One of the numerous emails in my inbox each day comes from Cameron Trimble, a minister and writer who trains clergy and church leaders. In a recent one, she shared a story from Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. This story has EVERYTHING to do with the future of Park Hill Christian Church.
He said, “Let me tell you about Govan Brown. Govan Brown was a bus driver in New York City, He drove a bus up Madison Avenue. I once got on his bus. It was a very hot August day, very humid. And I was feeling a little irritable, like many people in New York City on a day like that. And when I got on his bus, Govan looked at me and asked, as though he really cared, ‘How has your day been going?’
And I was shocked because people in New York City usually don’t have a direct human encounter like that with someone they’ve never seen before. And as I sat on the bus, I realized he’s carrying on a conversation with everyone on that bus. And people would get off the bus, and he would say again, very warmly, ‘I hope your day turns out to be a wonderful day for you.’
At the time, I didn’t know his name was Govan Brown. I found that out in his obituary in the New York Times years later because they said he was the only driver of a bus in New York City who, when he retired, had a party held in his honor because he had so many fans. People couldn't wait to get on Govan Brown’s bus.
Govan was a pastor of a Black Church on Long Island, and he saw everyone on his bus as part of his flock. He was tending to his flock, that was my feeling.
It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it. That determines whether you really connect, whether you really help people.”
Why did I share this story with you? This story doesn’t mean PHCC should go hire a charismatic pastor like Govan Brown, although someone like him would be great. The point of this story is that Park Hill Christian Church needs to be like Govan Brown. It is not a pastor’s job to do the outreach and evangelism that should be done by church members. People need faith communities who are interested in their well-being rather than congregations who see people only as a means to help them survive.
This is an anxious time to be a church. Just when I think statistics couldn’t get worse, last week news from Gallup came out that less than 50% of Americans claim church membership. I’m here to tell that you just because someone says they’re a church member doesn’t mean they are involved in a church or even attend one, so that figure is deceptively high. Nobody knows if people will come back to church after Covid, and if they do, what will church be like? Yet, fear about the future is the wrong emotion to dwell on at this time—it accomplishes nothing except a focus on survival which is 180 degrees from how Jesus lived and taught.
With good reason, people are turning away from churches. The preponderance of white Christians supporting White supremacy in recent years has disgusted people. Decades of church scandals have left people cynical. When they bother to show up to church, they feel like prey from ministers and church leaders who only care about them as potential givers or volunteers to prevent their churches from dying. Who wants any of this shameful stuff? Not me.
What people want and need are people who follow Jesus and therefore live their lives in a way that demonstrates every person they encounter matters to them. Who of us doesn’t want to feel like we matter to others? People are starving to be known and valued. If churches—and by churches I mean the people who claim to be part of those churches—would quit worrying about survival and focus their attention on the people all around them who need to feel they matter and have value, then survival wouldn’t be a question.
Govan Brown was celebrated because he cared about people, and people sought out his bus because they knew he genuinely cared. The same thing can be true for churches if they can set aside their fear and actively value the people surrounding them whether or not they ever darken the church door or give a cent to it.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851