I have learned so much over the past few months and seen significant shifts in some of my values and priorities. One discovery I made was not so much a new discovery but a refreshing rediscovery: people are amazing. As a pastor, you obviously interact with people a lot. Some drain you, some energize you, some frustrate you and some encourage you. And when things are moving fast, I find it has been easy to “miss” people. As a leader, if you’re not careful, people can become cogs in the machine or even seen as roadblocks to progress. One of the rediscovered I’ve made lately is how amazing people are if you just stop long enough and take enough interest to actually see the wonder! Let me share a few ways people can amaze you.
One of my favorite parts of weekend services was standing in the lobby and interacting with people. Many times I would get the chance to hear a little slice of someone’s story, offer a hug, and even pray with people. It’s one of the things I love about being a pastor. I will say, I didn’t always love this part. For probably 5-6 years when I started as a lead pastor, I didn’t hang out in the lobby. I’ll let you into a little secret, I was scared. I don’t know why I was scared, but I was. I didn’t know what people would say, and I wouldn’t have considered myself good at small talk, so I was nervous. Often after the sermon, I would stand upfront in the auditorium and it typically would be the same 4-5 people who could come to talk. It wasn’t until my parents started looking for a new church that I learned the power of the lobby. I remember chatting on the phone with them after a recent church visit. They timed it, they stood in the lobby looking very much like “visitors” and after 20 minutes no one talked to them. And I thought to myself, someone’s parents are present in our church every week and they’re looking for someone to say “hi”.
I pushed through my fears and anxieties and made it happen. Guess what? It quickly became one of my favorite times of the weekend services. I started seeing people through different eyes and saw what a difference it made for them. I thought to myself, we all have anxieties in meeting new people so let’s just engage together and see what happens? It’s been great. But lately, something has shifted even further. It used to be that I would talk with new people for their sake, it made them feel at home. But I’m coming to realize something most of you probably already knew: people are amazing!
Today, as I get to meet people I am fascinated and excited. Everyone has a story, a set of experiences that have formed opinions and values. And if you will take the time you’ll get to hear some of their story which will cause you to empathize, be inspired, challenged, or just to connect. If there’s one thing this whole Covid nonsense has shown us it’s the power of relationships. We need them and they need us. We are truly better together. I no longer see connecting with people as part of my job but as a privilege of my life. I feel silly writing all this because my guess is most of you probably knew all this already, but for me, it’s been a wide-eyed adventure waiting to be discovered. Like I said, being a slight extrovert (I’m right over the line on my Meyers Briggs) I’ve always been around people but it has come alive for me in some really big ways lately.
So how do you and I have the amazing discoveries of one another that make a real difference? Allow me to offer some things I’m learning: 1. Don’t let anxiety cause you to miss out. I used to put so much pressure on myself to have the right thing to say and I’m realizing most people have some level of anxiety when they meet someone. Realize you’re not alone, push through it, and show up. Maybe this first point should just be that: Show Up! If you don’t make the move to the lobby (metaphorically speaking) you’ll never meet anyone. 2. Be Yourself. Let me tell you as someone who’s been there, done that, trying to maintain an image is exhausting. If you try to be what someone else wants you to be, you’ll have to keep up that image always and if it’s not you, it will tire you out. Plus, you are a lot more interesting than you may realize! Let people get to know the real you. 3. Take Interest. Everyone seems to be focused on themselves, don’t be one of them. You’ll be amazed at how much people will want to know about you once they know you want to know them! I’m learning to ask more questions and make less interjections of my opinions. Often people will tell you something hoping you will dig a little deeper. My guess is you’ve been in those conversations where the other person sends out a trial balloon, hoping someone will care enough to ask, “tell me more about that”. I’m learning that taking real interest is the magic of the relationship! 4. Empathize With Their Journey. Here’s the thing, the book of Genesis makes it clear, we are living in a broken world. You will likely not meet anyone who does not have significant pain in their story. First recognize that many times people will be speaking from their pain, so don’t take it personally, it’s likely not about you. Second, share the EMOTION that you’d likely feel when hearing their story. People respond to emotion more than facts. Sharing emotions build strong connections.
I’m not an expert in this area but I am having a blast meeting people and going deeper with acquaintances lately (who are now becoming friends). There are a lot of really great people out there but so many of us miss out because we don’t take the time to truly connect. Our world needs more “lobbies” where we can meet, chat, and truly connect. People are amazing, go discover just how amazing they are!