On Easter Sunday at Wilshire our Sanctuary Choir sang two great choruses from Handel’s Messiah, “Worthy is the Lamb” paired with “Hallelujah.” In conversation with our worship planning team we had placed these selections after the message of the morning, allowing the music to function as a response to the good news of Christ’s resurrection.
At the end of the glorious conclusion of the music (to see the video, click on this link https://youtu.be/aCTL8g0ZsTI), you can hear an audible “amen” from our pastor and applause from the congregation.
I was a bit surprised because we don’t applaud at Wilshire. Well, not every very often. The congregation may applaud on graduate Sunday or for the special recognition of someone. But these moments are exceptions. On Easter Sunday I remember not being quite sure how to respond. A bow seemed too showy, so I turned to the congregation and acknowledged their kindness with a nod of my head.
I am aware that some congregations applaud–a lot. For music, for baptisms, for almost every celebratory moment. Perhaps there is no great harm. Applause is a socially learned habit that is simply a pervasive part of our culture. Underneath it all I am certain worshippers want to show kindness and appreciation. So far, so good. But, come let us reason together. Is there a better way to show appreciation?
A few days later at our Tuesday staff meeting I confessed to our ministers that I was uncomfortable with the applause. I asked, when is the last time our missions minister was applauded for her work with the homeless? When is the last time our preschool minister was applauded for ensuring that babies are well cared for? When is the last time our children’s minister was applauded for making sure there is a Sunday School teacher in every class every week? When is the last time our student minister was applauded for encouraging a student who was bullied? When is the last time our maintenance staff was applauded for cleaning our building?
What if, instead of applauding out of habit, we learn to show appreciation?
1. Write thank you notes. After the death of President George H.W. Bush last year there were beautiful tributes to his graciousness and civility. President Bush was legendary for writing thank you notes. He even once wrote a thank you note to Frito Lay: “Sincere thanks for all those pork rinds.”
Some church cultures seem to have cultivated this good habit. Others have not.
I know a friend in our church who makes note writing an art form. Whether it is one word, one sentence or one paragraph – it is a beautiful thing to receive a note from Kathy.
2. Plan to show appreciation to volunteers. The next time I meet with our Sanctuary Choir officers we are going to discuss how we show appreciation for our singers. We have singers who have sung in the choir for decades. They deserve our thanks for their commitment to the Lord and to the ministry of worship leadership. We have singers who have only been with us for a few months. We need to show appreciation and make sure they are making the transition from stranger to friend.
3. Encourage your colleagues. Okay, maybe the habits of your work place do not focus on what is going right. Perhaps the default is to pick out what went wrong. Can one person change the culture of a place? Be the first to point what is going well. Catch someone doing good. Say so in the hallway. Send a one sentence email. Text an emoji of clapping hands.Encourage those who are your peers and work beside you.
4. Affirm your pastor. Wait, why? Doesn’t she get enough affirmation already? Someone once taught me, the pastor gets more credit than he deserves and the pastor gets more blame than he deserves. It’s the nature of the position. In church the well-functioning pastor will often act like a lightning rod, absorbing the shocks to the community and transforming hot spots into manageable energy.
If a sermon was meaningful, say so and be specific. Criticism abounds. Plenty of critics will fire off an email as soon as Sunday lunch is over. Offer your own benediction on the pastor’s message. But what if preaching is not your pastor’s strong suit? Affirm other ministry gifts. Yourword of blessing can be in response to a difficult situation handled deftly, a staff conflict dealt with firmly and fairly, a decision communicated with clarity and promptness.
I want to do these things more often: writing thank you notes, showing appreciation to volunteers, encouraging colleagues, affirming my pastors. It seems to me the body of Christ is stronger when we hold our applause and show our appreciation. What about you?