It’s 11 PM and I’m sitting here in my favorite funky coffee house eavesdropping on the usual crowd of people pontificating about things they just KNOW are true. As always, life, love and politics are the “topics du jour”.
A common theme I find subliminally emerging in all of these conversations is the word “searching”. They all seem to be looking for the meaning of life, someone to love them, or someone to lead them but, in the words of the prophet Bono: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. It seems they are convinced that if they just discuss these things one more night, collectively, they will find the answers.
These are the times when most people of faith want to stand up and scream “I have the answer! It’s just Jesus that you need!” And though that is the truth, that cliché needs to be expounded upon or it is lost on (or scorned by) those who would hear it.
In my years of “clandestine” people-watching in little coffee houses and “dives” all over this nation, I’ve painfully observed Christians crash and burn in their attempts to engage with people like these. I’ve also had my fair share of failures working these “fields” that seem to be “not-so-white unto harvest”. And so, after extensive research. trial and error, I humbly submit a few tips and random findings: *Remember this is (and always will be) a work in progress.
1. A person must give you permission to speak into their life before you can have any impact on them. This permission will only be given when someone is convinced they are loved unconditionally FIRST before they are “preached at”.
Before you attempt to engage a person with the truths of Christ, You need to ask yourself a question. If this person never accepts Christ or changes their beliefs and behaviors, will you still love them?
2. The Gospel of Jesus is offensive, but you don’t have to be. You will probably never debate someone into the kingdom of God.
3. You can’t possibly know the answer to every question. If you don’t know the answer just say “Good question. I don’t have a fat clue! You’ve given me my next study-topic!”
People will respect you and come to you again if they think that you will be an honest resource for them.
3. Use the “back off method”. If you say, “Hey, let’s change the topic. I need to come up for air!” it gives the person the idea that you’re not there to “close the deal”. They will feel free to come back to you and your discussion with no pressure.
4. Honestly express your own failures, temptations and any lack of fulfillment in your own life. This will demonstrate that we will never know perfection and absolute fulfillment as long as we walk on this planet in our flesh. That’s one of the “perks” of heaven, This will also give the person permission to be honest about their own issues. Most importantly they will not see you as one of the many stereotypical, self-righteous Christians that seem to permeate the world today.
5. Ask many questions. Seek THEIR opinions. This shows that you have respect for them. You can gain incredible wisdom and perspective from people who’s beliefs are different.
Lastly, (for now) take the chance! Engaging with someone for the sake of Christ is an exciting adventure. Who knows? You might find a new friend in the process. And who doesn’t need another friend?
I’m more convinced than ever that this is the most effective way to reach people In this “post-modern/post-church” world. We must begin to engage people one-on-one or we will lose the battle for souls. And I do believe that it’s a battle but, we “Christian soldiers” need to march with sponges on our feet! Yes, the Gospel will step on their toes, but we are to learn how to wash their wounds as well.