(Or “Why the church needs some social skills”)
Mid-way through my junior year in high school, I quit band because the directors were no fun. Because good ole’ Cooper High had double blocked scheduling, that means I had to find two semester long classes to fill in the gaps in my schedule. So, I looked to the Ag department. I–AP student, National Honor Society Geek, retired band nerd– registered for Welding (of which I was terrified) and Landscaping. I think out of all my classes in high school, I may have enjoyed these two the most because of the diversity of people in those classes (unlike my homogenous AP classes). There was this big kid (by big, I mean vertically and horizontally) who would push me around the room with his stomach every morning before Landscaping because he could. One day, I listened to two sophomores argue about which one was going to stick their hand in a vice (I’ll give you a cookie if you can guess if they were boys or girls). I momentarily joined the Milk Judging team, but was simultaneously disgusted by the question, “Does this milk taste fermented?” and intimidated by the fearless leader, Patsy the softball player.
One of the girls in Landscaping identified herself as a Wiccan. I sat next to her and we became buddies. One day we were out in the shed making barbed-wire Texases (yep, Ag) with this other boy. I don’t remember much of the conversation but we started talking about religion. My friend said that she was a Wiccan and the other kid inquired about it. When she told him what she believed, his response was “That’s stupid.”
Hmmmm. Guess her response.
She was instantly angry and got up and left. I sat there looking at this poorly trained kid who was wearing a cross around his neck and knew that what he had just said probably had eternal consequences. Thanks, bud. Thanks for the good news.
My thesis for this blog is this: Many Christians have forgotten how Jesus loved people. What churches teach now-a-days is a formula– a formula- for “bringing people to Jesus.” It’s like a laundry list of things to do in order to enter into the greatest relationship you’ve ever had? It just doesn’t add up to me. No other relationships out there have such a list. I mean, is there a list of things you can do to find a husband or a best friend? It would certainly make it easier. Too bad it doesn’t work.
By it doesn’t work, I mean that formulas are essentially meaningless without context. For example, I could give my third grade student the formula (A=lw) and say, “There! I have bestowed upon you a very important formula that will help you get a 100 on your math homework.” And they would look at me like I was crazy because there is no context. You also have to include that A means area and define l and w. How can someone use a formula if they don’t understand what it is for?
What does context mean in the context of ministering to people? (Need to read that sentence again? Go ahead.) Well, I believe that sharing the gospel must be accompanied by sharing your life. How can someone know that the formula you’re giving them for a relationship with God is valid, unless they see it working in the context of your life? Jesus did not go around leaving tracts in Jerusalem bathrooms. He didn’t stand outside the door at Wal-Mart asking if people knew where they were going when they died as they ran away from Him. Jesus was intentional about spending time with people so that they understood the context of the Truth He was telling them. Get it?
One thing I love about Jesus is how He loved (loves) people. Here are some things I have learned from Him.
It’s not about you.
That’s right, folks. If you really want to minister to people, the first step is humility. More than that, it means giving up your time and your money. How can you really build a relationship with them if you aren’t willing to spend time with them? “Oh sorry. Going to dinner sounds really fun but my favorite television show is on at that time.” I’m pretty sure that’s not the most loving attitude about buliding relationships. (Sidenote: I am not perfect at this. I am the queen of selfishness when it comes to my time, sometimes.) The truth of the matter is that sometimes the people you want to love on will call you at inconvenient times or ask if they can come over when you’ve had a really long day at work. I’m not saying that God always wants you to be a doormat and let people walk all over you, but being available is definitely one way to show love to others.
Be friends with people not like you.
God has blessed with the awesome opportunity to get to know people that are not like us- in our neighborhood, work places, school, wherever. He has taught me so much about loosening up and being able to enjoy people that have different beliefs, different morals, different worldviews. Unfortunately, I look at churches and see the “birds of a feather flock together” principle in action. Christians hang out with other Christians- not only on Sundays, but SuperBowl parties, Christmas parties, birthday parties, you name it.
