While in seminary I pastored a church in the small Texas town of Italy. They were a wonderful people, and largely a church-going people. I’ll never forget a man I led to Christ and baptized who later told me that he was invited to our church shortly after he moved to town. The invitation went something like this: “You’re starting a business in town and it will help your business if you join our church.” The man was not yet a Christian, but he knew that you don’t join a church to help your business!
That said, the truth was, it would have helped his business to have joined our church. One way I describe the difference between church-life in the Bible-belt versus the Northwest is that no one joins a church in the Northwest to help their business. And politicians don’t frequent churches in the Northwest during election season either. In Oklahoma it is estimated that more than 25% of young people attend Falls Creek Baptist Youth Camp at least one week during their teen years. The former director of that camp is now a United States Congressman, having won election with no prior political experience and few monetary resources. His base of support came from relationships made in directing a camp with an annual attendance exceeding 50,000. That story could not be written in the Northwest.
One of the things many of us love about the Northwest is that there is little reason for people to come to faith in Jesus Christ and serve Him, other than the need to fill the God-shaped hole in the heart. The lack of societal expectation to attend church or have a religion (the Northwest leads the U.S. in the percentage of people who claim no religion) challenges us to find better ways to help others discover Jesus. Moreover, walking with Jesus in the company of a local church is not something Northwesterners do to fit into the community. They do it because they have come to love Him.
Over the next several weeks I want to present some ideas and methods that will help your witness for Christ. You will find some of what is presented to be new material and concepts. I use the phrase “help others discover Jesus” because I believe that is what we must do. People must discover Jesus in “their” life-journey. But Christians can function as spiritual guides for those yet to arrive at the destination, which is Jesus. Having been to Jesus ourselves, we know the way and are able to guide others.
The following six words identify the concepts that we will explore. Over the next several weeks, this list may change some:
The order of the six words isn’t particularly important, with the exception of the first word – listening. Guides who would lead others to discover Jesus in their life’s journey must learn to listen, and listen in a particular way.
I will explore the concept of “listening” as it applies to spiritual guiding in the next article. But I want to leave you with a question, then a story, followed by another question. The question is this: when you listen to another speak, what are you listening for? Are you listening to respond, or do you listen for the opportunity to ask a follow-up question that will give the other person the opportunity to share more?
Now for the story. In a recent visit with a young man, he told me that he volunteered at a café. Volunteering at a café sounded unusual to me, so I asked him what he did as a volunteer. He told me that he checked IDs to make sure those entering the café were legally able to be there. He also told me that he cleaned bathrooms and did things that no one else wanted to do. Picking up on the idea of a café in which not everyone could legally enter, I asked him what kind of café it is. He said that it is a place where medical marijuana is dispensed. I had never heard the term café applied to such a place. Moreover, I didn’t know they needed volunteers.
I knew that this young man attended church while growing up, so I asked him what was his “take-away” from his years attending church. He said, “Serving. I learned to serve at church and I like to serve.” He currently serves as a volunteer in a brewery! I’d never heard of that either. End of story – for now.
Last question: what should I do next? I’m going to meet with this man again in a few weeks. What should I say or do?