If you were watching a 30-second basketball video and a gorilla appeared on screen for nine seconds, you’d see it, right? Especially if it thumped its chest right in front of the camera! You couldn’t miss it, could you?

Well, Harvard University researchers conducted this experiment and found that 50% of viewers were so focused on the basketball that they missed the gorilla! (Try the video on a few people).

Conclusions: (1) We miss a lot of what goes on around us, and (2) we have no idea that we are missing so much.

In pastoral ministry it’s easy to miss the gorilla. We get so focused on our weekly sermons and our weekly pastoral visitation schedule that large chest-thumping gorillas become invisible to us – until they devour us!

There have certainly been times in my ministry when I’ve had such tunnel vision that I disregarded clear warning signs about impending problems in people’s relationships and situations. And it’s frighteningly easy to see when I re-run the “video.”

So how do we avoid missing the gorillas?

1. However busy and focused on weekly tasks, keep an eye and ear open for anomalies, inconsistencies, and the unusual among your flock.

2. Enlist the help of your elders. If 50% of people miss the gorilla, we greatly enhance our chances of seeing if we double the number of watching eyes. Ask your elders to share their concerns, their instincts, their “feelings” about possible warning signs.

3. Especially trust your wife’s intuition. Research has shown that women were not only more likely to see the unexpected but to investigate it. “Men are much more likely to assume they knew the reason for the unexpected result, and proceed without more analysis.” If your wife has a “hunch” about someone or some relationship it’s worth making some discrete inquiries.

4. Learn from our missed gorillas. Let’s pray that the Lord would open our eyes, make us more sensitive, and increase our pastoral awareness. Let’s not become like some in the experiment who could not be convinced that they were so blind! Even when they were shown the video again, they accused the researchers of switching the tape when they were not looking! There aren’t pastors like that, are there?

  • Drew in Mebane

    It is even more unfortunate when the gorilla is clearly seen or has been pointed out but there is no will to act.

  • Jeremy Walker

    Hello, David. Having linked to your post here we are stumbling toward a solution whereby you can be almost certain of spotting all pastoral gorillas.