Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Awkward People

with 7 comments

For a long time I have looked at the church and felt like more was possible. I wonder often about alternative church forms, and ministry structures that break down some of the archaic barriers we have established by tradition. What if instead of a sermon we had more of a discussion? What if small groups had more authority over their own spiritual development? What if the church became a regular community center for people to meet one another and make new friends whenever they wanted to, all week long?

TechnoPuss_2063961iI’ve done some work starting alternative structures. A swing dance ministry, a paintball group, meetup.com…

But most of the ideas have never actualized because I keep running into the same brick wall. Awkward people.

I know I’m one to talk. I can be pretty awkward sometimes, but sometimes speaking from experience may be the only way to break the silence, so here I go.

Why do we have a speech and not a discussion? Because awkward people. One person would sit near the front and dominate the discussion and be offended if you don’t let them ramble.

Why are small groups constrained to curricula about the sermon? Because awkward people. One person would go on a political tirade that offends others in that group unless everyone is only answering yes/no questions.

Why aren’t churches open all the time. Awkward people! One guy would just live there all the time, creep everyone out so that nobody else would come, and it would be extra maintenance and staff hours for nothing.

So when I came upon This Reddit Thread, dealing with a person by the pseudonym of Jack where key strategies were laid out for dealing with people who do not know how to function in groups, I was very excited.

To be clear: It’s not the advice itself that is exciting, The advice is simple, you have a tough conversation with these elements:are-you-socially-awkward-jul-31-2012-1-600x400

  • What’s the outcome you want?
  • What will it require from the person to achieve this outcome?
  • What will you do to help him achieve this outcome?
  • What’s the benefit to the group?
  • What’s the benefit to others?
  • What’s the benefit to the person?
  • It will only work some of the time to resolve the problem peacefully. That’s not the point. The point is that the strategy exists. The point is that there are people out there who have spent enough time addressing these sorts of issues (not avoiding them) to have written strategies about it. To get good at it.

    If people can be good at it, then people can get better at it.

    I’m especially excited about the last bullet point, where there is an expressed benefit to the person. What if churches were a place that awkward people could come and learn to hang? What if there was a discipleship process that understood learning to interact in groups as part and parcel of loving ones neighbor? What if helping your socially challenged neighbor was a part of the same?

    20140727_090433Heck! What if there was a pastor on staff, who was known and admired in the community for their ability to help people develop greater social skills?

    If we are going to dream about a better way to do church, we need to put serious intellectual resources into developing strategies for the Awkward neighbor. We need this more than we need market research, more than we need cultural relevance, more than we need radical redefinitions.

    If our churches can figure out how to work with the Jacks of the world such that we remain welcoming to them, but do not close down opportunities for the rest of us, then our churches will find they already know how to work.

    Trust me on this one

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    Written by RyanGaffney

    April 22, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Posted in Uncategorized

    7 Responses

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    1. So, actually this idea is neither new, nor revolution. It’s the way the Society of Friends functions (aka Quakers). It’s also the way the church I’ve been attending and am now leading was founded. The pastor who founded the church has been leading ministry this way for 20+ years.

      The reality is, most of the “awkward” people in these places are people who have been deely hurt by groups but who also want to belong. They have a profound need to be heard and accepted. It is not at all unusual for the “awkward” people to become less disruptive and less dominating of conversations in these contexts within one or two meetings, not because they’re being taught social skills or group dynamics, but because their needs are being met: they are being heard and accepted rather than judged.

      If you contstantly see people in need and think, “I need to fix that awkward person” rather than, “How can I meet this person’s need for compassion and acceptance” maybe the person’s awkward demeanor isn’t the problem. Maybe you are.

      mbsunshine

      April 23, 2015 at 5:55 am

      • Well first let me affirm that you are right on all accounts. First of all, not all disruptive people are habitually socially awkward. Furthermore those, non-awkward people need to be loved and accepted rather than helped or taught. Finally, that this is true is neither new nor interesting and the church already does a passable job of it.

