One day at a parent-teacher conference several years ago when my middle daughter was in second grade, the teacher, as usual for such an occasion, told my wife and I about the things the class had been doing. The class had been reading some Winnie the Pooh books and the kids were to talk about which Pooh character they liked the most and why. Since my daughter, Charissa, is a very outgoing and bouncy type of person I was certain that she would immediately say that Tigger was her favorite. But instead she responded with Eeyore. Okay. Not what I would have guessed. Why? Charissa said, "Because Eeyore reminds me of my Daddy."
Ouch. I wasn't ready for that one. Yet, as I reflected on Charissa's answer I saw that since I was working as a supervisor in a factory, going to grad school at night, and being a lay minister in my local church had left me drained to the point that whenever my daughter saw me it was as if I was Eeyore just loping about the house with a pinned on tail. Before that parent-teacher conference encounter I never would have described myself as my daughter did. Obviously, my reputation did not match my own perception of myself.
Every church leadership team needs to periodically struggle with this question: What is our reputation in the community? Notice the question is not: What do you think your reputation is? The only way to know a church's reputation is to interact with those outside of your church. And the answers may be very different than what you think they might be. Whenever I have conversations with those in my community who are not members of my church, I will often ask something like: "So, what do you know of our church?" "Do you know any people in the church?" "What is one word that you would describe the church?"
What should we do if there is a clear disconnect between what the community says about us, and what we think is true about us? First, we ought to never dismiss what another says about our church. Sure, we might not like it but we need to weigh the words and glean as much wisdom as we can from it. Second, if it is a negative perception, or truly off the mark, use the information to help inspire you toward change. Third, if there are things that you know need changing, discuss what kind of reputation you want to have and begin setting some goals for achieving what you want. Begin with the results you want, and then focus on the particular tasks you might do.
There is yet one more critical question to continually ask: What is our reputation with God? The way we answer this question is critical and demands the utmost honesty. Our approach is the same as asking persons in the community: ask God himself. Pray. Read Scripture, especially the Prophets, and the first three chapters of Revelation. No church can ever hope to glorify God and be effective in their community unless they are genuine and urgent about where they stand before God and what their reputation is with those outside of church. Resist the temptation of talking the subject to death and instead determine to set a plan of action.
At your next leadership meeting or team meeting, be brave and ask the questions of reputation. Use them to spawn the kind of interaction that is needed to help address what God wants for your ministry.