Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard planted their tech company HP in a garage in Palo-Alto around 1935. The company grew under their shrewd management through the latter half of the 20th century and is still a force to be reckoned with in the computing world.
Hewlett and Packard introduced much innovation in the area of technology but they were also brilliant managers who instituted a management style known as “management by walking around.” The concept was simple. Managers were required to stay out of their corner offices during the day. Instead they were to walk around the factory floors in order to engage in meaningful friendship with their employees.
When I moved to the current town where I pastor, I quickly latched onto this concept as a meaningful model for ministry. I live one mile from my church but it often takes me a half hour to walk to my office in the morning and another hour to get home in the afternoon because I stop all the time to meet and greet fellow travelers.
To be sure the older members of my congregation do not appreciate that “my car is never at the office” but their gripes and complaints are well worth the ministry connections I make in that well worn mile between home and my office. In fact, that mile between my home and the church has become my office.
As I walk I regularly meet a friendly man whose wife died last year. It was my privilege to preside over the memorial service. Currently he work on his lawn all year long, even in the dead of winter. As I walk by, he says, “Hello Reverend” and I stop to banter back and forth.
Next I meet the children standing at a lemonade stand. They sell me sugary lemonade for a dollar to raise money for some imaginary vacation they hope their family will one day go on.
Then there are congregants from my church who are out working on projects in the community. I always worry that they will know I got to work late or should be somewhere else but that fear is unfounded. They are just happy to run into me so they can share a bit about their life.
There is the group of young adults who sit on their lawn and smoke all summer long. I join them and joke around with them for a few minutes before moving on. Last winter one of them needed wood for her stove and she knew who to call. I readily found wood for her and thus filled that tiny house with warmth for a few days.
Then there are young parents like me who are also pushing a stroller with busy infants and toddlers. The fact that I have kids makes a ready connection and we compare stories with them.
Half of the time I invite the people I meet to church and most of the time they do not come but the point of “ministry by walking around” isn’t to recruit church members. It is to listen and learn and find the rhythm that beats in the community. It is also to let people know there is someone in the community who cares enough to stop and talk, even if it means being late to my next appointment.