5 Ways Pastors Can Truly Be Present With People

Pastor, how's your attentiveness these days? (iStock photo)

Personally? I've proven over and over that you can be in the same room with people and be totally detached from them. Most likely, I'm not alone.

One of my bosses "back in the day" was Lloyd John Ogilvie, former U.S. Senate chaplain and gifted speaker and author. I learned many lessons from him, but one of the most important ones was "Always Know the Name of Your Server" in a restaurant.

He made it a point to ask wait staff for their names. If they were wearing a badge, he noted it and used it throughout the meal. At first, I thought this to be a bit of an affectation, but then I asked him why he did it. He said, "Some of the most underpaid, overworked people in the country serve your food with a smile regardless of your tipping habits. They are important people and their serving is as important as your eating."

I think of his words every time I get in front of people in a leadership role. If I keep repeating to myself, "This is not about me," I stand a better chance of being present with my audience.

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Of all the people on earth who need to practice this skill, it's those of us who work in churches!

Here are only five ways pastors can be truly present with people:

1. Body language. People who are "with" you open their body position to show it. If they turn themselves away (even their shoulders) they are withholding their attentiveness from the very people with whom they are supposedly hanging.

This is easily interpreted by all of us. Ever had someone talk to you while they're checking their email? Feel left out? You should. The foremost rule of engagement is to lean into the person(s) you're supposed to be, well ... with.

2. Eye contact. If you use eyedrops or wear contacts, you probably struggled to learn how to do it efficiently. Our eyes tend to have a mind of their own. Check it out in yourself. Try to stay with someone's eyes for more than a few seconds. It's very difficult for most of us.

The practice of looking right at someone might seem like it would be intimidating, but it also happens to be an extremely important aspect of staying in the moment with them. Train yourself (over time) to really look (not stare) at the folks you're trying to connect with—they'll appreciate it and, perhaps, return the favor.

3. Listening. This is real simple ... people know when we're listening. How? Our faces change expression, they show empathy, they give a sense of attentiveness that the other person(s) need in order to trust us. Listen openly, boldly and in good faith.

4. Responding. Confession time. Last night I was talking to some folks and was cut off by someone who didn't agree with me. So, I did what any caring pastor would do—I snapped at them. Big mistake.

My tone was strident, defensive and inappropriate, and I spent the rest of the meeting trying to apologize for my behavior. No, this really happened and it's not the first time. How loud we are, how "in your face" we are and/or how careful we are will define others' response to our leadership. We need to be extremely careful.

As hard as it is, ask a trusted friend, "How do I come across?" Humbly take the input and start responding to others as you would wish to be responded to ... it's the Golden Rule of upfront leadership.

5. Reviewing. This is important. When I have had interaction with folks, I try to go over the details of it in my mind at a later time and step back through the places where I could have done better.

This is the single most useful tool in learning how to be more effectively present with people.

Practice the skill of attentiveness or lose the trust of the people you long (or should long) to engage.  

Doug Lawrence is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and advisor, who helps churches assess and improve their skillfulness in creating engaging worship experiences. In 2007 he founded and continues to serve as CEO of Speaking as a Performing Art, a firm that coaches leading executives and their teams and includes pastors from across the country. Doug co-authored GPS for Success, published in 2011, with Stephen Covey and others. You may reach him at dlawrenceconsult@mac.com.

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