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Pastors often struggle with feeling isolated from the world. They are in meetings with Christians, counseling Christians, preparing sermons and lectures, developing leaders, and before long find that they have very little interactions with people outside of the church. To whom, outside of the church, do we testify that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life? It's a questions we should all ask ourselves regularly. And while preaching before the congregation on Sunday is one of the ways we can "do the work of an evangelist" I believe much more is required of us. And this is not just a problem among church leaders. Christians too often isolate themselves from the world by only interacting with and investing in other Christians.
I believe we would see greater fruit in our churches and the work God has called us to if more of us (especially our pastors) would be out and about in the cities we live. Of course, it won't be enough to be out there, we need to intentionally connect with other people, build friendships, and share both our lives and the good news of the Gospel. But what seems to be more common is for Christians to post up in a coffee shop and either have their heads buried in a book or a laptop, or they are only interacting with other Christians.
Over the span of five short posts I would like to encourage you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and into different places in your neighborhood where you can begin to be salt and light in relatively easy ways. I'm talking about finding those "third places" where people gather socially. These are the easiest places for us to to become a part of a group outside of the church. This can be a barber shop, bowling league, coffee shop, comic book store, local diner, gym, or, as it happens to be in my case, a cigar shop. This is where I will be drawing some of my lessons from, but they are lessons that are transferable to most any other third place. These are just summaries of the posts. I encourage you to read them in their entirety at my blog.
5 Lessons I Have Learned from the Cigar Shop
It is easy to be “present” without participating in a given community. Take out your earbuds, stop thinking of a third place as your second office, and start thinking of it as a living room. It’s a shared space. Join conversations. Start them! Invite people into your life where you are. You’ll be surprised at their response.
2. Make Friends Not Projects
People can tell if your only agenda is to see them come to church or join your religion. I know that’s not how you’d say it, but that’s how they see it. Of course the Christian’s greatest desire to see Jesus believed on in the world by every person. But we are called to love our neighbors, and this includes befriending others. Yes, we will share the gospel with them. Well, we will if we truly love them. But regardless of how they respond we will invest in them as people worth knowing and loving.
3. Listen, Learn, Then Speak
Christians have something to say. Some Christians have too much to say. It would do all of us well when trying to step into our cities to build relationships and bear witness to the truth of the gospel to listen first, and speak second. This is not a call to timidity, but an encouragement to seek to know and understand the people God has called us to speak to.
4. Maintain a Public Faith
No matter how patient we are,and how friendly we want to be with those outside of the Kingdom of God, we still must tell them the truth of Jesus Christ and maintain a public faith without embarrassment. To hide your faith, and to hold back the claims and invitations of Jesus is to do harm to your neighbor.
5. No Boasting or Bemoaning in Cards or Life
Be willing to learn from those around you. Your friends, yes your non-Christian friends, have much to offer you. While you are among them be open to the truth they have come to understand, for all truth is God’s. While learning to play cards in the cigar shops the etiquette of card playing wound up reflecting some Christian values that encouraged me quite a bit.
Please, my friends, get out among the people. Participate, make friends, listen, speak, and learn. God will use you in ways you may not expect.
Joe Thorn is Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL and blogs at joethorn.net. His book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, was released through Crossway/ReLit. You can follow him on Twitter @joethorn.