A very weird and revealing thing happened to me yesterday.
Lisa and I attended a wedding of friends. They go to a very evangelical church now, so some from that church were there.
I met them. They all are on staff at their church. I’m very interested in pastors and wanted to have conversations with them. So, during the reception afterwards, I would plop myself down in their little groups and strike up a conversation with them.
I’ve known one of the pastors, the one who officiated the wedding, for many years. He took time to thank me for a conversation we had 23 years ago. He said we were sitting in my pastor’s study at my church, and I encouraged him in deeply significant ways that I’ve forgotten about but he hasn’t. He told me it changed the course of his life and how deeply grateful he is for those words I shared with him so many years ago.
The other staff were engaged in the conversation as well. I asked about them and what they were up to. They were quick to share their ministries with me as well, and I showed great and genuine interest in what they’re doing, including working with Habitat for Humanity, a charity I believe in. I encouraged them in what they were doing.
Then, the pastor shared with them that I used to be the pastor of Rothesay Vineyard. He asked what I was doing now. I told them I was still blogging, cartooning, painting, facilitating an online community called The Lasting Supper, and coaching.
Oh ya? What do you coach?
I shared that my tagline is “Live Fearless!” and how I help people get over their hangups and get on with their lives. I’m especially interested in helping people who have religious hangups that interfere with their success in their personal lives as it relates to business, money, creativity, and relationships.
But, and here’s the weird part: as soon as I started talking about my story, I could see their eyes literally glaze over, they started looking at their phones, and one woman asked her husband if he could go get her more meatballs. He got up and left, and I found myself sharing my story with, well, no one. The one pastor who asked me the question was obviously struggling to show interest, but it wasn’t working.
The overwhelming impression I got was they don’t care. So I stopped talking. Again, no one cared.
As the conversation steered back to what they were doing, I rejoined them in their stories for a while. But, as soon as I found an opportunity, I returned to the side of my wife.
This happened again with another small group of their church staff later in the day too.
I showed genuine interest in their stories. They showed zero interest in mine.
It painfully reminded me of how maybe I used to be. I don’t remember being that rude. But perhaps I was more interested in the “outreach” attitude of getting outsiders to merge into our story as a church rather than us as a church showing interest in their stories. Because that’s what outreach is, in their minds: co-opting outsiders into our story. Getting them on board. Converting them away from their lives into our life.
That’s what outreach is. Isn’t it? Reach out to pull people in.
When they realized I had made a decision some years ago to create and live my own story outside of the arms of the church, they couldn’t even pretend to be interested. They couldn’t pretend to care.
And this is why outreach sometimes succeeds. It will succeed if you can convince people that their lives suck and they are worthless, but if they get on your bus then they will finally have value and their stories will now have meaning.
But this is why outreach most often fails. It communicates to people that their lives suck and has no value at all. The only way they can belong is if they kill their stories, silence them, and surrender themselves to your story.
I would have none of it. I don’t think any of you will either.
Love yourself. Appreciate your story. Share it with anyone who will listen. But, also, listen to their stories. They are of present value and meaning, full of struggle and beauty, worthy of a genuine listen and appreciation. Affirm people where they are at.
This is what you want. This is what they want. This is what everyone wants.
Much love to you and your stories, my friends!