Do You Know This Man?

Every pastor is sure he knows how to talk to this guy:

It’s easy. With Biff, here, you talk tractors, nail guns, and torque. You slip into saying “dese, dem, and dose.” You use football analogies. Better yet, you tell your own football stories, if you have them. You try to pull off the coach routine. You go easy on the Bible because he doesn’t care. You don’t try to teach him. You keep it real concrete, because Biff’s a hands-on guy, and if you try to talk theologically you’ll lose him.

I don’t think most pastors know this guy at all. I think most try to reach Biff with populist clichés only from laziness — or because they’re too intimidated to sit down and talk with him. I think that if pastors realized who Biff actually is, and if they began to connect with him, their churches would be revolutionized.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about him.

1. Biff’s a genius.

Forget about losing Biff with your sermon. He’s way ahead of you. That’s why he stops listening. I know a contractor who hardly says a word, and who looks like he wouldn’t try to follow a theological inference past the second “if.” But he has a deep, sharp intellect. He figured out how to install a Czechoslovakian engine in an airplane he built — without a manual. He reads the social patterns in a room faster than anyone else, and he can articulate what the patterns are. He has keen, biblically informed doctrinal priorities.

Pastors need to know that Biff has no trouble dealing with complexity. But he can tell when you’re using complexity to disguise ignorance. And he won’t sit for it.

2. Biff knows how to interact with all kinds of people.

Yeah, he looks narrow. But there’s a good chance that Biff went to college. In all probability he has lived in many different places, perhaps even worked internationally — and not just in the military. If Biff is over forty-five, you may find that he has some history with the counterculture in the sixties or seventies. In his business, he either learns how to deal with many different subcultures, or he fails.

I know a lumberman who lives to cut down trees. He just loves being alone in the woods with a saw and some timber. To look at him, you’d say he was the original good old boy. And if you only talked with him for five minutes, you wouldn’t learn anything to shake that impression. You’d never know he once worked in computers. Near San Francisco.

3. Biff learned early to conform.

There are guys who are no deeper than tractors, nail guns, and torque. But Biff is not one of them. In my experience, he got the message as a young kid that he wasn’t supposed to be a dreamer, that dreamers were worthless sissies. So he constructed a persona that enabled him to get along with the other guys. He talks about tractors, nail guns, and torque because that’s what they talk about. But the dreamer never completely died. In fact, the persistence of that dreamer, maybe in despair, is a key to his emotional life.

In the back corner of a closet, Biff may have a world-class collection of jazz LPs, which he will only show you if he thinks you’re safe. It will astound you what Biff reads, what he ponders, what he responds to. I’ve had guys that look exactly like Biff, lots and lots of them, become fans of my classical violin playing. That’s one way I accidentally got underneath Biff’s conformity.

Interesting things start to happen when Biff decides that God wants him to exercise his creativity.

4. Biff respects masculine analysis.

He likes his categories hard and neat. They can be complicated. They can be paradoxical. But they cannot be soft. Which is too bad for evangelical sentimentality, because Biff has no respect for Ned Flanders.

With all these points, I’m not saying Biff yearns to hear lectures on Schleiermacher, or that he secretly watches Masterpiece Theater, or even that he is fully conscious of himself. I’m just saying that he’s smarter than we think, broader, more open, more curious than we think. I’m saying that the potential in any church for significant interaction with other subcultures is far greater than most pastors imagine.

We can nurture that potential if we ditch our cramped view of people — perverted by demographics, marketing tactics, and Meiers-Briggs tests — and see them for who they really are.

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