One signature of my ministry, as a pastor, has been how approachable I appear on Sunday.
I’m not saying that to brag. You need to keep reading before you make that assessment. I’m actually sharing it to encourage a few of my pastor friends who may read this blog and need it.
This morning I had a doctors appointment. It was just a checkup. Thankfully, I’m well. But, as I checked in the man behind the desk said, “I enjoy going to your church.” I thought he looked familiar, but sometimes I don’t recognize people out of context.
He continued to talk about how friendly the church is and how I personally made people feel welcome. He specifically said, “You appear so humble and approachable. It makes people feel very welcome. That’s unusual in a large church.”
I hear that kind of thing frequently.
Again, before you think I’m bragging, there is actually an important story behind this man’s compliment. I haven’t always been this approachable. I hope I was still humble. I certainly wasn’t trying to be arrogant, but I used to be harder to find on a Sunday.
As I’ve written about many times on this blog, I’m an introvert. This simply means my preference is towards less talking, rather than more. I tend to be reserved and quiet more than I am outgoing and gregarious. After teaching or preaching I’m usually whipped. Words spent – used up for a while.
Years ago, before I was in ministry, I taught a large Bible study class. It was lecture style and when I finished teaching I would pray and quietly slip out the door before I said amen.
Being totally transparent, if asked I might pretend I was being humble or even had somewhere else to go. I certainly wouldn’t let people know I simply didn’t enjoy “small talk”. After teaching for 45 minutes I was “talked out”.
I should point out, as I have in other blog posts, this was not an indication I do not love people. I truly do. Introverts, or at least most of us, love people. We are just more reserved in showing it sometimes. (At least by most extrovert’s expectations.)
Anyway, the practice continued when I became a pastor. I would preach and then quietly, as I closed in prayer, slip behind the platform, into the back of the church.
One day, a godly old deacon came to see me in the office during the week. He asked if he could share something on his heart. Of course, I agreed, so he began to talk about my exiting strategy.
I will never forget what he had to share. He said, “If as you are praying you will slip to the front of the church, and shake people’s hands as they leave, they will be more likely to return the next week.”
Wow! I felt caught and convicted.
But, I was new to ministry, I respected this man greatly, and so I began to practice his advice. It was life-changing for my ministry.
I’ve practiced this since then, even as I have pastored much larger churches, and here’s the real interesting part. Not only is it signature of my ministry you can shake my hand – and, I seem to encourage it. It is also one of my favorite parts of Sunday mornings.
Did you catch that? I actually look forward to interacting with and engaging people who attend and visit our church. Again, I love people. I simply have to force myself to engage sometimes. Now it’s no longer an effort. It’s a joy!
Yes, as an introvert, I am extremely tired after Sunday. I need time to recover. But, I truly believe it has made our church more welcoming and it’s made me a better pastor.
Fellow introverted pastors, you can do this! You will have to be intentional – at least at first, but it will lead you and the church to be more welcoming. And, isn’t that who we’ve been called to be?
That deacon passed away a few years ago, but his quiet, encouraging impact on this new pastor is still making a difference today.