My friend, a pastor, sees a lot of children's toys. He sees a lot of them because he regularly invites young couples in his congregation to invite him into their houses! He emails them to tell them that he would love to hear about their lives and pray for them, that he expects no more than 45 minutes of their time (the meetings often end up being longer), and that he would rather do this at their homes than in his office.
A lot of them take him up on his invitation. And so he sees a lot of kids’ favorite toys, is greeted by a lot of scruffy dogs, and listens to a lot of stories about the challenges and joys of life in a young family.
He’s found that he doesn’t have to say much. It’s enough just to ask, “What’s going on these days?” They do the rest. They seem to enjoy talking about their lives and having someone else listen. As Eugene Peterson and Jim Herrington (and others) have taught us, the gift of being listened to deeply is transformative for the human soul.
These visits are good for my friend’s soul too. His congregation is small-ish, and he does a lot of work with the ill and the elderly. So visits with these young couples are visits with people who are just living life; facing challenges, marking milestones, and building stories. So good!
Want to know what else is good? After a visit with a young family my friend no longer knows them only as Sunday worshippers and/or church committee members. He now sees them as parents and kids, workers and students, neighbors and citizens, lovers and stinkers. And they get to see him outside of the role that, in some ways, sets him apart from them: The role of pastor. They now see him as human. Multidimensional.
My friend’s strategy for connecting with people reminds me of a story I heard about another pastor. She connects with people at their places of work. From the pulpit she says, “You get to see me at my work. May I see you at your work too?” So she meets them in their native surroundings. She meets their bosses, coworkers, and employees. She sees factory floors, office cubicles, and construction sites. She embodies an important connection between faith and work. And, again, she doesn’t have to do much. She just asks, “What’s going on these days?”
The Covid pandemic has taught us, among other things, the value of being with people, in person, in real time, in the context of real life. Today’s cultural and political divisions have revealed (yet again) the cost of being a culture that avoids real conversations over things that matter. Research has long demonstrated that people are more likely to engage in important conversations when they know that you care about them, that you don’t see them merely as projects or position holders.
At Pastor Church Resources, we regularly see the importance of healthy pastor-congregation relationships. More specifically, we see how often there is a breakdown in those relationships because there isn’t a solid connection between the pastor and the people. The pastor remains in his office. Or she devotes her time to her favorite people. Or the daily schedule makes plenty of room for conversations about budgets, schedules, and mission statements but not so much room for conversations about toys, pets, and milestones.
Maybe you’re a pastor who is just now realizing how Covid-weary you are, and you are looking for low-prep strategies like these so that you can connect meaningfully with your people. Or perhaps you are not so weary. You are simply a preaching, visionary, or executive pastor who wants to increase the likelihood that you’re actually reaching people.
Find ways to get to the kitchen tables and office desks (or soccer games and golf courses) of your people. Even if it isn’t in your job description. Because people will remember. They will trust you because you’ve made time for their children’s toys, their family pets, and the stories of their milestones.
For more information on this subject:
Watch the lovely video Godspeed (https://www.livegodspeed.org/watchgodspeed/)
Read the biography of one of the people who appear in the video, Eugene Peterson: “A Burning in My Bones” by Winn Collier (2021)
Meet with a church planter in your classis, and ask for wisdom about getting close to real people. Think of these church leaders as the Research and Development Department of your classis and congregation.