I didn’t mean for this to turn into a two-fer, but today is a follow-up to yesterday’s post.

There’s an old joke about a guy who went to prison and ended up in a row of cells with all of the “lifers” … those guys who had been in the place since the first bars clanged shut.  After a couple of days, he noticed that every few hours one of the prisoners would yell out a random number (“Number 42!”  “Number 6!”) and all of the other prisoners would double over laughing.

After witnessing this several times, he finally asked one of his fellow prisoners what the story behind the numbers was.  The prisoner responded: “For years, we told the same jokes over and over, and we finally decided the most efficient way to tell jokes was to give all of them a number.”

Editor’s note: I’m sure that was a lot funnier in your head than when you actually typed it just now.  Bummer.

Here’s the point: as the guest-services go-to guy in our church, I’ve realized that people typically only ask about six questions.  Oh, they might ask them forty different ways, but when you boil down all the different nuances, there are really just six or so: “How do I get plugged in?”  “What’s my next step?”  “What about my kids?”  etc.

My problem as a pastor is that I don’t let our guests get the question fully asked before my brain kicks in and yells, “Number four!”  And then my mouth says, “Oh yeah, here’s what you need to know…”  It’s incredibly efficient, yet incredibly mechanical.

Yesterday I introduced you to Bill Price, co-author of The Best Service is No Service.  In that book, Price says that if we only listen and don’t come up with solutions, or if we come up with solutions but don’t listen, we fail.  The goal is to listen and invent at the same time.

If you interact with guests at your church, do you do that?  Can you do that?  It’s one thing to follow a well-written manual that has all the canned answers that you’re supposed to give…it’s quite another to have discovered the “why” behind the “what,” and to deliver the answers organically, rather than mechanically.  It’s easy to be a robotic answer-machine based on what a pastor / leader / ministry trainer tells you, it’s difficult – yet fulfilling – to go through the heavy lifting of figuring out the answers and invent new ways of dealing with old issues.

Listen.  Invent.  And laugh, because I’m giving a shout-out to Number 36.  That one always cracks me up.


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