Perhaps you have viewed the reality tv show, “Hell’s Kitchen.” A famous British chef sifts (and I do mean sifts) through prospective chefs to see who will run his kitchen at a hotel in Las Vegas. His method of teaching and correcting the chefs wavers between ridicule and outright humiliation. When a contestant performs exceptionally well, however, he will publicly acknowledge it. He can have moments of exceptional encouragement toward a chef who has performed well, but those moments are overshadowed by his rage and cursing.
From my perspective, it seems as if he and the contestants live in a surreal world where political machinations and grandstanding are par for the course. The few winners of specific tasks are given extravagant rewards and face time with the chef and the losers of the tasks are left to do difficult, often ugly tasks, plus do all the prep work for the evening’s dinner service. It seems to be a reward/punishment system that is based on extremes. While it might make for tantalizing voyeuristic television for viewers who love watching contestants wilt under the fury of the seemingly ever-angry Chef, it also occurs to me that there can be parallels for life in the local church.
Parallel 1: Based on my conversations with a large number of people who are not Christians and who do not attend church, I have learned that there is a perception among many of them that church people, especially evangelicals, are generally angry. This is based on the emphasis of certain evangelicals telling people they are going to hell and also criticizing behaviors they do not like. You know, drinking, dancing, wearing tatoos, whatever. They are okay with Jesus, but they have a big problem with Christians, mostly because of what they see on television via major evangelical media ministries, but also as a result of what they experience when they run into specific Christians in their communities.
When pressed, some would admit that not all Christians are this way. Yet they have a hard time overcoming the prevailing view about them. In essence, they feel as if they are being screamed at by Christians while the Christians treat their own by a different standard, notwithstanding the times when they are caught doing the very things they scream about. I am just reporting what I have learned from some of my friends who are not believers. Jim Henderson has more to say about this in his book a.k.a Lost. For my part, I simply try to be be consistent in my conduct while also focusing more on what I am for, than what I am against. While I am certainly against sin, I am learning that I can communicate more effectively with the lost if I focus on the positive. I don’t shy away from discussing sin and hell, but I generally do not start with those issues at the beginning of my conversations with people who have no biblical training. The revivalists could do this because their audience, even though they may have been backslidden, had mostly a Christian worldview. In my community I am hard-pressed to find a lost person who can say the same.
Parallel 2: Specifically in children’s ministry, I think it is important to monitor how we communicate with children, parents and staff. This is an area where I pay close attention as I train and supervise my ministry staff. The star of Hell’s Kitchen is an extreme example of how not to relate to other human beings. He is condescending, sarcastic, abusive, selectively tender, charming and friendly where it appears to suit his purposes, and frequently quite coarse in his language.
Sometimes adults in the church can default to approaches and attitudes which are not in the best interests of the children. Although they might not behave like the good chef, they are capable of saying and doing things which have no place in the children’s ministry. I teach parents and adult workers to get down on a child’s level physically and to converse with them eye to eye, but not in an intimidating way. We should not back a child into a corner. If correction is needed for the child I do so quietly and directly so that the child is affirmed and not humiliated. Sarcasm is never appropriate around children. Children take what we say literally. They have not yet developed their abstract thinking skills to the extent of an adult. Sarcasm will be lost on them. Condescending behavior frustrates them. Perhaps this is one reason why Paul instructs fathers not to exasperate their children (Ephesians 6:4).
Parallel 3: In children’s ministry, be wary of competitions which cause strife among the kids. Some competition is okay and can be an avenue to teach life skills. I am simply suggesting that we not create or allow situations which foster unhealthy bickering which goes unchecked. In the above referenced tv show, it seems to be full-scale interpersonal guerilla warfare. We can do better than that in our churches.