As a platform person for many years, I live in the public eye and have learned to read a room fairly well. Leading worship or speaking requires the intuition to know if in general people are tracking with you or not. In our culture of achievement and success we have to measure something. So, you gaze at the room to assess your ministry impact and so do others who judge your success.
You cannot help but see a front row individual raising her hands flamboyantly or a stoic, stereotypical, and manly guy in the back row glaring at you. Judgments are made in a flash. Does she know everyone can see her arms wave like a pelican? Surely, she is showing off or is simply a weirdo. This big guy in the back row must know I can see him stare at me week after week. This story is about that guy in the back row.
Imagine a linebacker. He looks moody. His stare intimidates. I am leading worship on the stage with hundreds in the room and still this guy is imposing. Sure, I do my best to not focus on the people in the room. This is especially true of those who are obviously out of sync with what we are doing. But, I notice things.
I notice the guys like that gargantuan man in the back row. I also see the agitated and expressive older man in the center left aisle cover his ears and scowl as the guitarist performs a lead line. The teens to the right are texting and passing notes as you might expect. Their parents are even less interested than they are and are actually chatting during the verses of the song. And the lady who waves her arms—I notice her, too. Big time.
Even the pastor, I notice. Sometimes the teaching pastor in the front row is fumbling through his notes, making last minute changes on his sermon. Or worse, in the back wondering why the back row people do not seem to sing at all. Well, that big guy in the back row is not singing. He hardly moves. He stands there disaffected. I hate that. I honestly feel appalled by what I observe.
Forget the fact that hundreds are singing, with some tearing up from God’s touch on their lives. Ignore the smiles of those so glad to be in a safe place to sing in worship. Look at those young adults with their eyes closed as if I was not even of consequence compared to what God was showing them. None of it matters, apparently. The guy in the back just gets to me. He matters.
I used to go to a fancy gym right next door to one of the church’s I served. It was the kind that had attendants hand you towels and refresh your water. It was my time to exercise, unwind and enjoy the spa. Walking out of the shower one day, I was approached by none other than this back row church linebacker.
He actually smiled at me. Awkward could not be a word powerful enough to describe the setting and this encounter. The very guy I nearly hated for his response to my passionate platform ministry stood in front of me. I had no towel to cover me. I probably dropped it in shock of bumping into this fellow. But, that did not stop him from having a conversation. (Where is that towel guy when you need him!?)
To make this even further from comfort, this stoic fellow actually began to tear up as he spoke to me. “Rich, your music brought me to God. I cannot thank you enough.” He went on, “I can’t even do anything at church but stand there during the worship music. If I were to sing, I would end up crying and losing it.” He then shook my hand and left.
I just got schooled. For one short moment my entire world collapsed. I was already undressed in the flesh, but inside my heart was exposed. This man was not who I thought he was. In fact, I had no idea about his story. Even more than that, did I even know my own story?
The scowling, inattentive, and stoic parishioners endeared themselves to me more that day because of this very large man in a men’s locker room. People come hurting, empty and confused through the doors of our churches. I am one of the first lines of defense for them. It’s not about me, even though I get stones thrown at me sometimes. It’s apparently not about those smiling, bouncing, and receptive ones. Nor, about those who make it an art form to critique my ministry. It is about this man. He matters.
Do I love that one lost enough to leave the 99 for a bit? This encounter showed me how disconnected I am at times to what God is really doing through me and around me. To be in tune with my story is to know that God indeed wants me to be there for the unseen, immeasurable and awkward people he puts in front of me. That is success. Measure that.