When new church members talk about their first impression of me, they describe me as being like a “farmer” (meaning that I’m not very polished), “musically deficient” (meaning I don’t have a good singing voice), etc. I know they mean this as a joke, so it doesn’t bother me. But when people say that I’m “cold” or “indifferent”, it does.
Several years ago, a member of our church posted a letter on our church website that begins, “You look so warm and kind on the pulpit, Pastor Chai. But when I see you in the foyer, you look like someone who is determined to not smile. It bothered so much so that I decided to write this open letter, even though it took me forever to write as I am not used to typing.”
Recently, some new members have seemed to share the same feelings. So let me include my reply to that letter here, with minor revisions:
“I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings. You think that I ignored you. I have to admit that I’m guilty as charged. But I would like to tell my side of story. If I greet everyone I meet when I walk through church on Sunday, I’ll never reach my destination. So I deliberately avoid making eye contact. When I’m looking for someone in the fellowship hall, I deliberately ignore all faces within sight except the one I’m looking for.
Another reason I look rigid on Sunday is because I’m tense as I prepare myself mentally for the worship service and sermon.
I am also simply tired on Sunday. I come to church to pray early in the morning on Sunday just like every other day. Since I start the day early, after preaching twice in the morning, I feel tired. Sometimes I go home for some rest before the evening service, but I doze off at the wheel unless I rest my eyes for at least 20 minutes before I drive.
If I look easy and relaxed on the pulpit, it’s because I trust the Holy Spirit and leave everything to Him. My philosophy is to work on my sermons as if everything depends on me. But when I stand in the pulpit and deliver them, I depend on the Spirit as though everything depends on Him. That’s why I look warm and kind; because I am relaxed.
I’m not saying that my behavior on Sunday is justified. It’s wrong to ignore people. I’m just asking for your understanding. If you want to see the “real” me, come to my office on a weekday. You’ll find me all smiles and able to give my full attention to you.
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