Thanking the Machine

Yesterday my family and I headed to Mickey D’s after church to grab a quick lunch. While standing in line waiting our turn to order, I watched 2 couples heading toward the door. Well-dressed 60-somethings and all smiles, one of the gentlemen stopped and turned toward the workers behind the counter and offered a hearty, “Thanks for the lunch!”. No response. He waited 10 seconds or so then tried again: “Enjoyed the lunch! Thanks!” Even though I was captivated by his two rather loud and cheerful statements, not one of the employees even looked up. No acknowledgement whatsoever of his words or even his existence.

Finally, with a look of “oh well”, but still smiling, he turned and walked out the door.

I immediately thought, “That was weird.”
Then I immediately thought, “No it’s wasn’t.”

The reason why it wasn’t weird is because McDonalds is more machine than man. It’s a collection of cogs, not veins. Every franchise works the same playbook, and based on what I saw yesterday the playbook says nothing about making the customer feel like a person. I was so struck by the lack of anyone’s response to the gentleman that I nearly shouted, “You’re welcome!”

As you probably know, I live the life of a person in fulltime ministry. While the lion’s share of my time is based in student ministry, my experiences span much further than just that age group. I’ve seen a lot over the years and there’s a premise I hold to that connects with those few, awkward, embarassing moments in that McDonald’s yesterday.

I have heard (in the context of ministry and church leadership) the concept that pastors are in the business of “customer service”. While I always understand the reason those words are used and I believe the heart behind them is good, I seem to always wince when I hear them. I abhor the thought that those who attend, worship at, and are connected with the church I serve in are “customers” that I help to serve. Because the underlying thought is that I am here to serve the customers, that the customers should be my #1 priority, and that as the old retail adage says: “The customer is always right.” I just don’t see that in the Bible.

And truth be told, I have always had a “take it or leave it” style of leadership. (I use the word “style” simply due to lack of a better term.) I have never read in the Bible a time when Jesus pleaded with anyone to follow Him. It seems to me that Jesus invited people while he was walking past them. Whether he literally stopped in His tracks on the beach to say “Follow Me” isn’t as much the point than that sense that whether those fishermen left their nets or not wasn’t His concern. (Yes, I know He knew they would and that there’s much more to say about all that.)

So, while I lead those God has entrusted to my care, I want to do so with the love of God clearly seen in everything I do. I want it to be said of me that I cared for people, no matter what. I want to be remembered as someone who lived his life putting others first. I want my life to be unmistakably about serving people. But that none of that ever gets confused with a passion for walking with God.

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