Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Whatever’s needed…

If I’d stayed on track (I tell myself), I might be managing my very own KFC by now. Oh, the places I could’ve gone. You may know I began working during high school, at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken. Nine months later, they promoted me to Assistant Manager! Why so soon? Perhaps I was that rare teenager at our store who showed up regularly on time, or who hadn’t quit within six months. Whatever the reason, they sent me for training, gave me a snazzy new shirt and raised my pay to $6.35/hour!

I don’t remember much from those classes, save two important lessons.

  1. Because chicken can cause salmonella, cook it to an internal temperature over 165 degrees. 
  2. Customer service must always be extra-ordinary. 
 Lesson #1 should be obvious. Lesson #2, let me explain. Being a manager now, they told me, meant more than huge wages and increased street cred. I was also responsible for thinking about the big picture, the store’s long-term success. And when it came to fast food, how we treated people really mattered. One study claimed that for each person who had a negative experience at our store, they’d tell, on average, ten others. So if I was rude, or messed up an order badly, or our bathrooms were gross, eleven people in my community thought less of us. That could compound quickly. The same study claimed it took an exceptional experience- astoundingly tasty food, a uniquely fantastic cashier- for someone to share it, and then they’d only tell three people. Interesting numbers- mess up, eleven people know; do alright, who cares; far exceed expectations, only four people hear the good news. In other words, for a business/entity that relies on customer service and good hospitality to survive, thrive and expand, getting by just won’t cut it. You must be committed to excellence.
This week, of course, Christmas arrives again, and a famous part of this beloved story has been on my mind. You know how it goes- Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, give birth to Jesus, and lay “him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” That half-sentence has sparked many imaginations over the centuries. Some condemned the innkeeper for treating the Holy Family disrespectfully. Others chuckled at the irony. I, however, love that line because it establishes, from the outset, a (the?) core Christian value: hospitality.

The innkeeper, of course, had no idea who was on her doorstep. And while she couldn’t change the fact her inn was already full, she could’ve said, “Go somewhere else.” Yet she acknowledged a couple in need, and found room when there was none. She provided great hospitality. No, she didn’t give the best service imaginable. But faced with a choice, the innkeeper did what she could and creatively met this couple’s needs, giving Jesus at least some place to lay his head.

That’s a parable, I believe, for the goal of Christian faith- always, as best you’re able, provide the hospitality people need. Or to quote Jesus- Love your neighbor. I think about this now because, during Christmas, I meet many new people. Relatives of church members in town for the Holidays. New folk to the neighborhood dropping by to check out the church. Someone, who attends worship only for major holidays, blesses us with her/his presence. Whatever the reason, Christmas gives us more chances to provide hospitality than most any other time. Meaning we get to do more of what we (should) do best!

Of course, as the innkeeper showed, good Christian hospitality responds to what others want or need, as best we’re able, rather than assumes we already know what’s needed. And as my manager training years ago taught, memorable hospitality is one of two things- bad or exceptional.

Let’s commit to exceptional Christian hospitality this year, shall we?! And not just toward Christmas visitors, but to each other and people in need throughout the year. For Christmas is only the beginning of something remarkable, and not the culmination, amen? Besides, I think y’all, and our Lord, are too wonderful not to get people talking.

Grace and Peace,


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