The Smiling Pastor

October 3, 2005 by

An entry over at Tony McCollum’s Churchwerx talks about the power of a smile. McCollum uses the example of General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

During World War II, Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the allied forces, made a conscious decision to never allow a photo of himself to be taken unless he was smiling. He reasoned that his fighting men all over the world would see these pictures and he felt that he must exude confidence no matter what. He once said that he was trying to make everyone feel that he understood something they didn’t about the war and that no matter how bad it might seem to his men, their commander must have a plan or something up his sleeve.

McCollum also points to Susan D. Whiting, CEO of Nielsen Media Research, who had this to say about smiles to Fast Company:

When you’re the CEO, you’ve got to get off the elevator each morning with a big smile on your face. No matter what’s going on in the company. Everyone looks to you for a temperature reading.

So is there value in presenting a smiling facade?

I like the idea of a leader showing confidence to the troops, bringing encouragement to the staff, which is something churches could probably use. But I’m not sure about the practical reality.

Smiling Hypocrisy
U.S. President George W. Bush has a similar argument for optimism that he defended during the 2004 election by asking what message it would give to the soldiers in Iraq if the Commander in Chief showed signs of doubt in the mission. The opposition pounced, claiming that such blind optimism kept Bush from seeing the reality and working to improve the situation.

A shiny facade is worthless if what’s underneath is cracked and breaking. It can be outright hypocritical for Christians to paste on a smile no matter the situation. That’s a complaint many non-Christians express.

McCollum is making the good point that ultimately God is in control and we can only do our best. A smile visible to his staff and congregation was a way to reinforce that idea.

But in practical terms that idea isn’t always smile-worthy. Joyfulness in tough times is one thing, but sometimes a smiling face just isn’t appropriate. I doubt there are many pictures of Eisenhower comforting grieving families with a smile on his face, or surveying damaged cities with a jovial grin.

What’s the Vibe
Ultimately it’s about what our demeanor communicates. Being surly all the time isn’t going to help anyone, be they general, CEO, president or pastor. But smiling all the time isn’t the answer either. A smiling facade tells the world we don’t understand hurt (or are sick enough to enjoy it). Having an upbeat boss is great, but when times are stressful that smile can seems more aloof than optimistic.

For me it seems that balance is needed. Maybe lean toward flashing a smile, but don’t smile so much your face hurts. Quite frankly a pastor who doesn’t do anything but smile is creepy.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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13 Responses to “The Smiling Pastor”

  • Tony McCollum
    October 3, 2005

    You’re points are well taken. I don’t think that you and I are really disagreeing. I wasn’t saying that we should be fake or phony. I was just trying to say that if we believe that God is indeed caling and leading us to work on His behalf, maybe, just maybe, we should be able to smile a bit in the journey, even if things don’t seem great from time to time. While, I agree that a pastor that smiles all the time is creepy, one that never smiles is more worrisome to me.

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  • kevin
    October 4, 2005

    You’re right, Tony, we’re not disagreeing. Just emphasizing different points.
    While I agree that a pastor who never smiles is more worrisome than a paster who always smiles, I think the constantly smiling pastor is much more common in the church.

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  • Boyink
    October 4, 2005

    I’ve been in a church where the pastor was “head cheerleader”, was “up” all the time, always saying how great things were, always doing “the cheer”, every email had plenty of exclaimation points.
    It got old in a hurry. It began to feel like we were being lied to.
    Being “up” begins to lose it’s value when there is no “down”.
    I want authenticity.

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  • s. zeilenga
    October 4, 2005

    I am not sure where he got the statistic, but when Mike Herron from Joel Ostein’s church came to our church a few weeks ago, he said that “the size of many church’s is directly related to how much the pastor smiles”. I leaned over to my friend and said “well, that explains the size of Lakewood Church”. But then again, I have to agree with the other comments on how a continuously smiling pastor or leader is a little creepy. With everything going on in the world I don’t nessesarily need a smile but a hand in the fight is much more appreciated.

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  • thehouseblog
    October 4, 2005

    Biscuit-heads unite

    Pastor Steve did an awsome job this weekend talking about being nice….I saw this today on another blog about smiling.

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  • Randy
    October 4, 2005

    Okay this may be over-simplification but doesn’t Peter talk about suffering and doing it through joy. I want to be authentic…but I want to be authenticly expereincing joy through the trials of life. Super smiley faking is weird, yes. But isn’t smiling, real smiling, a reflection of what is going on inside regardless of what is going on outside.
    I don’t know.

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  • Anne Jackson
    October 4, 2005

    But then what about times where Jesus was in the garden, in so much agony he sweat drops of blood? Or when he was angry at the merchants in the temple? When he wept. When he cried out on the cross, “why have you forsaken me?”

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  • J
    October 4, 2005

    When Jesus was in the garden he was alone, with a few disciples. He wasn’t leading a large group. On the cross, it’s obviously a different circumstance. And as for the temple, there’s a time to be strong and make a point. But it’s the exception, not the rule. A leader doesn’t have to smile ALL the time, but he or she should be enthusiastic about the things they’re involved in.

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  • Anne Jackson
    October 4, 2005

    I think just being honest is the rule.
    To play devil’s advocate –
    1) Do rules apply differently to those leading a large group of people is a different church than a home church of 6?

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  • Aj
    October 5, 2005

    I just finished reading “Blink”, and one chapter dealt with facial expressions and how they do affect our moods – how when they made a face that’s recognized as anger, their heart rate measured higher, etc. So what’s the line between authenticity and preparing ourselves to get in the spirit?

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  • anne jackson
    October 5, 2005

    well, the bible says to worship in spirit and in truth. if you’re not authentic, you are missing a key ingredient.
    john 4:24
    God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth

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  • Joe Hartney
    August 21, 2006

    Joel Ostein is the only TV minister that I will listen to. He is always very positive and when he is finished I always feel much better about things. I find that most church goers are negative and unhappy, and it’s a pleasant change to hear someone such as Joel who is usually smiling and giving a positive message. He preaches personal responsibility and doesn’t feel that we should just leave everything in God’s hands. He believes we can do things to help ourselves, and that’s what I’ve always believed. I don’t want to hear crying and moaning and groaning that you hear in some congregations.

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  • Alan Dougherty
    December 3, 2006

    A commemt about “The smiling pastor”…I know I smile when I am happy. I think Joel Ostein is smiling because he is living his life as God has directed, and he is happy as a result. I receive the message of the Lord from Pastor Joel, and I very much enjoy his sermons. I don’t think it matters if a minister is smiling or crying. What matters to me is feeling closer to God and being a better Christian because of a minister’s message.
    God bless the smiling, the serious, the emotional, the “fire and brimstone preachers. I believe they are all sharing the word of the Lord. We choose that person we find easiest to receive the Word. There is a need for more ministers and more of us regular folk in every congregation. I believe the Lord’s message is what is important. If you don’t like a smile, look for a serious look – and visa versa. God’s Love to you all.

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