Carlos Whittaker asked about our thoughts in the church lobby. Here’s my most frequent:
“If ONE more person offers me an over-the-top-cheesy-smiley-pretend-everything-is-awesome ‘GOOD MORNING!’ I am going to vomit all over his or her face.”
I’m not complaining- I’m merely stating the facts. If a number of people greater than nine gives me an over the top fake happy greeting, face-seeking puke will rapidly come out of me in projectile fashion. And I gotta say, nine is a pretty good number. I’ve built my tolerance up quite a bit over the last 10 years of church leadership.
To be clear, I’m not saying that happiness is inauthentic. I’m saying *inauthentic* happiness is inauthentic.
And yes, I’m being a little dramatic to make a point. You can scroll on down to the bottom for the points if you’re ready. They’re in bold.
Think about it. None of us would be ok with that behavior for any other emotion. If we were at a funeral and a guest was *clearly* faking her sorrow and making a scene shouting out with fake grief “WHY GOD? WHYYYYYYYYYY” most of us would be disgusted. (Most of us- not all. The holiest people would probably think something like “poor little lamb” or “bless her heart.”)
I don’t see Jesus as a slick pushy salesman, so I don’t see why I should have to act that way to make people experience him. If something is forced down my throat, I’m going to gag, I’m going to feel barfy. Happiness included.
In my personal experience, which I understand you and I do not share, the pastor always (ALWAYS!) did a ridiculous over-the-top happy greeting when I walked into the building. It was a call to only be joyful- check your damage at the door. I mean, I know he meant well and everything (bless his heart). But I have pain. My life has dissonance. Something is bothering me, and I need to show my community those thorns in my heart. I promise you, there is no way for me to bring my damage to the altar if I am never allowed to bring it through the door.
So church leaders, let me say this: Acting way happier than we know any human can be on a normal basis doesn’t help you relate. It helps you force your agenda of an all-happy church culture. Which I guess is totally fine if that’s what you want. I don’t want to be a part of a church culture that says I can’t come in with problems, sorrows, or stresses.
If you’re a leader, here’s what you can do:
- Be real. Like, really real. Sad when you’re sad, happy when happy, excited only when you’re actually excited, blonde and spiky when angry. If you ever get a feeling like you’re acting, go pause somewhere more private. My favorite places always involve pipe and drape.
- Reveal your pains, struggles, sorrows. This gives permission to everyone else to be themselves and drop any temptation to be plastic.
- Remember your mission. You actually want burdened people to come in with their burdens, right? Evaluate what that means to your organization and change your methods. For me and my team in student ministry, that has meant to be perceptive of how people are feeling when they walk in the door. Just like I can see straight through the facade of an over-welcoming greeter, I can see when guests are trying to mask their pain. So I pull them aside, ask them about their life, and go from there. Sometimes listening is all that is needed. Sometimes I need to offer to beat someone up. Sometimes it’s a simple, “Bro. That really sucks. I’m sorry you’re going through that.” (not very perceptive? Following them on social media is a huge help here, by the way).
- Exist in community. Not just in front of it. When you engage with people at intimate levels, showing your true self will be difficult to avoid. Plus, you’ll have friends, better mental health, accountability,… You get it. My favorite greeter did always use the words “good morning”, but then he’d also try to pick a fist fight with me, ask about my new house, give me advice on fixing things, and make fun of my hipster clothes. That’s community.
Disclaimer – I know someone who is genuinely happy *most* of the time. She’s awesome. I’ll hang out with her and take a “good morning” from her any day- sans vomit. The difference is she never tries to force me to feel the same way she does. Existing together is easier that way.