I’ve been in full-time vocational ministry 35 years and have always believed that the most important use of my time on Sunday was when I brought the message. I still believe that, but now also believe that the second most important time is right before and right after the service. I call it my ‘ministry of presence.’ My high visibility as I chat with people, shake their hands and give them a listening ear provides a tiny “one-on-one” window into their hearts. I believe those brief interactions may affect some people more than the sermon itself. Here are four simple choices we can make to maximize that time.
• Look for the “deer-in-the-headlights” faces.
This look often telegraphs new people. I look at peoples’ eyes and I can usually catch their, “I’m new here and have no idea what to do or where to go.” I will introduce myself and try to make them feel that I really care. A touch like that from a pastor can make a profound impact on a new person.
• Seek out those in wheelchairs, those with canes, or those with other physical or mental challenges.
One guy, Robin, came to our service years ago in a motorized wheelchair while attached to a ventilator that kept him alive. I intentionally reached out to him several Sundays in a row. The relationship grew and I had the privilege of later leading him to Christ and baptizing him. He’s now with the Lord. Had I missed those touch points, I may have never gained his trust to share the Gospel with him.
• Give your full attention to people to whom you talk.
Avoid communicating, “I’m talking to you now but I am looking over your shoulder to get ready to talk to the next person.” People will quickly sense a half-hearted listener.
• Steer clear of the monopolizers on Sunday mornings.
This may sound harsh, but some people will hog the entire time before and after a service as they talk about themselves or some problem they’re facing. Sometimes I’ve even walked up a different aisle to avoid getting cornered by a monopolizer.
These simple practices have made many lasting spiritual deposits in others as I offered them my “ministry of presence.”
What have you done to increase your ministry of presence?
If you are not a pastor, what advice would you give to us pastors to help people feel special on Sundays?