Do I have a parrot on my shoulder?

In last week’s post about meeting a “celebrity” pastor, I mentioned the demeaning experience of speaking to someone who seems to have more interest in our shoulder than our eyes. Did a parrot land there when I wasn’t looking?


Eventually, painfully, you realize that your “conversational partner” is simply looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting or important to talk to! Ouch!!

Quite a few of you identified with this heart-sinking, ego-shrinking  feeling, and even suggested that pastors were some of the worst culprits!

Being fully present
Some of this pastoral “over-the-shoulder” conversation is understandable. Post-preaching, we often have people waiting to chat, ask questions, etc. There are others with acute needs that we want to talk to. Then there are visitors that we want to welcome and say a few words to. It’s very tempting to keep looking beyond the person before us, to make sure that we don’t miss anyone.

However, in a recent Fastcompany article on conversational distractions, Olivia Cabane argued that if we want to leave a deep impression on people (she calls it being “charismatic”) we must try harder to stop our minds from wandering while one-on-one:

Charismatic behavior can be broken down into three core elements: presence, power, and warmth. These elements depend both on our conscious behaviors and on factors we don’t consciously control. People pick up on messages we often don’t even realize we’re sending through small changes in our body language.

In order to be charismatic, we need to choose mental states that make our body language, words, and behaviors flow together and express the three core elements of charisma. And presence is the foundation for everything else.

We may think that people don’t notice our slightly delayed reactions or distant looks but body-language scientists tell us micro-facial expressions still appear, and even if they’re as short as 17-32 milliseconds, people detect them.

So, we cannot fake presence; what’s in our minds shows on our faces. Some of us have wives that can detect our “distance” in much less than 17 milliseconds! “Helllooo, David. Anybody in there?”

Although, Olivia says that presence “is a learnable skill that can be improved with practice and patience,” her proposed method seems a bit weird to me.

Three ideas
Here are my ideas. First, love the person in front of you rather than the one behind them. This person has a soul, a valuable soul, a needy soul, a soul that we must give an account for to God. Let’s love them with all our hearts (and both of our eyes) for these few minutes.

Second, trust God’s sovereignty. God put this particular person in your way for a reason; find out the reason. Also, trust God with the people passing by; if God means you to talk with them, then He will make it happen. Better one or two worthwhile conversations than lots of smalltalk.

Third, develop an ability to gently end a conversation after a reasonable period of time. Sometimes offering to briefly pray with a person can provide a natural stop-point. Or offer to phone or visit soon and talk further. Or ask an elder to “rescue” you if he sees anyone dominating your time.

Any other suggestions?


Check out

“I know where I’m going.”
I was privileged to know the man who uttered these last words, and I’m not surprised that he died in such a God-honoring way.

When I feel stuck or stumped, I go for a stroll
A tip from Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine, for the next time you experience “preacher’s block.”

Liberalism, Botox, and Lady Folly
“Having caused the life of the Protestant mainlines to wither away, theological liberalism now beckons to, allures, and seduces evangelicals. Though old and wizened, she is always freshly airbrushed, botoxed, and adjusted, appearing young, attractive, and intelligent, the lady folly for the theological mind.”

The Anatomy of Holiness
“When I lose track of what holiness is actually about, I try to scan down the body from head to toe and remember what God desires from me.”

Social Networking 101
Why are social networks so attractive to our kids? Here are five reasons together with the pros and cons of each

Responding to your spouses sexual sin
This is a good series to watch not only for those who are going through this painful process but also for those who minister to such. In fact, it’s a great deterrent for everyone. If the embedded video does not work for you, you can click through and watch the series on Vimeo.  Congratulations, Brad, on your new blog theme. Significantly easier on the eyes!


I met a “celebrity” pastor yesterday

I met a “celebrity” pastor at T4G yesterday.

I can confidently report that he was normal.

In fact, he was more normal than many “normal” pastors I’ve met. He was warm, friendly, engaged in our conversation, didn’t try to get away after the initial pleasantries, and wasn’t continually looking over my shoulder for someone more interesting or important to talk to. And I have to say that most of the well-known pastors and preachers I’ve met have been similar.

The problem is often with those who surround these men. In my experience, it’s often the gatekeepers, the hangers-on, the media, PR & marketing guys, the organizers, the administrators, the “friends,” etc., that create the impression of superiority, aloofness, arrogance, and disinterest in lesser mortals.

I’ve met a good number of them too, and though there are some happy exceptions, I’m afraid that they often give their masters and “friends” a bad name. When no one else is around, they might give you the time of day, but meet them in a crowd and you’re suddenly invisible. Or if you are talking to them in a crowd, you wonder if you have a parrot on your shoulder!

Past too much like the present
Before I was converted, I’m afraid that I was a regular sampler of Glasgow’s nightlife. I used to go to clubs that were attended by the top Scottish soccer players (the equivalent of your ARod, Tom Brady, etc). Because of their large “retinues” you wouldn’t normally get near to talk to them – unless you met in the restroom. I “bumped” into quite a few of them there over the years and usually found them friendly, decent, down-to-earth, etc. Just like the few “celebrity” pastors I’ve met.

But again, it was their retinue, the guys basking in reflected glory, the entourage, the guys that probably could hardly kick a ball, that by their attitudes and actions usually caused the public perception of these “stars” arrogance and superiority.

(Mis)representatives
So, to the celebrity pastors, I would say, you may be the humblest, godliest, and most decent pastor in the world; but if you have bumptious, pretentious, person-respecting staff and (mis)representatives, don’t be surprised if people who don’t know you think that you are just like them. I would prescribe them a daily dose of James 2v1-4 and maybe some regular time at Calvary.

To the entourage, the “friends,” I would say, go pastor a church yourself for a few years (rather than by proxy), and you might then stop to talk to some “ordinary” pastors at the next T4G.

The Word of God reveals the human heart. So do large conferences.