A few years ago, our church relocated to a new section of our city. Cathy and I decided that it would be good for us to move to one of the growing neighborhoods near the new church campus. It was both practical and symbolic. The practical reason was that, between us, we can make as many as four or five trips a day to the church campus. The twenty minute commute from our old house made that very uncomfortable. The symbolic reason was that we needed to invest our lives in the neighborhoods where we would begin to serve many families.
We made a deliberate choice as we moved to the new neighborhood: we would introduce ourselves by our names and not mention what I do for a living. There are way too many people who cease being themselves the moment they know that they are in the presence of a "preacher." Even crusty golfers are known to clean up their language when a pastor is in the foursome.
The model of anonymity seemed to work for a while. People got to know us as neighbors. They waved and smiled. We had a few engaging conversations and, by the time some of the neighbors found out who we were, they had already discovered that we are pretty "normal." Except for the baptistry in our backyard and the communion bread and cup always present on the kitchen counter. (Not really!)
Soon, though, we noticed that others were obviously revealing our "secret." A long time ago, I discovered that neighborhoods KNOW where the police officers and firemen live. You never can tell when you might need their help. Well, obviously, people also talk about where the pastor in the neighborhood lives. You never know when you might need to avoid him!
"Hi, my name is Sam and I live in that house across the street."
"Oh, are you that preacher?"