Awkward Moments and Honest Talk: A Pastor’s Worst Nightmare
There’s a fairly awkward moment that happens quite frequently to me, as if the universe has decided to make me uncomfortable as often as possible. Typically, this encounter takes place when I’m meeting new people be it at a party, a concert, or just standing in line. I strike up a conversation with someone and we begin to share about life. Sometimes it seems like we’re becoming friends. Naturally, we’re making one another laugh and finding points of interest to converse on.
But then it happens. Inevitably, it’s the same thing every time.
My new-found friend asks me what I do for a living. I kid you not, the moment I say, “I’m a pastor,” something changes in their eyes. Usually there are a few reactions that play out.
The person might start apologizing. I always think this is funny. Perhaps they cussed or talked about a topic they deemed “unpastor-like” earlier (as if such a topic exists) and are now worried that I’m offended.
Or, they become closed off.
Their entire body language changes, signaling to me they are uncomfortable. Maybe they think I’m judging them–even though I just talked to them for a the past hour without any sign of judgment whatsoever. Now that they know I’m a pastor, though, they’re worried.
And last but not least, the person quickly changes the subject, and looks for a way out.
Admittedly, I’m being facetious when I say this is my “worst nightmare” as a pastor. It’s clearly not, even if it’s uncomfortable. However, I feel what happens next matters immensely. Because there are different ways that I can respond when a person is obviously kind of embarrassed or out of their element.
Even though when this happens it’s somewhat awkward, it’s also quite beautiful. I’ve been given an extraordinary opportunity to grant them a different perspective of what they perceive a Christian and pastor to be. And that is something I get fired up about.
This dynamic played out the other night when I was at a concert. I was hanging out with a few people and then we started talking about jobs. Then came my line, the pastor line, and so did my new friend’s normal reaction of shock/surprise/what-do-I-do-now. The reaction at first was typical, but then it morphed into something else entirely. Right off the bat they started asking me questions.
“Are you voting for so and so?”
“What do you believe about fill-in-the-blank?”
“Can pastors really go to concerts?”
And it went on and on and on.
I got to share honestly and openly. You could tell they were relaxing. Whatever tension that initially came about was gone, decimated by love and acceptance.
I’ve noticed people are often open and receptive to talking about spiritual things, especially if they perceive right away that you are a non-threatening presence. They are curious. They are okay with asking questions. Most of the time, they are genuinely interested in knowing more about you and what your church is like.
I’ve heard it said that theology doesn’t keep people away from church. Usually it’s people. Rob Bell once talked about how it’s extremely difficult to be angry at institutions. It’s difficult to be mad at “the church.” But being angry at people? Well, that’s incredibly easy.
I’m not saying this is always the case, but a lot of people I meet who say they are angry at the church, are really angry at certain people who represented the church and hurt them.
You know that perceived “culture war” we believe is happening against Christianity? Perhaps at times it’s true, but I find little evidence of this when I actually talk with people. I keep finding that people are really intrigued by Jesus and faith and by the people who choose to follow him.
When people hear that I’m a pastor, they’re taken back, slightly embarrassed at first, but if they hang around long enough, they are fascinated when they find out that I’m, you know, a real person, and that Jesus has captured my heart.
There’s something beautiful about discovering our shared humanity. When we can discuss life and love and art and music and mystery and families and pain and truth and marvel at the universe and our place in it, something incredible happens.
We discover we’re not that different after all.
Maybe God is bigger than we thought before.
Maybe saints and sinners are just different sides of the same coin.
If I can spend enough time with someone so they see I’m the same person they first started talking to before they knew my job, something profound has happened. That something is called influence.
Sometimes the influence we have on others is very short-lived. But who knows? Maybe your kind words, your enthusiasm and joy, the way you listened and accepted them will come around again. Especially for someone who has their mind made up about who Christians are… and what they’re like…and what pastors are supposed to be like.
Perhaps they’ll remember that conversation. Sometimes all we get is a moment and a few words. I trust that God uses even that and works in ways that are beyond me.
Don’t shy away from encounters where you can share your faith.
People are interested in what makes you tick.
If Jesus is truly the most captivating person to ever live, then his message is worth sharing.
Don’t forget that.
Embrace the semi-awkward encounters and conversations, because God is indeed at work.