Now, I understand that it is certainly easier to be friends with people who believe the same way you do BUT what does that have to do with the Bible? Jesus was radical because he hung out with “sinners”. He didn’t eat with the religious crowd. And now a quote from the Bible:
When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees (religious leaders) saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Ihave not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17
What set Jesus apart was that he hung out with imperfect people, like you and me. He didn’t segregate himself from society with his apostles. He was out and about, eating, talking, laughing, crying, with people who did not yet know Him. By following His example, we become radical.
Don’t put ministry in a box.
Alex and I buy a newspaper every Saturday solely for the coupons. We used to buy it wherever was closest, be it Wal-Mart or 7-Eleven. BUT the cashier at the Chevron by our house got to know our faces, from the couple of times that we came in and now we have decided to intentionally go there for the purpose of getting to know this cashier. What an easy thing to do. Instead of going to Wal-Mart, we’ll just buy our paper from Chevron every week and we’ll gain a new friend (who gives us free drinks!)
I don’t know why we compartmentalize everything, but Americans do it and it has spread to the church. We set aside a time each week for “ministry”, where you actually go out and do something that falls within the accepted definition of ministry. Let’s go back to J.C.’s example. He didn’t do ministry on Tuesdays at 11 am. He did ministry almost all the time- whether someone touched His cloak and He stopped to ask why or He got hungry and told Zaccheaus to make Him a sandwich. Our narrow definition of what ministry is has harmed the church. Ministry is wherever we are- shops, parks, busses, Starbucks, gas stations, malls, neighborhoods, WORK. Ministry is not not a once a week thing. It’s a lifestyle.
Shut up and listen.
What do you do when you answer a phone call and hear, “Hello. My name is Phil and I’m calling with…….”? Eye roll, sigh, a “No thanks, I’m not interested,” and you hang up. Right?
James 1:19- My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to LISTEN, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
In the Greek, listen is literally “hear”- comprehending and perceiving what is being said. I found it astounding that on any given day at A&M, I could get on the bus to go home and end up hearing someone’s life story. The more I am out talking to people, the more God is showing me how lonely and unheard most of the world is. No one listens anymore. Instead there are fun things like TV and email and blackberries and ipods. Simply listening can be a huge act of love for lots and lots of people. And I mean really listening- not waiting for them to stop talking so you can tell them that they are going to hell or what God thinks of them. When you are open to hearing people’s stories, they respond.
Let God do His work.
My freshman year in college, I volunteered at the local homeless shelter every Tuesday. I would ride my bike 20 minutes across campus to my car, drive another 20 minutes to the shelter, and then spend 2-3 hours doling out boxed mashed potatoes to (mostly) men who needed someone to listen to them. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but it definitely took up my Tuesday afternoons. I remember one Tuesday, it was raining- which would have made a particularly lovely bike ride to my car- and I just didn’t want to go. I had decided to stay at the dorm when God’s voice clearly came into my head and said, “I don’t need you. There are thousands of people that I could give this opportunity to.” The truthfulness of that struck me like a punch to the stomach. I thought I was all high and mighty Mother Theresa, when really God had given the gift of the opportunity to serve to me.
We don’t give God enough credit. He doesn’t need us to show people the Truth- He gives us the opportunity to love them. We think that we must bombard people with tracts and prayer trinkets and always talk to them about salvation and beat it into them. That is just not true. Most people, myself included, don’t enjoy being hounded. In fact, I often avoid those who have a tendency to hound like the plague. Often times, a simple, “I’m praying for you” and then actually doing so, will suffice because God is big and great and powerful and He can handle it. We never know when He is going to reveal Himself to someone. He doesn’t need us.
A few asides….
1) I am not saying that relational ministry is the ONLY way to love people. Jesus used many ways. What I am suggesting is that the path to accepting God’s grace is not a “one size fits all” process. Prayer is a huge step in this process and listening to God is the only assurance that we are actually serving Him how we should.
2) I am not perfect at loving people and I don’t know if I ever will be. Don’t think for one minute that I am speaking as an expert on this subject because I am not. These are simply some things that God has taught me over the past year or so.