So, if you want to have some fun one night, walk into a bar. Sit down in a prominent place. Make some small talk with the bartender or someone sitting near you. When they ask what you do for a living, tell them, “I’m a pastor.”
If you want to have some REAL fun, add in, “Of a Baptist church.” Then help them pick their jaw up off the floor and listen to what comes next. (Seriously, you can clear your conscience by calling it a sociological experiment).
It is amazing what people will tell you when they know that you’re a pastor, IF you are not in church. How they used to go to church. Why they live with their boyfriend/girlfriend instead of getting married. And they apologize for every single word that even vaguely resembles a curse word, while telling you how they don’t usually cuss.
Apparently, when the pastor is around, even “crap” or “darn” are dangerous territory. Oh, they still say it, but they just offer the obligatory mouth-cover and slight gasp that they said such in front of a Man of the Holy Nature.
But once they realize that they don’t have to apologize, they often relax and talk more openly and honestly than people in the church.
I used to work with sports media and sports talk radio while I was serving as a minister (shout out to all the great people at ESPN Spartanburg—and make sure to tune in to Open Mic Daily, 4-6pm!). Obviously we spent some time in sports bars and non-churchy venues as a part of our work.
It was during this work (which I absolutely loved and still miss terribly!) that I noticed the reactions that people have to hearing the word “pastor” while they have a cold one in hand. I shared this with a friend of mine who is a senior pastor, and we began to talk about these phenomena.
We talked about the fact that Jesus probably would have no issue with talking to people in a bar. We talked about how He went to all kinds of places and talked to all kinds of people and healed them on the Sabbath, no matter what the “Blue Laws” of the region told him to do. We talked of his work with the poor, the prostitutes, with those who were not even worthy to enter into the temple.
We decided that maybe, just maybe, we needed to get to know some people in bars and show them that we are real people. Then he said, “But the people at my church would never let me get away with that.”
Isn’t that funny? We’ve gone from Jesus boldly going where no self-respecting God-fearer had gone before, to having to “get away with it” to minister to the people in our society. And therein lies the problem with Christianity in a postmodern world.
The place where people feel the most open, where they are most vulnerable, where they often have the greatest need and are most free to share are often not the church building. Yes, the church proper offers plenty for the needs of people; but too many just suffer in silence rather than sharing what’s really happening.
Perhaps we’ve earned the title honestly, parishioners and pastors alike. Perhaps we’ve been too judgmental and standoff-ish and self-righteous, even when we had absolutely no right to do so. Maybe that attitude is exactly why people are less willing to come and see the pastor on Sunday, but perfectly happy to talk to him in another venue.
If we’re not careful, church can become a very comfortable place to minister to others. We can take on an attitude that if people need what we have, then they are welcome to come for it whenever necessary. But if we are not willing to get “out there” to meet people where they are, can we realistically expect them to be welcomed when they come “in here”?
The point is that we need to let the pastor, the deacon, the lay person learn to be the presence of Christ wherever they may be, even if it’s somewhere that we would never hold the Sunday School Christmas Party. Our place of worship may be sacred within the walls of a church building; but it is no more sacred than our act of worship when we shake the hand of the stranger outside the building.
As long as we confine ourselves with rules and regulations and places where good pastors and good Christians should or shouldn’t be—kind of like those Pharisee guys did years ago—then we’ll fail to make connections with the people who need Christ the most.
But if we see life as our act of worship, and carry that worship wherever we go, then we have a chance to open the door for Christ in any number of places. It’s not the witness within our comfort zone that has the greatest impact, but the witness we have outside of it that makes the greatest impression.
We can’t wait for people to come in and do things our way as the only method for encountering Christ. We have to learn to be the presence of Christ, in the most unlikely places, if we want to model the life that Jesus lived.
Just be prepared where this kind of crazy thinking might lead. You might find your pastor talking faith with someone at a bar. And if you’re not careful, you might be doing the same thing.