I can remember very distinctly how as a teenager I was mortified to meet new people. I was, and still am to a certain extent, a shy person. Give me a choice – stand before one thousand people to speak for an hour or lock me in a room with two people I’ve never met before, and I’ll choose the former. As I teenager I would literally blush, get hot under the collar, and begin to sweat whenever I met anyone new. My parents encouraged me, for the sake of my Christian witness and being able to share the gospel with others, to pray about my shyness. Blessedly, Christ answered my prayers—I was able to outgrow my shyness, to a certain extent. I still struggle with trying to be outgoing and willing to meet new people. My shyness has nothing to do with the people but rather with my own sense of awkwardness and fear of rejection. But one of the things that has challenged me to continue to work on my shyness is, as a pastor, there’s little place, if any, for being shy.
As a pastor, you must be willing to meet new people, talk with them, get to know them, and if they don’t know Christ, share the gospel with them. As a pastor, I would take a deep breath, build up my resolve, walk across the room, and start shaking hands, meeting and greeting visitors to the church. One of the things that my wife reminds me is, “Make sure and smile.” A smile can be a disarming and friendly gesture to a visitor, one that can also calm your own nerves.
Now, as common sense as this advice might be, believe it or not, I’ve had pastors tell me that their interns excelled in the pulpit, were great at hitting the books, but were socially ill-equipped at interacting with people. They embodied the ministerial cliché, “Ministry is great, I just don’t like the people.” Ministry is chiefly, among other things, about the people! Hence, because of their inability to relate to people, these pastors told me that they encouraged these interns not to pursue ministry—they lacked the gifts to be a pastor.
In short, if you believe you’re called to be a pastor, you need to be a friendly person, one willing to step outside of your comfort zone and meet new people, befriend them, and make them feel welcome. While such counsel is important for prospective ministers, the same advice bodes well for people in the church. I have heard all too often that visitors will not join churches because they find the congregation cold and unfriendly.
The biggest revelation with my own struggles with shyness was when my parents told me as a teenager that my shyness was ultimately a form of pride. I was dumbfounded because I thought shyness was the polar opposite of pride. I wasn’t out promoting myself but rather keeping to myself—staying quiet. My parents nevertheless informed me that I was placing my own comfort above the need of reaching out to others to make them feel accepted. Placing my own needs above those of others was ultimately selfish and prideful. Christ calls us to place the needs of others before our own needs (Phil. 2:5-11).
So if you’re shy, I feel your pain. I know what it’s like to walk into a room full of strangers and start to sweat. But pray that Christ would help you overcome your fears of meeting new people. Step outside of your comfort zone and befriend visitors and strangers. It just might be that the people you fear so much have the same fears themselves. As a pastor, and even a Christian, show them the love of Christ and say no to your shyness.