How do I deal with awkward silence when visiting folks?
This is a question that came to me by a young and introverted pastor who is struggling to know how to make conversation with elderly folks when he goes to visit them. I wish more and more young pastors knew their weaknesses and desired to grow like this young brother. Because I think this is a growing struggle among young pastors especially, here was my response to this brother for your consideration:
I am grateful for your question and that you desire to grow in this area. I know being an introvert makes this harder. First of all, learn to be comfortable with silence. Whether trying to talk to an elderly person in their home or standing up in front of your church after you have asked a challenging question to them while leading a discussion, silence can be good. If you can learn to be not so uncomfortable with silence, it will help you think through what to say next and speak with more clarity.
Secondly, all it takes when going to visit the elderly is a greater effort to learn the things they like and enjoy. Talk to their closest friends in the church or their family and find out what they are interested in and ask them about those interests. I have an elderly widower, WW II vet, in his 80’s with failing health who still has an amazing mind and loves history and politics. I love history and tolerate politics, but always go with questions in both those areas to ask him as he is an extreme introvert, which makes it hard sometimes to get him to talk. Yet, I always love my visits with him. It is amazing how people will come out of their shell when they talk about what they know, love, and most importantly they think you are interested in hearing.
I hope that helps. Remember, when you visit the elderly for no specific reason, other than to spend time with them, that already makes a huge statement of love and care for them. Don’t forget that. You may be worried about the moments of awkward silence when they may simply be loving that you are sitting in their living room.
Dear pastors, take your cue from this young, teachable brother. The awkward silence and uncomfortable feelings you have when trying to visit your elderly folks in your church is not a justifiable reason to stop and neglect them. Stretch yourself. Keep at it. When we stand before God to give an account of the souls entrusted to our care (Heb. 13:17) awkwardness and uncomfortable silence will be an unwise excuse to our Chief Shepherd.