My 15 year old son, Tyson, runs cross country. I’ve never been a runner and don’t understand the joy he feels when he runs, but I certainly admire his dedication and the hard work that his team puts in to train. They workout very early three mornings a week in a trail-filled city park. Being there at dawn has motivated me to walk while I wait for him to train. As I walk, I have noticed that I see many of the same people on the path. We have passed each other repeatedly over the last few weeks, and I now find myself watching for those familiar faces. There’s the older couple who loves to look for deer in the foggy field, the tense gal who has a pinchy face and walks with her shoulders pulled up by her ears, the two ladies who talk and laugh loudly while they stroll, the elderly-but-fit gentleman who passes me because he’s so much faster than I am, the businessman who always seems to be on a call, the tall lady who walks her tiny dog, and the small man whose big dogs seem to be walking him.
As I’ve started to recognize these regulars, I find myself making more and more of an effort to greet each one of them with a wave, a smile, a hello, or some small bit of conversation. Sometimes I’m so bold as to share a passing word of encouragement to the joggers, telling them what a great job they’re doing and that they’ve got this. As I’ve continued to engage in these simple small ways I have noticed that more and more of them now look for me and greet me back. Their eyes no longer go to the ground. Instead, they rise to meet mine. And their previously stoic faces now have friendly familiar smiles.
I understand that not everyone reading this post will feel inspired to greet strangers on a walking path. Even as I write this I am chuckling to myself knowing that some of my dearly loved, but deeply introverted, friends would feel incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious doing this.
Undoubtedly some of the people on the receiving end of my walkway greetings in the park are introverted too. While some have been quick to respond and engage, others are more hesitant and tentative.
To be clear, my mission is not to make anyone talk to me, it’s merely to greet them in a way that acknowledges each one individually with a positive interaction every time we pass. I realize that, for some of them, the happy friendly guy that they see in the park three times each week may be the only one who shares a word of encouragement with them that day. Over the course of just a few weeks I have noticed how this simple social experiment has seemed to break down barriers and create a small sense of connection and camaraderie with my fellow path walkers.
There’s a lesson for us here as leaders in ministry. It can be very easy for us, especially during busy ministry times, to be so focused on tasks and challenges and problems and programs that we miss the opportunity to actually see the people that God has placed right in front of us.
Making intentional eye contact, sharing a smile, and speaking (even a brief) friendly word says ‘I see you,’ ‘I acknowledge you,’ ‘I value you.’ People need to know that they are noticed and known.
As leaders we may feel like we need to have something big or profound to say. We preach and teach in expound lessons and morals and messages using lots of words. But, I propose to you that there is ministry power in brief moments and simple interactions, and that God uses them to break down barriers that help to open the ears and hearts of those who may be close to us in physical proximity but who may feel distant, lonely, isolated, and unseen.
Furthermore. God doesn’t call me to greet every person on every path everywhere. Only the ones he places on my path. Don’t miss this though, friends. The Lord directs our paths (Proverbs 3:6). And he places both obstacles and opportunity along the way. Our responsibility Is to walk with Him and look for ways to minister to others on the path that we are on.
Today I want to challenge you to lift up your eyes. Go out of your way to truly see the people that God has put in your path. Let them know that they have been seen by you, and that they are loved by Him. Sometimes God uses small encounters in big ways.
Chuck Peters is Director of Lifeway Kids. Before his role at Lifeway, Chuck had a prolific career in television and video production. He is a 3-time Emmy Award Winning producer, director, writer and on-screen talent. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck, and his wife, Cris, have served in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years.