There is a famous Australian television commercial which features a man in a nightclub. The punchline of the ad is “I’m so cool, I dance on the inside”. In the weeks and months following, this saying was adopted for all kinds of situations—for example, “I’m so cool, I hug on the inside”.
Why do I mention this? Well, I was listening to a sermon the other day. I was in row #4. As is my habit, when the preacher said something true, I nodded. And since the preacher was hotter than a blacksmith’s bellows, there was a lot of nodding to be done.
After the sermon, I had a conversation with one of my mates. He said, “Hi, Benny! Great sermon, eh? I saw you nodding away up front. I was nodding too …” And before he’d finished the sentence, I cut in and sort of spoke over him, saying, “Yeah, you gotta nod don’t you?” He finished his sentence the same time I did: “ … on the inside”.
It was a little awkward.
It got me thinking about the nonverbal communication we send our teachers, leaders and preachers when we sit before them. Have you ever wondered what your pastor sees as he preaches to you, the congregation? Let me tell you what he sees.
He sees a whole stack of different screen savers. A screen saver is a person’s default facial expression. Let me tell you about some of the common Aussie screen savers (I’d be interested to see whether they’re common in other countries):
- The ‘Shar Pei’ screen saver: Have you seen this breed of dog? They have a plethora of huge wrinkles all over their faces. They look like they’re permanently angry—permanently grumpy. This is a very common screen saver.
- The ‘invisible fairy search’ screen saver: These people look everywhere except at the speaker. They’re like Captain Hook looking for Tinker Bell in the old Disney classic Peter Pan. They gaze intently at each of the rafters—at the seat next to them—up the back (turning 180 degrees to do so), and sometimes they partially stand up and look under themselves. What are they looking for?
- The White Rabbit screen saver: Like the character from Alice in Wonderland, people with this screen saver are always looking at their watch. It is very disconcerting three minutes into the sermon. Sometimes they hold up their wrist and tap their watch. They put it to their ear and shake it as though it has stopped ticking. They then mouth the words “Is my watch right?” to the person next to them, all the time blissfully unaware that the speaker can lip-read just as well as their wife who is sitting next to them.
- The stunned mullet screen saver: This person resembles a mullet floating on the surface after dynamite fishing. The preacher looking out on the stunned mullet could be excused for the following kind of self-talk: “Is Barry in Pew #8 alive? Is he breathing? How can you go for 17.5 minutes without blinking and stay completely still? Something has got to be wrong. Should I stop and let his family know he’s died? If I do and I’m wrong, he’ll be embarrassed. If I don’t, I’ll be remembered as the heartless pastor who killed his people with his own preaching. Help, Lord! Ahhhhhhhhhh!”
- The dipping duck screen saver: People with this screen saver are upright at 15% consciousness but then drop their heads at the final moment of unconsciousness, only to startle themselves, wake and start the whole process again.
- The Eutychus screen saver: Let me remind you of Acts 20:9: “And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer”. Eutychus screen saver people are the ‘dipping ducks’ with the second blessing: sleep does not elude them; they fall into it deeply. Sometimes they snore! That’s the Husqvarna chainsaw screen saver, but we’ll talk about that another time.
I haven’t done any surveys, but I reckon about 5% of Christians give their teachers positive, nonverbal communication during talks, sermons and so on. I reckon it’s 5%, despite age, life-stage, city, demographic and Christian maturity. The exception is the church camp/weekend away: if a speaker has the right tone at the beginning of the weekend, then, by talk #3 or #4 on Sunday, people are relaxed and communicative.
You might be thinking, “That’s not right. I’d have a laugh if my pastor ever cracked a joke!” Would you really? Let’s say 10% of the congregation laugh at Pastor Pete’s joke. That’s 1 in 10. Would you crack jokes again with a strike rate like that?
Let’s encourage our leaders by offering some good, positive, nonverbal communication the next time we hear them share God’s word with us. They work hard, so let’s encourage them. Galatians 6:6 says, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches”. This verse isn’t just talking about money; I suspect it’s talking about encouragement as well. Luke 6:31 says, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them”. What screen savers would you like to see if you were teaching God’s word to a group of God’s people? I suspect you’d be really encouraged by the odd nod, the smile, the laugh out loud, the inquisitive look, the tear, the giggle, and so on.
As our brother Jesus very helpfully points out, the issue here is an issue of love: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31; cf. Jas 2:8). It is loving to encourage. So let’s be loving. Why don’t we all nod on the outside from now on? Let’s not nod off in every sense of the word.