I read faces pretty well. No, not always, but I watch people’s expressions. You can learn a lot by watching someone’s face. Are they relaxed? Tense? Confused? Sad? Nervous? Angry? Resigned? Joyful?
Of course, in my ministry with Pastor-to-Pastor Initiatives I meet with lots of pastors during the week. As I look them in the face, I often ask God to fill me with empathy for them (the ability to discern and vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of another person, or more simply, to feel what others feel). I wonder what is going on in their spirit.
My kind of ministry of caring for pastors — which involves asking great questions — takes practice. It takes intentionality. It takes the ability to ask the kind of questions that allows you to get behind the facade and really begin to understand what is going on with the person with whom you are meeting.
Pastors in general play their cards close to the vest. I get that. It takes trust to let someone explore the deep issues of your life, which is what I like to do. You can understand, then, that when you ask pastors how they are doing their answer might be, “Just great. How are you?”
Is that answer authentic? Well, it could be I suppose. But it might not be. I’ve deflected questions many times. But that’s where discernment comes to the fore. And not just discernment, but love, too. Why would you try to explore the deep purposes of a person’s life if you weren’t motivated love?
I often pray that God will fill me with love for those I try to serve. Even if you really love and care for a person doesn’t necessarily mean that person will open up and talk to you. You know that! You can’t make a person talk. You can’t make a person implicitly trust you with their whole life story. But you can show love and kindness and ask great questions. And that’s precisely what I try to do.
I’ve met one-on-one with more than 70 different pastors this year alone. Very often I go into the meetings thinking of this proverb: “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insights draws them out.” Proverbs 20: 5 I really do want God to give me increasing insight into the people who need my listening ear.
Over the years as I meet with pastors it’s clear to me that they often are asking 3 questions as they are trying to decide whether or not they will open up to me:
- Can I be trusted?
- Do I really care about them?
- Can I actually help them?
The next time you have a bit of a prolonged conversation with someone try concentrating on their facial expressions, seeking to discern their thoughts and emotions. Many times when I have done this I have had insight into what really is going on in their lives. Usually my heart is filled with compassion, which I define as deep concern for the person who is hurting. And I’m usually right at those times to ask a really great question that often cuts right through the fog. Those are the times I internally smile and say to myself: “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
And now you understand why one of the principles of Pastor-to-Pastor Initiatives is that all pastors really need a pastor.