By Allen White
I am a pastor, and I started to drive for Uber a few weeks ago. Why? Am I destitute? No, I currently work with 28 churches from across North America, and my book, Exponential Groups, comes out in February. To be honest, I was just curious and a little bored in my office one day. Driving for Uber has led to a few things I never expected.
1. As pastors we don’t fully understand the world we are called to win.
The problem is that we get our information from…other pastors or from other ministries. What if we could have a conversation with people who were far from God? I’ve tried that in the past. The reality is as soon as you reveal to a non-Christian that you are a pastor. You might as well have said that you are the only person in the world who suffers from both Ebola and the Zika virus. They usually look down, stutter, and come up with an excuse to escape the conversation. If they don’t run away, then they awkwardly try to come up with something religious that they think you might want to hear.
But, when you’re their Uber driver, that’s a different story. People tell their drivers all sorts of things. And, if it’s a group of people, especially Millennials, then they won’t talk to you, but you can eaves drop on their conversation. You have a focus group right there in your car.
The hardest part of your job is to listen, not to lecture. You can very quickly get an earful of what’s going on in your community. Some of it might shock you. But, your place is not to judge. It’s to drive.
I have gained insights into our culture that I couldn’t get any other way. My passengers will talk about life, religion, politics, you name it. Where else could I have a conversation with an African-American lesbian about what the presidential election means to her? It was a respectful conversation. She shook my hand at the end. In my Uber learnings, it doesn’t matter what I think. I want to hear what the passengers think.
2. Some pastors become accustomed to being served. It’s time to serve.
Now, don’t get mad. Pastors serve their congregations in a variety of ways every single day. I respect that. But, there’s something about opening a door for someone, or carrying their luggage, or changing the radio to a station you don’t listen to because it pleases the customer. You gain insights into how people work for a living. (I know you work…we covered that). But, imagine if driving for Uber were your only job? Could you live on what you make? For me, it connects me to people who serve others in general, whether it’s in restaurants, department stores, or anywhere else. You see the world differently, and you tip better, even if you were a good tipper before.
3. Pastors can minister to their passengers.
Not every passenger is having a great day. Some are tired from a long day at work. Some are worn out and ready to give up. Others are in a difficult relationship or are just in a very bad season of their lives.
I have invited passengers to church. I have occasionally given practical advice. One passenger even asked me to pray with them about the situation they are facing.
I didn’t come across as Mr. Preacher. I came across as the friendly Uber driver who was just trying to help. No better than them. No worse than them. I never counted on ministering to passengers.
Now, before you put your King James on the dashboard, remember that passengers rate you. If you make them uncomfortable, then they will give you a low rating. Too many low ratings, and well, you are back on the golf course and no longer driving for Uber.
4. What’s the Next Step?
Let’s get practical. I moved to Greenville, South Carolina to serve in a large church. In fact, 1 in 10 people in the Greenville area were part of our church at the time. What if someone recognizes me? I’ve only had that actually happen one time. If it happens again, then I think we could make a joke out of it.
If you live in a metro area, you might try driving on the other side of town. If you live in a small town, you might want to spend a day in the city (in the same state). Remember, you’re not driving the church bus. You are gathering information about the kind of people in your area and what they think about things.
If you want to try driving, it’s pretty easy to get started. If you want to drive for Uber, go to Uber.com and use invite code: RUDOLPHW51UE. (And, yes, I get a bonus if you use my code). Every state has different requirements. Be sure to read through it.
If you’re not brave enough to drive…ahem…then hire an Uber to take you somewhere and ask your driver questions. Just download the Uber app on your smartphone, and your first ride is free if you use this code: rudolphw51ue. (I get a free ride too).
Okay, this post may actually be among the looniest ideas I’ve ever presented, but what I’ve gained over the last few weeks is very insightful. Christians live in a world that makes less and less sense to us. Unchurched people aren’t going to conform to our norms any longer. It’s time that we rub shoulders with them and hear what they have to say. Oh, and if they ask what you do, then just tell them, “What I do is not that interesting, let’s talk about you…”
Maybe pastors driving for Uber sounds strange. I suppose we could just go hang out in bars instead…(or not).
Because of the interest in this topic, I have started an UberPastors private Facebook group to share stories about experience with Uber: https://www.facebook.com/groups/305720126490660/
By Allen White
We lost Robin Williams nearly a year ago. He was a beloved comedian and actor. In fact, he was so beloved that his name was one of the most searched in all of 2014 on Google. I wrote a post a few days after his death as a response to so many hateful things Christians were saying on the internet. That post was not only the most read post ever on my blog, but was also the most read post ever on Rick Warren’s pastors.com with over 1 million views. If you haven’t seen it, you can read it here.
