Magazine Article

Beware the SME

Shane Anderson
Beware the SME

If you’ve never heard of the SME, I’m guessing you’ve nonetheless experienced it. To understand what the SME is, imagine that you are in the market for a brand-new car. You go to a dealership and select a car to test-drive. It’s wonderful! It rides nicely, the paint sparkles, and the heady smell of new leather beckons. You are delighted at the prospect of owning such a feature-rich ride.

Imagine also that as you drive, the sun is setting. You turn onto a busy four-lane street and settle into your lane, when seemingly from nowhere, bam! The SME strikes, nearly blinding you. The setting sun, now directly behind you, has hit your passenger-side mirror just right, diverting the sun’s dazzling light directly at your unprepared pupils.

But the SME—the side mirror effect—isn’t done yet. For it not only blinds but also acts as an amnesiac, causing you instantly to forget all the marvels and goodness of the new car. And what’s worse, because it’s a new car and therefore filled with electronic wizardry, you have no idea where the controls for the side mirror are. You fumble for a few moments, then do the only thing you can to stop the pain of the SME: You change direction, turning away onto a side street—and finally, your eyes can rest again.

Church and School SMEs?

In this analogy the car represents an institution—a church or a school. The crushing light reflected off the side mirror represents a glaring weakness the institution may have. And just as the car had some genuinely good features, an institution may also have some genuine strengths in a variety of areas. But if it also has some blatant weaknesses that—notice carefully—the institution defends as not being weaknesses,those who are “test-driving” that institution can be blinded by the resulting glare, sending all memory of the institution’s good traits into oblivion.

For instance:

I once visited a church that had a fabulous location: beautiful lake views, impeccably kept grounds, beautiful buildings, etc. But not a single person engaged us in conversation the entire morning, and at potluck afterward we literally stood against the wall while members finished their entire meal prior to a table being provided for us guests to eat at. The side mirror effect from such treatment easily overpowered all the church’s otherwise good qualities.

Early in my pastoral career I spoke at a school that was vaunted as a gem firmly mounted in the Adventist educational crown. But a theology student later anxiously pulled me aside asking for help, for he and his classmates were being required to study evolution—not as a theory, but as a fact. Instant SME! And indeed, it quickly caused whatever good points the school had to recede into the distant background.

Is your church or school a victim of the side mirror effect? If so, I recommend two things. First, refuse to defend it. Refuse to endorse as irrelevant or “just misunderstood” that which is unnecessarily blinding your potential members or constituents. Second, do all you can to get rid of the weakness! You can’t determine the tilt of potential members’ or constituents’ “mirrors.” But you can change the glare you are sending their way. And change it soon. Else those you’re trying to engage may decide they’ve had enough and turn their search in a different direction.

Shane Anderson

Shane Anderson is lead pastor of the Pioneer Memorial church in Berrien Springs, Michigan.