        That’s why I am not talking about non-awkward disruptive people. I’m not talking about people who appear to lack social skills but do not. I’m talking about people who actually do need help. Thank you for the reminder that misdiagnosis is important to avoid, nevertheless I’m sure you recognize that there do exist people who are not simply acting out, but actually do not have the skills to do better. Jack in the thread is a good example.

        Now: This is the third reply in as many posts that has bluntly criticized the message by first interpreting it to be a post about something else, then pointing out it’s not original and condemning me for having said it better. Do you want to talk about the social dynamics that cause that persistent interpretation?

        RyanGaffney

        April 23, 2015 at 11:07 am

        • By your last note, are you indicating that this is the third reply I’ve left in as many posts critcizing the message by first misinterpreting it? If so, I’m confused by your accounting of my critiques.

          The last post I made any comment about was from March 3rd on worship music, and I asked you a clarifying question via another forum. Please enlighten me as to where you see my mis-intrepretation and critique of your previous 2 posts. If you’re referring to other critiques from other people, I’m not sure a conversation with me would be helpful.

          In regards to my interpretation of this post, you started with: “For a long time I have looked at the church and felt like more was possible. I wonder often about alternative church forms, and ministry structures that break down some of the archaic barriers we have established by tradition. What if instead of a sermon we had more of a discussion? What if small groups had more authority over their own spiritual development? What if the church became a regular community center for people to meet one another and make new friends whenever they wanted to, all week long?

          I’ve done some work starting alternative structures. A swing dance ministry, a paintball group, meetup.com…

          But most of the ideas have never actualized because I keep running into the same brick wall. Awkward people.”

          So, you’ve looked at the chuch and found no functional options beyond the standard sermon and closed 6 days a week model, and the reason the church can’t do anything better is because of awkward people. I expressed my experience that there are churches who have been doing non-conventional things for decades and have flourished.

          Additionally, you wrote generally about “awkward people” defining the awkward traits as “dominate the discussion” “political tirade” and “creep everyone else out” simply by being present. I explained my own experiences with people who do the above and what has worked in those contexts. I apologize if my reading of your post was not what you’d intended.

          mbsunshine

          April 23, 2015 at 12:21 pm

        • Yes your comment before that was “This is a much better treatment of this subject and your following post” with a link to a very interesting and unrelated article.

          It’s getting pretty tiring. Of course I understand that it is the onus of the author to communicate clearly enough so as to be understood, but you seem hell-bent on misinterpreting lately. Which is why I’m not particularly interested in continuing to argue with you about what I meant in my post. Don’t you think I should be given some credit as an authority on the meaning of a work I wrote? Should I really have to come back again and insist that, “still no”? Or are you trying to communicate something more than what you are saying by disagreeing? It seems so.

          RyanGaffney

          April 23, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    2. I wasn’t arguing with you Ryan, in my initial reply; merely explaining to you the points in your original article to which I’d been responding. Also, I don’t see that sharing an alternate writing concerning the question of the relativistic nature of morality was a critique. As mentioned previously, when it came to your post about worship music, I asked a clarifying question. It was not at all a critique. It was a desire to understand the writing as the example used did not seem to fit the argument made and I was trying to piece it all together.

      Again, none of this is arguing the point with you, Ryan. One sharing of a similar view (which incidentally I think I shared on FB and thought better of after sending – thinking maybe you weren’t making the point I had interpreted you having made – and deleted, but if I did send it via FB, you obviously read it before I had a chance to reconsiderr and remove my response, then again, maybe not), one clarifying question, and one critique in 8 posts.

      Asking questions and clarifying viewpoints is not arguing. It’s making a sincere effort to communicate clearly and effectively.

      mbsunshine

      April 24, 2015 at 5:53 am

      • My goodness this is tiring.

        Can I expect more of this not-arguing against my next post?

        RyanGaffney

        April 27, 2015 at 7:18 pm

        • Because I value clear communication, if you continue asking me questions, yes, I will continue to answer them in a effort at clarity.

          mbsunshine

          April 28, 2015 at 4:57 am


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