There are a lot of things that I enjoy about being a pastor. I am sure you can guess some of them. Having the chance to study and communicate the Gospel week in and week out is an incredible blessing. There's also the relationships that you are able to forge and getting to be in conversations with the individuals in the body who are all over the map in their journeys with our Father. It seems that every week is filled with particular blessings of being a shepherd in His flock.
But, there are some other fun things about being a pastor that I would venture you wouldn't think about. One particularly entertaining aspect of the role is the visual perspective you get to have on a Sunday morning. I have always been an observer of people. I seriously think I could spend an entire day just sitting on a bench in the mall watching people and penning their back stories in my mind. At times have bandied about the thought of writing a series of books consisting of completely fabricated stories of people seen in the mall... (My working title is, “Lives They Probably Never Lived”)
You likely think, as you sit in your variously equipped seat on a Sunday morning, that you are somewhat secluded – toiling away your own private swirl of thoughts and activities, while the dude at the mic spins his masterful web of insight, leading his micro-church to ever deepening pools of spiritual insight. At least that is what we put on our resumes and blog bios... However, the worship hour also provides a fascinating opportunity for sociological observation. As a public speaker, it's always good to be able to read your audience to pick up some cues as to whether your artful presentation is penetrating hearts or gathering on the floor at their feet.
There are certainly the not-so-subtle clues that you pick up along the way. For instance, there are seats in the room that afford themselves more acutely to slumber. If you watch carefully, you can see the “wall sitters”. There is a keenly-crafted equation that goes something like row angle + proximity to an outside wall / lack of sleep = the inability to keep ones eyes over half mast. If you also add to the equation an ambient room temperature north of 70 degrees, the inability quotient sky-rockets! Losing track of time? You can count on the “Thump and Gather” crew. If the hour gets too late, you'll begin to hear the dull slap of Bibles being closed and the chatter of keys and crayons being reassembled as the crowd prepares for landing. That's to say nothing of the apparent plethora of Bible apps that is SURELY what occupies the attention of so many towards their hand-held devices. On a side note, if you're the guy who whips out his flip phone and tries to play the “Bible on my phone” card... just... don't. Listen, I haven't always been a pastor. Some find it hard to believe that I am NOW. I think I've been in each of the roles above and many more. Some of the greatest sermons I've ever heard came to me by osmosis. And, in truth, the examples above probably transpire a lot less frequently than I might have imagined. The degree to which people are engaged – at least from my experience – is much higher during a Sunday morning message that it is at their Thursday morning staff meeting. It's not really these clues that provide the most valuable input as to the tenor of the crowd.
The signs I look for to determine if my people are following where I think I'm leading or if I've left them behind are a little harder to detect. There is a look on people's faces that gives me a clue. I have had the tell-tale countenance myself many times. It happens to me at the grocery store. The next time you are at your local proprietor of foodstuffs, you'll see it. It will typically be a male (sorry guys). He's been sent on a seemingly simple mission that has gone terribly wrong. He's there with a wisp of paper in one hand (with hand-writing that is OBVIOUSLY not his own) and in the other hand is a phone with a number already keyed in. His thumb is hovering over the call button restrained only by an internal ache of geographical pride that has matured through years of driving in unfamiliar territory. He navigates the choppy water of the grocery aisles pushing the basket with his waistband. His eyes dart back and forth, from shelf to the overhead sign that is supposed to provide a beacon of hope. (You know what's NEVER on those signs? OLIVES! There should be some international summit of grocers to determine a standardized positioning of olives. It's in a can. It's a kind-of fruit. It's a kind-of vegetable... Let's put it with the salad stuff along with the other “kind-of” food – unrefrigerated pickles!! HAHAHAHA!!! But I digress.) As you happen upon our little produce pilot, you may have the opportunity to make eye contact and you'll see what I mean. There is a look on his face that says both “What the....” and “help me!” at the same time.
THAT'S the look that, when it happens upon a parishioner, tells me much the same information as our sullen shopper. He's arrived at the store and he knows that the goods are on the shelf – he's just lost the ability to find them. It is a great charge and challenge to catch those glimpses and steer people to the harbor. Let me encourage you to do something the next time a sermon takes a direction and you feel like you missed a turn. Find your pastor later on and simply ask, “Help me understand this...” As I mentioned, those conversations are one of the particular joys of shepherding. It will bring him great joy to help you find the “Spiritual olives”.