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Monday, June 04, 2007

It's Really Quite Difficult

Sometimes when I talk to people about missional/relational ministry and church planting (you know, as opposed to program-oriented, attractional, subculture growth), and what my work here in Western Europe looks like, they are left with the question:

"So you get paid to hang out with people and drink coffee?"

"Yes," I reply. "Actually, I do."

But you've got to know that spending time with nationals is really quite difficult. First there's the fact that the language they are speaking is not the language you grew up speaking, but instead something you decided to try to learn well into adulthood. Understanding requires effort. For me that usually means physical fatigue, which isn't so conducive to cross-cultural communication in a smoke-filled bar at two o'clock in the morning.

And then there's the awkward question of what to talk about. Movies? Sports? The weather? It's hard to find commonalities across cultures. You could go the easy route and bring up politics, but that doesn't always end well, as you might imagine. I usually end up going through my well-rehearsed routine of lame jokes and feigned interest in European Football.

So then I'm left with questions. For some reason, the inevitable lull in a conversation always freaks me out so that I turn into Larry King with the badly planned Q&A. I panic, and my mind can't think of any questions that require more than a yes or no answer. I repeat the same question but reworded to prove that I didn't understand the answer the first three times. My life is one of those awkward scenes from any of Ben Stiller's movies.

But I've been through training. I should know better. My default should be to take an active listening posture and to delicately repeat the last three words of any of my friend's comments and nod knowingly but so as to avoid the appearance of agreement. I want to show that I'm interested while remaining ambiguous about what he's actually saying so as not to agree with something I disagree with. My face is trained to show utter fascination with whatever my friend is saying. I'd never want to let on that a boring person is, might be, you know, boring.

So sure, maybe I have the dream job- "throwing parties and telling stories." But it's really quite difficult, as you can see. Now, If I could only figure out what to do on vacation...


Publius said...

You think you have it easy?!? You should come back to the states and be a pastor, so you only have to work one day a week!

stepchild said...

Oh, I'm seriously considering becoming a pastor. I'm looking for something where people don't scrutinize your every move.

Strider said...

Sounds to me like you are in a position that unless God does something everything will fail. Cool.
I'll bet He does something. The only question is will you be ready to move on it when the time comes? You know, if you are aren't to tired from partying until two am. LOL.

Publius- I have always maintained that God is not angry enough with me yet to make me be a pastor in the US again.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Isn't this all of us?

We're paid to hang out with people and drink coffee.

Oh yeah, and to love someone we don't know yet. And to love even boring people. In my case, even boring people who often piss me off.

We're all paid by the same God. You're just paid to do it in a situation different from mine.

Anonymous said...

getting paid to drink coffee and hang out with people...what could be better?

Strider said...

Oh, and by the way, here we drink tea. Coffee is pretty hard to come by but we drink buckets of tea.

Watchman said...


how about getting paid to drink good beer?

Anonymous said...


I occasionally get paid to drink good and/or bad* beer.

God pays me to do many, many glorious things.

On a humorous side note...some of the organizations I work with don't want me to drink publicly during the time (season) I work with them. They don't seem to care the rest of the year.

Watchman said...


they are probably the same organizations who will freely eat in excess, but a couple of pints? NEVER!

Bryan Riley said...

Good post, MM. I've not been by in a while, but I like these comments. We are all provided for to be Jesus to the world, and that can come in many different formats and forums. I appreciate what you are doing.

Strider, as is often the case, you made me laugh out loud.

Chris Irwin said...

oh my Gosh... you wrote:
"I want to show that I'm interested while remaining ambiguous about what he's actually saying so as not to agree with something I disagree with. My face is trained to show utter fascination with whatever my friend is saying."

I've been there and done that... all too often. What's more is inwardly I sometimes realize that I don't really care what the person is saying at all...

At least Jesus had that ability to command attention and make really shocking declarations backed up by really cool tricks.