Posted June 4th, 2007 by E. Goodman
Sometimes when I talk to people about missional/relational ministry and church planting (you know, as opposed to program-oriented, attractional, subculture growth), and what my work here in Western Europe looks like, they are left with the question:
“So you get paid to hang out with people and drink coffee?”
“Yes,” I reply. “Actually, I do.”
But you’ve got to know that spending time with nationals is really quite difficult. First there’s the fact that the language they are speaking is not the language you grew up speaking, but instead something you decided to try to learn well into adulthood. Understanding requires effort. For me that usually means physical fatigue, which isn’t so conducive to cross-cultural communication in a smoke-filled bar at two o’clock in the morning.
And then there’s the awkward question of what to talk about. Movies? Sports? The weather? It’s hard to find commonalities across cultures. You could go the easy route and bring up politics, but that doesn’t always end well, as you might imagine. I usually end up going through my well-rehearsed routine of lame jokes and feigned interest in European Football.
So then I’m left with questions. For some reason, the inevitable lull in a conversation always freaks me out so that I turn into Larry King with the badly planned Q&A. I panic, and my mind can’t think of any questions that require more than a yes or no answer. I repeat the same question but reworded to prove that I didn’t understand the answer the first three times. My life is one of those awkward scenes from any of Ben Stiller’s movies.
But I’ve been through training. I should know better. My default should be to take an active listening posture and to delicately repeat the last three words of any of my friend’s comments and nod knowingly but so as to avoid the appearance of agreement. I want to show that I’m interested while remaining ambiguous about what he’s actually saying so as not to agree with something I disagree with. My face is trained to show utter fascination with whatever my friend is saying. I’d never want to let on that a boring person is, might be, you know, boring.
So sure, maybe I have the dream job- “throwing parties and telling stories.” But it’s really quite difficult, as you can see. Now, If I could only figure out what to do on vacation…
Filed under:Communication, Ministry