The invisible pastor

How can we be culturally ‘invisible’, so that people can hear what we’re saying with a minimum of interference?


I have a good friend who still uses an overhead projector. Yep, in public.  Yep, for real. Some of his acetates are handwritten, some are computer generated, but when he’s speaking, the OHP gets switched on.

And people fall off their chairs with laughter.

asset.341708So, let me explain to my millennial readers: before we had laptops and data projectors, the only way to get information or pictures onto a screen, cheaply, was what we called an OHP.  Basically, a lightbox with a mirror on an arm.  Cool churches had the words of loads of songs pre-printed on clear plastic sheets, and when someone said ‘Let’s sing Abba Father’, the person in charge riffled through the alphabetic folder, found the words, and put them up.

Seriously, we thought this was unbelievably cutting edge.

Then, it became normal, and no-one noticed. Now, it’s eccentric.

The same has happened in reverse with laptops and data projectors.  Today, no-one blinks an eye.  Fifteen years ago, it was like something from the Jetsons.

Both technologies inhabited a space, for a season, of cultural invisibility. (Not neutrality – I’m not that stupid.  All technologies hold a worldview.  But I’ll stick with invisibility.  No-one noticed). At the moment, data projectors sit in that space.  In twenty years time, they won’t.

That is just an example, of course, of a wider issue.  When I grew up, we wore flares.  I 6158427mean — flares. We would have treated skinny jeans with derision. Bootcuts would have been for wimps. Today, though, skinny is normal, and flares are, what shall we say, a lifestyle choice.  Instant coffee.  Websites.  I remember watching Steve Jobs launch the iPhone (Ok I wasn’t there actually, but I streamed it live) and my jaw hit the floor as he unveiled this magical thing.  Now – yada, yada, yada.

So here’s the thing.

Pastors, we want to draw attention to the gospel, not ourselves or our ministries.  So we aim, as fair as possible, for that niche position of ‘invisibility’.  So that people aren’t distracted by what we’re doing, either by the edginess or the antiquity, and just — listen.

Let me give you an example.  I don’t think iPads have reached that (OK, OK, Tablets) have reached that position as far as public speaking is concerned.  I used an Ipad once or twice to preach, and it was fine as far as I was concerned, but other people noticed.  Likewise if I speak without visible notes.  So I always use a black hardback notebook for my notes.  Sometimes they are full, sometimes they are sketchy to the point of non-existence, but I’ve spotted that if I seem to have old fashioned notes in a notebook, people ignore it and listen to me.

Or another example.  We are an Anglican church, which means there are some rules (actually not many, and they are becoming increasingly flexible) about what the clergy should wear.  If I wore tee-shirt and jeans at our 8.00am communion service there would be an outcry.  But somehow, a seventeenth century overcoat, a version of a roman toga, and a bit of a monk’s hood, is invisible. Flip to our loud and lively 6pm service, and I would never wear that kit.  But nor would I wear shorts and flip-flops.  I want to be invisible.

And I really can’t remember the last time I wore a tie

But remember this: invisibility keeps changing.  As Paul put it, Jew to Jew, Greek to Greek, commending the gospel in the most culturally sensitive way, so that people hear the message not the messenger.

So what are the ways you are trying to change, in order to be invisible?  Pile in!

4 comments on “The invisible pastor”

  1. Thanks, Chris. I think in this whole area we need to avoid the legalism of both trendy and traditional as well as realising how these are differently perceived. In most evangelical churches we have abandoned robes and collars, I think rightly because these are incomprehensible to most people.

    But have we gone too far to the casual? A number of years ago at a conference someone said “I’m post modern, I don’t wear a tie”. Somewhat cheekily I replied “If you were post modern you wouldn’t comment about it”. I think we need to be smart in whatever style we choose; there is a right kind of professionalism. Also we need to have regard to the audience; for years my main work was with students and I never wore a tie, but with an elderly group it would be different.

    Looking forward to hearing what others have to say. One final thought, when the message is powerful and gripping we forget what the person is wearing or the technology involved.

    1. Agree Bob, although it’s more complex than it was, I think. We had a lawyers’ event on Friday, and the tie definitely came out. But I have three different dress codes on Sunday (robes at 8, collar and maybe a jacket at 9:30 and 11:15, relaxed at 6) and all so no-one notices. However gripping my preaching (hypothetical) if I wore robes at the 6, or untucked shirt at 8, I would definitely get comments!

  2. Thanks, Chris.

    I agree – it is complex and surely an area in which we need to respect each other and avoid judging by appearances.

    C.S. Lewis says somewhere (I can’t at the moment find it) – he’s speaking of the eucharist – ” surely the more firmly we believe that God is present, the less important it becomes where the celebrant stands or what he wears”. That must be true of preaching as well.

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