How Did He Know??
“Because he’s a pastor,” he said motioning in my direction. I immediately felt the air go out of the room.
Let me back up a minute. I started a part-time job last week. I’m working the sunrise shift at UPS and enjoying it immensely. Since moving to Boston last year, I have tried several ways to meet people and occupy my days. My volunteer opportunities and community involvement have been great, but I have concluded that these don’t replace a job where you see the same folks every day. There is something about working alongside of people that provides natural opportunities to talk about one other’s interests, hobbies, and life outside of work. And if nothing else, a job provides that needed routine to my schedule.
Right now, I am the new guy at work. I’m still learning names and the basic responsibilities. Other than that, I’m pretty quiet as I get a feel for the job and my coworkers. So you could understand my surprise when I overheard a conversation about me on my third day.
The sort supervisor told a fellow employee to lay off the obscenities while I was around. She asked why. This seemed like an odd request, even to me. But then I heard him say, “Because he’s a pastor,” nodding his head in my direction.
Wait. What?? How did he know?
No one likes to be labeled the “goodie-two-shoes,” especially when they are trying to fit in to a new group. It has happened to me once or twice before. Whenever I’m the new guy, I’m fairly quiet. (Surprising…I know. But if you know me as the opposite now, either you have forgotten the beginning of our relationship or we must have met under different circumstances.) Sometimes, my quiet politeness is a dead giveaway that I’m not normal or that I am a Christian. (Or both!) Usually I’m flattered to hear someone make this assumption. In that moment, though, I quickly knew that I had my work cut out for me.
I believe one of the goals of being a disciple is to live in such a way that others can’t help but say, “That person is like Christ!” However, people many times associate “Christians” with “conservative rule-followers that will make everyone else feel guilty for borderline behaviors”. I do not like that. I find this assumption completely missing the point. Here’s a reminder: Jesus was most critical of the religious, rule-following, division-creating people, while sinners were always welcomed company. And so, I find the definition of Christians as “moral police” the most unproductive of misnomers. But how have we—the collective body of Christians—taken on this role…often proudly…and continued to draw deeper and deeper lines in the sand between ourselves and the world?
If the point of my new job is to meet people, then I want to meet them where they are. I want to make real friendships. I refuse to see people just as pawns that I try move toward salvation or some moral high ground. No. I want to hang out with people who curse because that is what Jesus would do. Furthermore, I believe the Holy Spirit is already active in every environment long before a Christian steps foot on the premises. We don’t bring God with us into the workplace. We are just witnesses to God wherever we are. And we are witness to the others around us that God is near them, welcoming them, shepherding (or pastoring) them into greener fields. So I am ok with being labeled, “pastor,” as long as I can be a pastor who is present among the people.
I’ll admit in that moment, I felt a tinge of shame as that supervisor shared my secret. I knew from then on I was being watched very carefully. But come to think of it, that's fine. Now I get the chance to show my new coworkers what it means to be like Christ.