When I was a youth pastor I found my Monday mornings frequently taken up with older members of the congregation. More often than not I was fending off disappointment and anger about the Sunday night service. There weren’t any hymns. The music was too loud. The drama didn’t make sense. The young people were too noisy. I would try to listen graciously (though not always successfully) and explain that the church had made the decision that Sunday nights were to be a youth oriented service, so that was all I was trying to do. But this was difficult for many older members of our congregation. The world was changing at break neck speed and rather than serving as a safe-haven church brought even more discomfort and upheaval. And unfortunately I sometimes copped the sharp end of their pain.
Ron however was a welcome exception. A retired gentleman who mowed the church lawns each week, he’d always make his way over to my office with a comment about the previous Sunday night’s service. But it was never to complain. “Scott, I hated church last night” he commented once, “And isn’t that great, because it was spot on for all those young people. It’s just great to see them there.” Ron knew that over 50% of our young people came from non-church going families and he celebrated the fact they were in church and growing in their faith, even if that meant Sunday night’s style of service wasn’t to his liking. He kept coming because he wanted to support what we were doing.
Week in, week out Ron would wander over with a word of encouragement.
I’m not sure Ron realised how powerful his comments were. On those days I was weighed down by criticism or anxious over the difficulties facing one of our young people, Ron’s generous encouragement was like a burst of fresh air. Ron’s positivity had been a force in my life ever since I was seven years old and joined the Boys Brigade where he was a leader. It continued right throughout my childhood and into my time as youth pastor.
Sometimes Ron would struggle with some of the things that happened on a Sunday night. In the mid 90’s baseball caps were a fashion item for teenagers and Ron could never quite understand how they could wear them in church. In his day a man removed his cap in church as a sign of respect, and to Ron it was jarring to see young men with their caps on. But not once can I recall Ron’s wondering aloud over questions like this descend into criticism or judgement. And whatever he had to say always ended on a note of affirmation.
Ron is for me an inspiring example of the power of words to build up. Ron is the sort of person I aspire to be.