The introvert behind the pulpit

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When I was a kid, my family and I spend our summers at a genuine castle in the German country side. The local baron had offered it to become a Christian conference center, hosting all types of events throughout the year. But in summer, the place was swarmed with families, and all the children turned it into a giant playground. (Sometimes way more, than the grown ups would have liked it. But they cleaned up our mess none the less.) It was a great time and I cherish the summers, we spend there. Last year I had the opportunity to go back again. 20 years after I had been there the last time. And this time I took my kids. They loved it, just like me. While we were there, a group of Israelis had a few days of retreat, before they traveled through Germany, meeting with students to talk about Judaism and German history. But before they left, they invited the other guests, to tell them all about their trip. Among others, the microphone was handed to the pastor, who accompanied them. And his first sentence was “Never give a mic to a pastor. They might talk forever.”

A friend of mine is the pastor of a local church in the suburbs of Raleigh, NC. I met him a few years back, when I worked at NC State. (See, I don’t only have friends, some of them are even pastors.) Everyone, who gets to know him, will learn three things pretty quickly. He doesn’t like puns. It takes him to long to get it and then it’s not funny anymore. He doesn’t like plastic flowers. They pretend to be the real deal, when they are just mass produced knockoffs. (He dislikes printed ‘handwritten’ cards and similar items for the same reason.) And he is an introvert. I, on the other hand, tend to make puns. My brain seems to be wired that way. But he taught me, to dislike plastic flowers. I totally get his point, and I think, he is absolutely right. These ‘flowers’ are lying to us. And I am an extrovert. To be honest, he is, to my knowledge, the only pastor, I have met, who is an introvert. That makes him unique (to me, anyway).

Everybody, who is able to overcome their fear of public speaking, can talk to a crowd. For some of us (like me), it can be a refreshing experience. I like to see, how the audience reacts to me and what I’m saying. Unfortunately, I might stretch it, when I enjoy it too much. But there are those, for whom it seems to suck the life out of them. Human interactions don’t build them up, they have to pay for them. And then, they need to refresh in solitude. The pastor last year is of the first kind. He seems to like talking for talking’s sake. That is, why he might drag a speech on forever. He enjoys it, it is refreshing. Not so my introvert friend. He plans every word, he is going to say. And he only says, what is necessary. No extra words, but none missing. That makes his sermons unusually dense. (I tried listening to his podcast at twice the speed to save time. It did not work. I couldn’t follow and had to go back to normal speed. For a lot of pastors it works surprisingly well, though.) His style of preaching challenged me quite a bit. Reflecting on that, I realized, how much I say, just to fill time. My ‘yes’ is often not a ‘yes’, but more a ‘yes, sure, like the other day, when, you know…’ But, why am I doing that? In a sense, because I put myself at the center of my message. I like to talk about myself (you may have noticed), and I like the attention of my audience. But, no matter, to whom I talk about what: it shouldn’t be about me. We are called to bring the Good News to the nations. That means the people around us. The news is good for them. And it’s about God. So God and our listeners should be the focus, when we talk about the Good News (in any conversation, including preaching). And even when we are not talking about God, focusing on the other is always a good idea. That makes good listeners, and that is, what the world needs more then talkers. It pains me, that all to often, people (like me) are possessive, when it comes to microphones. We make it about us, rather than about the One, who truly matters. I could excuse myself, by insisting, that I say a lot of good things. And sure, it’s not wrong. But do I say, what God says, and what the people need to hear?

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