How much over the speed limit do you go? After getting two speeding tickets in less than a month back in 2012, I’ve done my best to keep the speed limit. In fact, when I lived out in South Dakota, if you got a speeding ticket they published it in the newspaper. I got some ribbing from the old retired farmers I had coffee with once a week about it. That kept me in check in keeping the speed limit as well.
Now in my new town of Hudsonville, we have a speed limit on the main drag that’s 35 mph. In fact on the main drag by the high school there’s a speedometer on the side of the road that shows how fast you’re going. It’s quite fun to watch people peeling down the main drag until they see the giant speedometer in front of them. They quickly slow down and you see the speedometer count down to 34mph at a rapid pace. Love it. I of course drive the limit because I’m cool like that (okay, no so much, but yeah, not going there).
Yesterday I saw something even more interesting. As I was heading down the main drag, there was a sheriff driving in front of me. I kept a good distance behind (and who wouldn’t?) and didn’t want to try to pass them at all (who would?). I clocked the sheriff at about 33mph as I kept pace behind them. All the cars around me kept pace as well with the sheriff. I found it quite entertaining to tell the truth.
Because people do the same thing around me as soon as they realize I’m a pastor. Whenever I’m around, people try to stop sinning. When people I meet find out I’m a pastor the first thing the generally do is give me their spiritual credentials. They used to go church or they go to church or they believe in God or they’re spiritual as well. And then the conversation usually slows down or changes all together (sometimes they hem and hah and then walk slowly backwards away).
I encountered this for the first time years ago while on an internship. I was in Texas and staying in an apartment with a neighbor who was an avid partyer. One night, very drunk, he knocked on our door. He wanted to apologize for the loudness next door. He then pointed out that we had Michigan plates and wanted to know what we were doing in Texas. I told him I was on an internship at a church as a pastor. He sobered up quickly and with a wonderful Texan drawl said “I’m so sorry for being drunk in front of church folk.” I smiled and told him no problem. He walked over to his apartment and I heard him shout loudly “There’s a pastor next door!” It got really quite and soon people left his place. Oddly all was quite from that apartment for the rest of our time there.
It’s happened a lot over the years. Why is it like that?
It’s the same reason why everyone slowed down around the sheriff. Crap! The cops are around! Everyone be cool! Crap! The pastor’s here! Everyone act like a saint! I had it one time where a guy I knew dropped the F-bomb and then turned around and saw I was there. He quickly apologized for cursing around a pastor. I looked at him and said “I’m not offended. Not like my s**t don’t stink.” He smiled, laughed, and then was at ease around me. I just smiled and shook my head.
I’m not complaining. Not in the least. I find it humorous at times. In fact, sometimes it’s for the better. When I worked as a mall cop and part time pastor, the language and conversation material of my coworkers (at least around me) became cleaner. Their behavior and actions (at least around me) became more sincere and uplifting. Just my presence made people want to act better and be better. Some how just having a person of the cloth around made people want to behave better even if it was out of guilt.
Why do we do that? Why do we need to be on our best behavior when someone else is around? It’s part of our nature to tell the truth. We want to make sure that we’re on the up and up and seen as good. We want to be good. Even in our own issues, we want some glimmer of being a good person. And so, when we’re in the presence of a representative of Jesus, we get our act together and try to be good even if for a few moments.
I’m guilty of this too. I do it myself sometimes. When I meet older more experienced pastors or higher ups in my denomination, I feel like I need to do the same. I catch myself doing it and then shake my head at myself.
I drive the speed limit the best I can because I don’t want a ticket. And when the sheriff or highway patrol is around, I try to act cool until they’re gone. It’s part of who we are and if just my presence makes someone want to act better and be better, then more power to them.
Do you act different around cops? How about pastors? You don’t need to worry about showing your spiritual credentials. We’re people too. But, hey, if you want to act a bit better for your own sake, I’m here for you as well.