“Pull your pants up.”
It was a simple request, as his pants were hanging halfway down his backside. It was 2001 and it was a style commonly seen in teenagers but I did not think it sent the best message under the circumstances. He was a volunteer in the church’s children’s ministry and I thought that for some parents that “look” might be considered inappropriate. As I was the Director of Children’s Ministry for the church I felt it was within my authority to comment on his attire.
I was totally unprepared for the backlash that followed. The teen complained to his mom and the mom complained to the pastor. Before I knew it I was called into the pastor’s office. With a condescending tone he informed me that it was important that everyone feel welcome at church, regardless of the way they were dressed. He told me that I was being judgmental and needed to change my attitude.
He was as unprepared for my response as I had been for his. I told him that I agreed with him that people needed to feel comfortable at church and that was why I had asked the boy to raise his pants! I wanted to make sure that visitors bringing their children to church would not be taken aback by the appearance of anyone caring for their child. I reminded the pastor that serving in ministry was a privilege and that our student volunteers had agreed to follow the policies I had laid out. I told him, “If a student is not spiritually mature enough to submit to leadership in areas of dress, perhaps he isn’t mature enough to serve in Children’s ministry!” The pastor backed down from his position.
As the years have passed I have realized that the attitude of this young teen was not unique. Personal desires dominate our current self-absorbed generation. Little concern is given to the feelings or needs of others. People demand to be accepted “just as they are” and rebel against any suggestion they might need to change or improve anything about themselves. They can dress casually in any situation, use foul language in public, and be generally rude. It is only those who dare to comment who are considered in the wrong.
This me-first, don't tell me I'm wrong attitude is everywhere. I see it in patients who do not want to take responsibility for their health, in alcoholics who want to continue to drink and diabetics who do not want to manage their diets. I have seen it in former employees who want to be paid a high salary but refuse to do anything extra to help a patient. I see it in physicians whose offices are customer service disasters but who refuse to hire the staff or make the changes necessary to improve.
In every case I remind people that excellence only comes with effort, and that if they want to be recognized for excellence they will need to make some changes. No one is perfect and we all need to get better. Getting better requires a willingness to change our behavior and our attitudes. We may even need to pull our pants up.
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