregational road has become a rut it is a sign that the system has become a detriment to movement.

The school system I was a part of this week included “parts” of math, science, and literature. Since it was a state testing day I didn’t get to have a part on “social studies.” Each part had its advocates and opponents. That is, there were those who were excited and focused, and those who just wanted to get through it. The purpose behind all the parts was for them to work together to provide a well-rounded education.

In any congregation there are also a number of parts in the system. There is worship, education/discipleship, fellowship, missions, serving ministries, and a number of other parts. People get excited in and invested in different parts, and, just as in the fifth grade classroom, there are other parts that they just want to get through. The passion comes out as the focus comes to the part they are excited about. The disinterest surfaces when the other parts are emphasized. I remember a man from a congregation I pastored who would get up and walk out when praise music was being sung, but sing with passion when a hymn was happening. Interestingly enough, in my experience there were very few people who loved praise music but had a disdain towards hymns. They were the much more flexible group when it came to the “music sub-parts” of the worship part.

In part two of “The Fifth Grade Classroom” I’ll focus on “personalities and pecking orders”.