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The Road Less Traveled (3).jpg

June 21, 2024

I spent part of the day Tuesday in a mentor training meeting with our conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry. I will have the privilege of walking with a provisional elder as he completes his two-year residency prior to ordination.

The path to ordination in the United Methodist Church is a long and sometimes arduous process, one that takes, on average, six to seven years from beginning to end. I spent eight years serving on the BOM, essentially engaging with candidates for the final three years of the process. As part of the process, candidates submit a considerable body of written work, responding to a series of theological questions to help their interview team discern their gifts, graces and readiness for pastoral ministry. It was one particular candidate’s “paperwork,” as it tends to be called, that really got me thinking this week.

It was several years ago, this candidate’s paperwork was not particularly good. It wasn’t terrible, but it really wasn’t very good. It answered the questions on a very shallow and basic level and gave no indication of how this person would engage topics like grace and salvation and forgiveness in a local church setting. About two weeks ago, the members of my interview team met to discuss the candidates that we would interview, and we were all in agreement that this particular person’s chances of approval were not good.

But the interview changed everything. It frankly was like we were looking at two different
people, the one on paper and the one sitting before us. In the interview, this person was charming, articulate, passionate and tremendously engaging. As I listened, I found myself saying, this is someone I would welcome as my pastor.

The point is first impressions are important. And if I were forced to rely on my first impression in this case, the church could have been deprived of a person who has become a terrific pastor.

But it did get me thinking. I wonder what kind of first impression we make with our faith.
Sometimes we get the opportunity to sit with someone one on one and really talk faith. But honestly, that usually happens (if it happens at all) long after the other person has formed an opinion about who I am as a Christian.

And so the question that lingers for me is, what is my first impression? When someone looks at me, when they meet me for the first time, what does my life suggest about my faith? Is the faith that others see real enough that they would even want that opportunity for a deeper conversation?

I think that’s a question that all of us should ask. We talk a lot in the church about evangelism, about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, about inviting others to church. But the truth is that evangelism is about the message that we tell with our lives even more than what we tell with our words.

Marketing experts will tell you that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I’m not sure that I necessarily agree with that. But it does make me wonder. When it comes to the Christ that the world sees in me, why would I want to take the chance?



See you Sunday.

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