Rubbing Off on Others

Out of the Study and into the World

Thanks for joining us at Greatheart’s Table.

I wanted to give a shout out to Nicole Turner who designed the logo for Greatheart’s Table. I am finding that in some nooks and crannies of the internet my placeholder logo frustratingly still appears. When that happens, it only goes to show how good Nicole is, and I’m grateful for her work.

Sometimes, I think pastors don’t realize the potential we have. We may feel useless or ministry may be frustrating. But there is a way that we have influence that we too easily forget.

Pull up a chair and let’s talk about how we might be doing ministry by “Rubbing off on Others.”

Will Work for Smiles

Author and NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote once about his early experience working on the PBS program now called PBSNewsHour. He spoke about the impact that Jim Lehrer, the program’s cofounder, had upon the culture of that show. Brooks says,

“When the camera was not on him, his face was incredibly expressive. When I was talking on our segment and I said something cheap or crass, I would see his mouth turn down in displeasure. But when I said something that was useful, civil, or amusing, I would see his eyes crinkle with pleasure. For ten years, working with a man I deeply admired, I tried to behave in a way that would produce the eye crinkle and not the mouth downturn.”1

What happened on the set of that television newsprogram reflects the power of a pastor’s presence to shape the culture of a church, and the character of its people. That presence is the pastor’s primary calling. We will in my judgment find our greatest satisfaction as pastors when we recapture the importance of this pastoral presence.

Ministry demands that we do many things. We teach, we lead, we manage, and these are all important. But without losing sight of those things, it’s important to remember that Jesus spent three years traveling, eating, and laughing with his disciples. He was present with them. They could see him.

Paul, similarly, was sufficiently present with his churches that he could challenge them to imitate him,2 trusting that they had seen enough of him to do so. Our duties demand we spend many hours in an office and many in a study. But we can’t stay there.

Wise, not Weird

I asked a group I was training to be elders, those preparing to exercise pastoral leadership in our church, to talk about elders they had known who had impacted their lives in a positive way. Jeff told about an elder who had invited him to go shopping for a new suit. Part of me says, “That’s weird!”

It’s not weird. It’s wise.

This elder by that invitation nurtured a relationship with Jeff that left a lasting impression. He lived his life visibly enough to invite imitation. He rubbed off on Jeff.

Discipleship may be that simple.

My goal here is not to point a finger at how some might be “doing it wrong.” We have enough people telling us that. So forgive me if that is how this is coming across. My heart rather is to reclaim something that I think most pastors believe, or once believed, that has been made hard by the burdens of modern ministry. Pastoral ministry happens in a study and in an office, yes, but it also happens in a coffee shop and on a fishing boat.

We Need a Bigger Boat

Dave Sturkey, a pastoral colleague and friend, pastored a church five miles or so from the church I pastored in Bradenton, Florida. Dave was a great preacher and creative visionary. But it was not Dave’s preaching or leadership that had the most lasting impact. He was remarkably present with his people. He was there in the hospital. He was there when loved ones died. He was there when couples were in trouble. And he was there in the woods or on the Gulf of Mexico.

His passion was to take men hunting or fishing. Sitting in a hunting blind or on a fishing boat with a young man invited conversation and imitation. This was his way of pastoring and by it he rubbed off on others. To leave the office or to step out of the study is to find surprising opportunities for genuine ministry.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were spending Thursday nights at Starbucks playing cribbage, a card game that is odd enough that it invites people’s curiosity. One evening, a young, newly engaged couple from our church walked in. We greeted them and eventually they asked what we were doing. We explained briefly and then invited them to meet us there the following Thursday and we would teach them how to play. Thus began a Thursday night tradition that continued for several months. This was ministry of the most beautiful kind: unplanned, uncharted, unsophisticated, but real. I like to think we rubbed off on this couple. They say we did.

Being Present

David Brooks concludes his story saying that Lehrer “created the NewsHour way of being, a moral ecology in which certain values were prioritized, and certain ways of being expected.” That is, he rubbed off on others.

Ministry can feel ineffective. We can be frustrated when people opt out of our planned activities or sleep through our sermons.

But we can be present with them. We can rub off on others.


David Brooks, The Second Mountain: the Quest for a Moral Life (United States: Random House, 2019), p. 3.


Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:17)