People treat you differently based on what kind of job you have. It’s often subtle, but it definitely exists. Every time I tell people I’m a computer guy, I get to hear what’s wrong about their home computer or phone. When they hear I work at the power company, I hear about the last time their power went out. Throw the church into the mix and it gets… not subtle.
More then once, I’ve been with my wife in a conversation, when the inevitable topic of occupation arises. She says that she’s a pastor- and the smooth conversation dies. Sometimes people get chatty, sinking into nervous rambling. Sometimes their shields go up. A once pleasant conversation is now awkward for no good reason.
I’m guessing that these people are expecting her (or us?) to break into a sermon on the spot. A bit of the old hell-fire and brimstone. That one little piece of demographic information negates all evidence in the conversation up to that point that we’re normal nice people.
Now, there are some pastors who are the “in your face” type, who advertise their profession at every opportunity. Every E-Mail and letter has a “Rev.” prominently displayed before their name. Talking with people like this is really just a sermon with an audience of 1. There’s no interaction, just sit back and wait for him to finish rambling on. Good intentions, but not effective.
Obviously my wife and I aren’t like that. Now, I’m open to witnessing opportunities, but spiritual muggings never go well. But I digress…
Long before I started dating my wife, she got tired of “people getting all weird”. She would simply state that she “works at a church”. If someone asks for specifics, she’d be more specific. People with church issues normally didn’t, so problem solved.
As a pastor’s husband, I can personally relate on some level. People ask what my wife does, and I get a smaller version of the strange reaction. Some folks jump to the conclusion that I’m a co-pastor, others think that I’m some variant of a Mormon door-to-door guy at night. The “she works at a church” seems to work well to avoid strangeness.
It took me a while to get used to doing this. Being a naturally honest, rule-keeper type of person, my first instinct was to just blurt out her occupation. Doing less felt deceptive. With time, I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes too much information at the start is counter-productive in conversations.
It is possible harness this effect for the power of good. Once my wife, before we were engaged (thus having a ringless right hand), was asked out by some random fast food guy, as he was handing over a large coke at the drive through. My wife, wanting to brush him off quickly, instead of answering his question just said “I’m a pastor”. She still laughs to this day over the look on his face. “He looked like he had hit on a nun!”
(This blog posting was originally written Aug 01, 2007)