As I conclude this series on the temperaments of group members and the potential for conflict and misunderstanding, I want us to look at the epidemic of mental illness. It’s not a temperament, but an illness that personally affects 1 in 4 adults or 61.5 million Americans (according to a 2013 report by the National Alliance of Mental Illness). Mental illness affects even more people than that including the family members, neighbors, co-workers, fellow group members, and many others in relationship with those who suffer.
So, what if Robin Williams was in your group?
1. We would have a lot of fun.
If you’ve ever seen Robin Williams on a talk show, you know he was a man of a thousand voices. He would move from one comedic rant to the next and never miss a beat. He really didn’t even need the talk show host. Robin was a one man show who only needed an audience, but it didn’t have to be a large audience.
The best man in my wedding has a brother who was the pilot of Disney’s jet. Most of his job was flying Michael Eisner, president of Disney at the time, around the country. On one flight, Robin Williams was a passenger. He was just as animated and dynamic with a few people on the plane as he ever was on any talk show.
If Robin was in my group, we’d certainly have our hands full, but we would also have a great time.
2. He would want to be “Robin” not Patch Adams or Mork from Ork.
Robin is known for so many beloved and sometimes zany characters, but like all of us, we just want to be accepted for who we are. He probably wouldn’t want us to impersonate his characters or rattle off zippy one liners. In my groups, I’ve never wanted to be regarded as “Pastor Allen.” For the group to work, I need to come to group and be “Allen.” Like all of us, he would like to be accepted as Robin, not a clown, not a showman, not our evening’s entertainment, but just himself.
3. We would learn to be more generous.
Both before but especially after his death, stories flowed about Robin William’s generosity. He required movie studios to hire a certain number of homeless people on the crew as part of his contract for a picture. So many personal stories have surfaced like buying a bike for Conan O’Brien when he was going through a rough time or giving Jessica Chastain a scholarship to attend Juilliard or tirelessly fundraising for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Every year at Christmas Robin would visit the UCSF Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. In 2001, my son was a baby in the Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF and received a visit from Robin Williams along with all of the other children there. My wife and I missed the visit. Sam was only a month old and has no memory, but after Robin’s death, when I told him that special man had visited him when he was a baby, he was very touched.
I know of a lot of small groups who are very generous. Here in Greenville, South Carolina, the Holy Smokers from Brookwood Church cater an amazing meal for the homeless in the community. Groups have done so many things. But, I believe, Robin could show a group how to go even further.
4. The rest of us would have to remove our masks first and be patient.
The public was very shocked by the extent of Robin Williams’ depression that drove him to suicide. Suicide is a terrible decision in any life. Most of us can’t imagine the state of mind one would need to be in to feel you had no other choice, because we don’t struggle with the things he struggled with.
But, here’s the other thing, if our groups are just skimming the surface of a Bible study, we don’t really know what’s going on with anyone unless they are in enough pain to cry out for help without being shamed by the group. Participating in a small group is not a magic cure for anything. People can pretend to be okay in a group meeting just like they can pretend to have it all together in church, but that’s not okay.
If we ever expect anyone else to open up, we need to open up ourselves. We need to talk about what’s real, what’s hidden, what’s secret — these are the things with power over us. The things hidden in darkness must be exposed to the light. After all, the only thing that thrives in darkness is mold.
Let’s be honest — we’ve been in groups where a member announces a divorce and we didn’t even know there were marital problems. Or, someone files for bankruptcy and we didn’t know the extent of their struggle. There is no room for lone rangers in a group. You and I are not any better than anyone else. It’s time to let down our guard and admit that.
If we wanted Robin Williams or anyone else to open up, we would need to create the right environment. That includes showing our own vulnerability.
5. We would be out of our depth, but we would love everyone generously.
Most small groups are not equipped to deal with mental illness. From Schizophrenia to Bipolar Disorder to Depression, Substance Abuse, Autism and so much more, groups don’t know what to do or how to help. And, that’s okay.
There are doctors and medication and mental health professionals to help with mental illness. Groups are designed for belonging, acceptance, care and Bible study. Group leaders and members don’t need to become mental health experts, but they do need to show Christlike love to everyone God sends their way. While all of us can certainly learn more about mental illness, groups need to fulfill the purpose they are intended for and seek help when the needs go beyond the group’s goals.
If a group’s purpose turns to helping a single member who is struggling, then that person becomes the group’s “project,” and the group members reveal their own co-dependency. No one wants to be someone’s project. If the group is in over their heads, then they need to admit where they can help and where they can’t. There is a time to get other help.
We miss you Robin Williams. Thanks for bringing so much joy to the world. Our regret is you had to suffer so much.