I used to attend a denominational church that did something odd. Once each year they would formally recognize the Member of the Year and the Family of the Year. The recognized member or family would be called forward, handed a plaque and asked to say a few words at the pulpit, just like at the Oscars. Thankfully, the church stopped the practice after only a short run, but it was a bit awkward for the few years that it lasted.
One Sunday the pastor announced, “We’re giving the Family of the Year award to the McFall family. Would the McFalls please come up to receive their plaque?” I walked up on the stage alone while the congregation applauded politely. The pastor asked, “Where’s the rest of your family?” I replied, “My wife’s home with sick kids.” The pastor played that off very well by explaining that it demonstrates healthy priorities. I was mortified. However, I was not half as mortified as the lady whose husband got Member of the Year. He was was not there because he was working!
After handing me a little plaque (that is now forever tucked away in a box somewhere in the attic) the senior pastor put the microphone in my hand and said, “Please say a few words.”
Stop right there. Now, put yourself in my shoes. You’ve just been awarded “Family of the Year” by your church and all eyes are on you as you put the mic to your face. But what words could possibly suffice for having just been chosen as a model of Christian humility?
I contemplated the Sally Field Oscar response: “You like me! You really like me!” but quickly ruled that out.
I thought of doing the typical award show response and thanking everyone who helped me get where I am today. That did not seem prudent either. Can you imagine me saying, “I want to thank my Bible study leader for regularly pointing out my sins and selfish tendencies”?
I pondered doing the standard false-humility thing by saying, “Awww, gee. I don’t deserve this. Bill over there in row three is far more humble than me.” The entire congregation would see through that one in a millisecond.
Honestly, I don’t remember what I did say, but I think it was just something like, “Ummm…thanks.” And then I shut up and immediately went back to my seat without my family. The awkwardness persisted in the hallways on my way to Sunday school class as people congratulated me. You can neither acknowledge that you truly earned it this year, nor should you say you don’t deserve it. I was never so glad for a Sunday morning to end!
If you are a pastor and you ever consider handing out Member of the Year or Family of the Year awards, please reconsider. While there is value in lifting up people who set a good example of faith, to be honest the congregation already has identified them as faith examples because they are always serving and loving others.
On the other hand, if your congregation engages in any kind of member or family of the year recognition, please do not waste one second rehearsing what you will say when they hand you the microphone. If you are spending time practicing your Member of the Year speech, you do not deserve it.