Tuesday, December 13, 2011

First Be A Friend

I've long been against any sort of subterfuge, salesmanship, or any other inducement to "use" on folks to get them to listen to the gospel, make a decision, or commit to something. I firmly believe that it's the Holy Spirit's job .. expressly so .. to convict people of their sin, and I also believe we bite off a ton of trouble when we try to do that ourselves.

I know of one church that, in a block party sort of setting, offered a particular food treat to folks, if they would first sit through a gospel presentation. Followed by the usual challenge to make a decision. I find that distasteful.

I know of another pastor who works hard on building friendships with people in his community, before confronting anyone with the gospel. He lets God arrange those situations, and I see a lot of positive (and somewhat remarkable) results from what he's been doing.

Picture a mundane, worldly illustration. First case: Someone calls at your door, and says he's noticed the smoke from your chimney, and suggests you need a new furnace. He has all the promises of quietness, increased efficiency, and comfort that only his product can bring. And he has all the challenging questions (known in the sales business as closing techniques) to "help" you make a positive decision.

As opposed to that, let's say your house has been less comfortable than it has been, spotty heating, noisy, fuel bills increasing, etc. One of your best friends is a furnace installer so you ask him how to solve your problem. Your trusted friend offers his advice.

Which do you prefer? Which one do you think will lead to years of satisfaction with the result, without those nagging questions about whether we made the right choice?

Consider this: using the evangelism programs and approaches that SBC'ers have, in the past, has built a church in which somewhere between 60% and 80% of the "deciders" in past years, are now unhappy with their decisions. Judging by the folks we can't find, that is. Church members who joined on our terms and placed themselves under the authority of the local body, and have simply disappeared.

That sounds more like the record of an aluminum siding salesman, than that of a body which has the solution to the biggest problem man ever will have.

This thought came washing over me after lunch, early this afternoon. We'd stopped at a well-known chain eatery .. sit-down variety .. and ordered our food. We asked our server if we could pray for him when we blessed our food; he said "nah .. everything's fine...".

After he'd brought our food, he came back over to refill the glasses and I asked him if he was a career server, or had he done something else before the economy went South. He explained he'd always been in the restaurant business, and named several restaurants in which he'd been in management.

Next trip, we talked some more, and he said his wife had worked on several college degrees, then had kids, got her degrees, and had a really good job now. And that he had been thinking about updating his resume and maybe would look into getting back into management (rather than working two jobs to keep up his income).

Kicker is, a server with whom we prayed last time we were there, came over and said hi, and we talked a bit about how things were going with her. We had a nice chat, and it was really heartwarming to see evidence that the simple act of praying for her .. and her arthritis .. a few weeks ago had meant something real to her. I'm hoping maybe she and the server we talked to today, will compare notes one of these days.

But we will be back for lunch there, sometime soon.

We're not exposed to a lot of "outside" lost folks any more. Most of the folks we see week after week, are church folks. So there's a temptation to smack every stranger with the gospel, but you know, I don't recall that ever doing anything in my Christian life. The last 48 years or so.

But among friends?

I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a little more friend-making in the coming days. It sure has been fun, so far.

This all isn't just feelings in the back of the neck, as it were. From my recollection of reviewing Ed Stetzer's book "LOST AND FOUND ... The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Are Reaching Them", the folks they interviewed were quite amenable to hearing about and discussing Spiritual matters, but not "with a church". And they also desired friendships with folks of the older generation, but not with "the church". Sounds like that plays the same song as what I've been feeling.

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