By Margot Starbuck
A few years ago, I was attending a ministry conference in the Northwest that was being keynoted by a Big-Name speaker. (Feel free to imagine whichever Big-Name speaker you most enjoy.) At lunch time, when we all gathered in a college cafeteria to eat, I felt the rumblings of my inner-middle-schooler as I searched for a place to sit. If I sat alone, perhaps no one would join me. If I sidled up to the cool kids - uh, I mean adults - they might not talk to me. Dropping my tray near some friends I already knew, I saw Big Speaker join the line of folks gathering their meals.
I kept an eye on this guy, sort of dreaming of how great it would feel if he came and sat next to me. (Yes, I'm that girl.) Of course, I naturally expected him to sit with the other Biggish Names who were also in attendance. But he didn't. He didn't choose an empty table, either. Rather, he bee-lined for the random person, eating alone, whom I would have pegged as the most unlikely character. To be blunt, she looked as though she was used to sitting alone. I watched as he asked for the pleasure of her company. I sneak-peeked glances as he engaged her. From his face and gestures, he appeared really quite delighted for the opportunity to know her.
Though sometimes I feel like the only one petty enough to behave this way, I feel certain that mine were not the only eyes on this guy. Attendees rubbing elbows with him at the salad bar and starstruck wallflowers like me had all been a little curious about where he would land. Our eyes were on him.
As leaders, there are eyes watching us. They notice who we sit next to at the church potluck. They wait to see how we'll respond to the beggar outside the church as we walk to our cars. They wonder how we'll greet the person on the street - tattooed skater or shrunken Grandpa - who is radically other than we are.
They watch in the same way that the religious and the notably irreligious kept an eye on those with whom Jesus engaged. (For what it's worth, those watching Jesus got surprised a lot.) His disciples were sort of shocked when they got back from the grocery store and he was chatting up a Samaritan woman - wrong race, wrong religion, wrong gender. Crowds were baffled when he made a lunch date with Zacchaeus - wrong profession, known sinner. You'd think that, eventually, they'd stop being shocked, but Jesus just kept pushing the religious envelope.
Even though you or I do not live our lives for the eyes of others, those whom we lead are watching. Will any of them be surprised by the ones toward whom we are moving and receiving in love?