Sniffers in the Church

Over the past year, one of my neighbors who is a consistent walker and jogger began to do so without her four-legged companion, her dog. Many months ago I asked her, “Where is your buddy?” To which she said, “He’s gotten to where he doesn’t want to get out and run or walk.” As time has passed on, I wondered if the old boy was still alive so recently I asked her if the dog was still living. “Yes,” she replied, “he’s still alive but all that he does now is sniff.”

I clearly remember him as a younger fella, alive and alert and involved in everything around him. Occasionally he would be walking and break into a jog or even run. Sometimes he would even bark. He was one of those dogs that always seemed to have a friendly bark. He wasn’t mad or angry at the world even when he saw a squirrel or person. He would give a yelp and keep on going, but now all he does is sniff.

Through the years, I’ve seen this happen to folks as they got older and had less energy and capacity to do the things that they used to do. At one time they were the first person to volunteer to do whatever needed to be done. They were willing to serve on committees, plan meetings, serve food, and visit anyone. Whether it was a lost person or a saint that was in need of a touch from a fellow believer, they were there but in time, they weren’t able to do all that they had done before. Even if they still had vocal ability, their diminishing eyesight or increasing pain kept them from going to all the rehearsals and other pieces of preparation that few people think about when they hear them sing so beautifully on Sunday.

At one time, they never gave a thought to jumping in the car and going across town or across the state to do whatever needed to be done, but now it’s different and even a trip to the store has its complications and its challenges. In a sense, they have been reduced to sniffing. They want to do more. They wish over and over that they could do more, but they just can’t do it like they used to — but I need to point out to you that sniffing is not bad. That is, if you use your sniffer to sniff out the good things.

I have known of folks who have come to this part of life and found out that they could enter into people’s lives in incredible, life-changing ways by being an encourager, a faithful prayer warrior, and at times, a significant contributor to make a difference in the Kingdom work.

As a boy growing up, I still remember a couple of men who seemed to pay attention to a little knot-head kid and take time to talk with him and be a friend to him. They have both been with the Lord a long time, but what they did for me remains ‘til this day. Their names probably have little meaning for most of you readers, but not me. Benny Lundy and Cecil Fitzgerald were heroes to this kid. Both of them were older men and both of them had their own challenges that kept them from doing the things that they used to do, except to take time to care about a young kid at church.

I think about those wonderful people and precious saints who have for over 50 years from time to time taken time to stop and write a note and let me know that they are praying for me and that they care about me as I seek to serve the Lord. It’s almost like they just have a sense about them, maybe just a way to sniff out a need in someone’s life and bless them.

I suppose the other side of this whole issue is the sad part that some people seem to be reduced only to be able to sniff out the bad things. Maybe you have run into someone like that, who all along their life seems to know where all the garbage heaps of life were located and were able to detect and discuss every bad thing going on in the community or at the church or in a friend’s life. They just seem to have a knack of knowing all the garbage, and then when they can’t do anything else they still seem to have that sniffer at work. It’s sad, not only because it appears as though that’s
all they know but even sadder to
think that they have to live in the company and the odors of their own sniffing ability. If that is all I could smell, I would hope that even that part of my smeller would work.

Often when people call me to get a reference on a pastor or a staff person, they will ask me a question that to this day I have refused to answer. The question is, “What are his or her greatest weaknesses?” I respond by telling them that usually, I don’t know of any weaknesses and even the weaknesses that I have observed in them in years gone by, they have been so intentionally positive about doing their work that they had overcome the weakness and the weakness had possibly become a strength. Then I tell the folks that even if I knew of a weakness they had, I wouldn’t tell them because whatever it was that I would tell them would in time probably be the only thing for which they would look.

Now if there is some glaring moral or ethical issue that exists in a person’s life, there may be validity in helping them understand what is there, but if you’re talking about someone with a twitch or a certain pattern of speech or is an avid hunter, no, those things will come out if they are weaknesses to you and maybe you can help the person prioritize their life like you think it ought to be done. Surely, probably not in all of our churches but many of them, there will be some faithful person who can sniff out things they don’t think are most advantageous in the pastor or staff member’s life.

I am convinced that more than being a sniffer at any age or stage in life, the more important thing is that our lives do what the Apostle Paul said we should do and that is that our praise, our walk, our lives shall be of a sweet smelling savor to God (2 Cor. 2:15). May it be true of you and me.

The author can be contacted at

Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer