Q&A: Thanks but No Thanks

Q: What is a church to do when an older member takes on tasks that he's not capable of doing and won't relinquish the jobs? This person is the head usher who has become demanding, scares children, and has difficulty communicating.

A: The church should be a place of grace, which always balances the needs of the person and the needs of the congregation. Most jobs are harmless and should continue. If, however, someone is doing something damaging to the church, then it must be addressed.

Imagine a greeter who engages in rude or socially inappropriate behavior. This could have very dire consequences on the long-term health and welfare of the church. The leadership of the congregation must fix this situation.

In dealing with children, the entire church family should make concentrated efforts for the care and wellbeing of every child. Church should be, and feel, safe.

One way to handle this is to create an official ministry tasked with handling the job that the person is doing. For example, church leadership could recruit a new "greeting team." Team members would go through proper training and receive name badges that identify them as the greeters.

When it is time to implement the new greeting team, have a public ceremony, perhaps on Sunday morning, during which the well-intentioned but troubled greeter is "retired." Hand out a plaque and have the church thank him for his service. Then find another ministry that better suits this person.

Sometimes though, this might not be enough. In the most difficult situations leadership should have a talk with the person and gently point out how he or she is not welcome to perform the task he or she loves to do. The obvious concerns are that this could be uncomfortable, may lead to hurt feelings, or may even cause the person or others to leave the church.

This conversation must be done gently and in love, but firmly, so that the person understands. In the long run, it is best for the person and the church when ministry is matched to gifts and personalities.

Kevin Rector is pastor of Liberty Church of the Nazarene in Vilonia, Arkansas.

A. Every moment of every day, we are in the process of making decisions. When should I apply the brakes when the green light turns amber? What should I order for lunch? Amidst these mundane choices for which we are quite conscious, are decisions made that are almost unconscious. These are the subtle choices we make to ensure appropriate social behavior: How long should I stare at another person? How close is too close when sitting next to a stranger? How long should a handshake continue or is a person close enough as a friend to engage in a hug? Social decisions such as these are made in an area of the brain sitting right atop the eyeballs. This is the orbital-frontal cortex.

What this area of the brain is doing is monitoring our social actions and whether they are appropriate to our training and to our value system. What is also being determined is whether the consequences of our actions will be received in a positive or negative way by those around us. Proper social behaviors are not automatically stamped-in at birth.They are developed with parental training and guidance in proper social etiquette. Constantly, we are engaging in self-perceptive issues such as these with little conscious awareness.

A problem develops when there is orbital-frontal tissue damage (as in a tumor) or tissue cell loss in the elderly, for which this area is particularly vulnerable.Those persons afflicted often engage in embarrassing actions. They may bore everyone around by endlessly talking about a topic no one cares about hearing. Often, they are no longer able to pick-up on the negative consequences of disinterest seen in the actions of those listening.

In the church setting, where proper choice in social behavior is in great demand, cell loss in the elderly will result in a lessening of the ability to accurately perceive the appropriateness of what they are doing.  

What, if anything, can be done to help correct improper conduct which might be a result of orbital-frontal dysfunctioning? First, it must be recognized that there are no formulas or ready-made answers for such issues. Yet, there are some elements worthy of consideration. It is helpful to distinguish between inappropriate actions that are deliberate and those that are habitual.

Habitual behaviors are those that have been engaged in so long that they tend to unfold without any assessment of consequences. When habits step outside of proper social boundaries, it is very difficult to harness or correct them.

Deliberate behaviors are more amenable to correction because they are situation specific and are going through brain processing mechanisms for assessment of consequences that habits have by-passed. An example of deliberative behavior could be a Sunday School helper disrupting a classroom to get an attendance count instead of waiting for the class secretary to put the book outside the door.

When persons begin to lose proper action selection through inadequate deliberative processing, they need to be treated as students are treated in elementary schools. Students are in the process of orbital-frontal training, and accordingly are confronted with a multitude of rules classroom, hallway, bathroom rules. These rules begin to establish a norm for proper social behavior, which will be used by the orbital-frontal cortex for comparison.

Generally, in the church, we give normal adults suggestions or hints as to how they should perform or what is desired of them with respect to such things as attire when given a new job. Suggestions do not work when there is orbital-frontal weakness. Rules need to be established, unmistakably and clearly stated, but certainly in a kind and considerate manner. This would be a first step before encountering the difficulties ensued by removing them, graciously, from a desired job they hold in the church.

Arvin Oke is a fellow and collaborative research scientist at the Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease Research located at the University of Kentucky. He also serves as part-time professor of psychology at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas.

Holiness Today, September/October 2012

Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.