Loving People By Embracing the Awkward

By Jason Hirsch

Hand SmileThe above title has become a mantra around our church. We believe we are doing God’s bidding, and that has everything to do with loving and engaging people. But what do you do when culture is becoming more and more closed off and skeptical towards strangers, outsiders?

In fact our executive pastor approached a guest yesterday (Easter), just to reach out and be nice. No angle, no strings attached, just doing what leaders/Christians do, engage others. The individual (nameless) told him that he didn’t want to be his friend, and that he had no desire to talk to him at that moment. Interestingly, our executive pastor wasn’t looking for a friend, nor soliciting one. Just being kind. Awkward! We had a good laugh though, because it wasn’t our first experience with approaching awkward situations, and it definitely won’t be our last.

It appears the day of open hospitality (reaching out to others face-to-face) may be nearing an end. Well culturally, it probably has been for sometime. Did it start with central air in the home? Keeping people confined to the interior of their property. Or was it the removal of front porches replaced by backyard decks? Maybe it was the automatic garage door opener and closer? No more interaction with neighbors while getting out of your car to raise and lower the garage door. Throw technology into that, and not only has culture become more closed off, it has become socially awkward. It appears that authentic, face-to-face human interaction is becoming something of a forgone past?

But as Christians we have still be given a mandate. What is that? “To go, make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Sounds relational. Sounds intimidating. Sounds a bit awkward. Yet, Christ’s commands haven’t, won’t, will never go away until He comes back for His Church. So what can we begin to do to engage others in a socially awkward culture?

Here are a few tips I use regularly:

Tip #1: Pray. Ask God for a love filled mind. Without Christ’s love, I could care less if you were ever born. That’s candid, but true. “For God so loved the world, that he sent His ONE and only Son.” To do what? “Save” humanity from sin (anti-love). The greatest awkward moment in history was driven by absolute love. If that is true, that love must permeate your mind, before you embrace the awkward.

Tip#2: Practice. Public speaking for me was never natural. My first speech ended in classroom laughter because I gave my speech with my zipper down. After a little coaching and a lot of practice, I started feeling more comfortable speaking in front of people. The same is true when approaching complete strangers. You’ll have awkward moments, but don’t give up. Yes, love will be the catalyst, but by practicing approaching people, it will eventually result in kingdom wins.

Tip #3: Participate. If a complete stranger approaches me, seems interested in me, and doesn’t push himself/herself on me? I’m much more likely to participate in dialogue as I feel comfortable over time. In fact, I’m much more likely to accept an invitation to get coffee outside of church, or connect in some other way. But here’s the key: I’m looking for the person who approached me in the first place, to care enough to join me on the journey. That requires your participation, your involvement, and your caring enough to not let me do life alone.

Prayer will begin the relational journey. Practice will perfect it. Participation will solidify it. But you have to embrace the awkward first.

Jason Hirsch

Jason Hirsch has been a pastor for 18 years. He currently pastors North Ridge, a multi-site church in Central, WI. Jason is a conference speaker and leadership coach with IEquip. He blogs once a week.