A few years ago, not long after my wife and I were married, we received an invitation to join with some good friends from high school and a few of their friends for dinner and beverages. Excited about the prospect of a night out and the opportunity to meet some new people, we eagerly accepted the invitation. After arriving at the restaurant and after a few minutes of catching up with the friends we already knew well, Debra and I turned to strike up a conversation with another couple that was part of our party. And now I must confess, as a tested and authenticated introvert, I always find the initial conversation I have with someone I do not know to be somewhat awkward and uncomfortable, but hey, you have to talk to people, this is the way society works.
In striking up that conversation, we touched on all the banal things that people talk about; the restaurant itself, what we would eat for dinner, travel plans for the summer, etc. As our level of comfort grew, and just when we thought that we might have actually found some other people that with whom we could be friends, Debra and I were asked this question: “What do you do?” Not thinking anything of it, we both off-handily answered, “We’re ministers.” Just as soon as those words escaped our lips we saw the eyebrows on our new (potential) friends raise up, and then, after a few seconds of awkward silence, they replied “oh…” and immediately turned away from us. Not gonna lie, it was a bizarre experience.
What made it even more so what the fact that these people, whom we had known for a whole five minutes, were church-going, mainline, Christian people. I did not (and still do not) understand why they no longer found it suitable to have a conversation with a couple of people who happen to be employed by the Church. In the five years since that day, both Debra and I have seen a similar scenario play itself out time and time again. With precious few exceptions, it seems that the moment in time the topic of our vocation of choice comes up in conversation, that is the moment where that conversation ends.
At first I would get offended when this scenario would play itself out. Then later I started to internalize it, thinking “Is it us?” But now I realize that it can be confusing to know just how to interact and talk with ministers. The culture in which we live has done a really good (read: bad) job of stigmatizing and stereotyping pastors and preachers, as such it becomes easy to assume that we are all like the one’s seen on television or featured on some Christian radio station. So please, allow me the opportunity to break down some of those myths.
Five things to know if you meet a pastor in public:
1. Pastors are people too.
Believe it or not, we like the same things you do. We are into sports, music, and television shows. We eat, sleep, and do all of the other things that real people do. We like to have fun and to laugh, we feel sadness and perhaps even cry. We have families, life goals, fears and insecurities. In short, pastors are human beings. Just as you do not want to be solely identified by your career choices and do not want to be pigeonholed into a particular mold, neither do we.
2. We’re not going to try and “convert” you.
Contrary to what is portrayed on television or what you experienced that one time when an “evangelist” came to your door, you can rest assured that if you meet a pastor, they are NOT thinking of some way to convert you, and I can guarantee (within 99.9 % certainty) that they will NOT ask if you’ve “found Jesus.” If you happen to be of a different faith, we will NOT inform you that you are in fact doomed for all eternity. As a matter of fact, we do not actually want to talk about religion. Take a breath and relax, it’s all good.
Number 3 is like number 2, only different. When we meet you we are more than likely not going to invite you to church (even if you share that you do not have one you regularly attend), here’s why, we want friends that exist in a world outside of where we work, just as you do. Is this selfish? Maybe, but I think Jesus understands.
4. We are NOT judging you.
Think about it this way; wherever you happen to find yourself in that moment in time, we are there to. Crazy, right?! If you are at a bar, that means we are too, if you are at a concert, so are we. How can we judge you if we are doing the exact same activity as you are? Trust me, pastors are just as screwed up and insecure as anyone else, and we have absolutely zero basis for judgement. As a matter of fact, we are often more concerned that YOU are judging US.
5. Pastors are often lonely.
It is well documented that most ministers have very few friends and often combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. Considering most clergy spend their entire day talking with people, you would think that we are expert conversationalists, but this is not always the case. Rare is the opportunity for pastors to break away from their church commitments and just “be” with friends and family. Consequently, when those opportunities do arise, we jump at the chance and when we meet new people, sometimes we come on a little too strong. In these moments, we ask that you show us grace, and, if necessary, guide us through the art of talking about things that do not involve what we are preaching on Sunday or our plans for the Youth Group lock-in.
This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to start. Ultimately, it all boils down to this; just as you want to be seen and understood in the full light of who you are as a human being, so do we. So let’s be friends, shall we?
Rev. Aaron Todd serves as the Minister for Education at First Christian Church-Midwest City, OK . Among other things, he focuses on youth, children, young adult, and family ministry. He is married to Debra, who is also a Disciples pastor, and together they have a 3 year old son named Zach and a precious baby boy named Josh. In addition to their human children, they have a 5 year old dog named Amos (named after the prophet). Check out his blog, Peace.Love.Coffee