New Engines, Warranties, and Church Relationships

In a few weeks, my F-150 will turn five years old.  It has been a good five years, and I love my truck.  It has served me well, it still looks good, and Theresa calls it Wally.  Recently the truck has been a little under the weather… the engine was knocking, the brake light was going on and off, and it misfired while on the Long Island Expressway (I assure you, this was not one of my better moments).

Doing what any reasonable person in my situation would do, I decided to take the truck into the shop in order to have its issues taken care of.  Since the extended warranty I had bought with the truck was in force, I took it to my nearest Ford dealer.  That is where reasonableness ended.  From the moment I dropped the truck off, the staff at this dealership began telling me what they couldn’t do, and what the warranty wouldn’t cover.  From the very beginning, phrases like “warranty might cover it” began coming out of people’s mouths.  I typically have a pretty sensitive scam radar… needless to say it was off the charts that day.

Later in the day I received a call from the service writer who informed me that there was “definitely an issue” but before they would open up the engine to figure out what the problem was, they would need a copy of every receipt, from every service that I have ever had performed on the truck before they would see if they would honor the warranty.  He also proceeded to tell me that they would not be able to fix the brake issue under warranty because I had obviously done something that voided the warranty.  At this point, I was slightly less than pleased.

Doing what any reasonable person in my situation would do, I asked them to give me my truck back, and then drove it to Baltimore (four hours away).  I took it back to the dealership that I bought the truck from, and asked them to take care of it.  Three days later I got a phone call from the service writer who told me “Ford is going to replace your engine, at no cost, and we are replacing your ABS sensor because it went bad.”  There was no discussion of what wasn’t going to be done, no talk of voided warranties, and not even a blip on my scam radar.

So, ten days later, I have a truck with a new engine, and it cost me a $100 copay, and a round trip ticket on Amtrak… so, why am I sharing this with you?  As I have been thinking through this entire adventure three thoughts related to the church world came to mind:

  • Relationship is Huge.  This is a big deal, especially with the rising generations.  When issues arise, where do people turn?  I drove my truck four hours in order to have someone I know, and trust, work on it.  In the same way, when issues pop up in the lives of the people in our church, to whom do they turn?  Family is a natural answer, but who is next on their call list?  Is your congregation relationally connected enough to call one another in the midst of a crisis?
  • Defensive Postures Limit Your Goals.  The attitude of the service writer in New York was negative enough for me to risk driving a truck with engine trouble four hours to see someone I trust, and who was confident that they could take care of the problem.  Starting with what you can’t do, or forcing people to jump through hoops when you have little relationship only encourages them to regret engaging in the first place.  Does your church engage people defensively?  Do you start with an explanation of why you can’t do something?  Or do you engage people with what you can do, are doing, and how you would love to engage with them?
  • Don’t Penalize Without Reason.  I am certain that the original dealership I worked with has been burned once or twice in the past.  I am sure that they took the defensive posture because they have had a negative experience or two when they discovered that a person’s vehicle was, for whatever reason, genuinely not covered under warranty.  By deciding to proactively punish everyone for the pain experienced due to the few, this dealership missed out on a job that would have paid them more than $7,000 after the dust had settled.  Proactively punishing people for the sins of a few is a common practice in many organizations… churches included.  Policies created, signs posted, and stances adopted because of something someone did several years ago create an environment that says “you are welcome to be here… as long as you play by our rules.”  This is not how Jesus did ministry, and this does not create an environment that newcomers feel comfortable in.

How would YOUR church compare with a car dealership?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.