"This is gonna sound weird, and you might think I'm crazy. I was in here a while back and talked to a man. I don't know if he was connected to the coffee shop or just in here. He was a Christian man and he really encouraged me. I wasn't walking right and he told me I needed to turn and follow Jesus. Now I realize most of what I thought was important then really wasn't. And I'm trying to make the right choices. But it seems like the whole world is against me when I do. I just really need some encouragement, and I remembered this man. Do you have any idea who I'm talking about?"
His dress and his speech marked this young homeless man clearly as a schemer. Someone polished at saying the right thing to the right people to achieve what he desires. But such behaviors don't change overnight, so I try not to judge. As he talked about his conversation with this Christian man he'd met in the coffee shop, I recognized that he was referring to Jeff. So I called him. Within minutes, Jeff had arrived and sat down to chat. They visited for a while, and afterwards Jeff told me he honestly didn't remember the man at all. I had a vague recollection of the previous encounter. Jeff told the young man basically what he had before. Encouraged him to drop the schemes and follow God.
To an outsider, this probably seems odd. But similar occurrences are relatively common around here.
A couple of months ago, a fellow Christian who isn't part of our church brought a friend in to talk about basics of the faith. His friend was a relatively new believer who had just a surface knowledge of the Bible and the Christian faith. I sat down and talked with them for an hour or two, answering questions and inserting wisdom when I had it to offer. As they left, they expressed thanks for the opportunity to delve deeper.
Probably a week later, that newer believer came in on his own with more questions and concerns as he was settling into an understanding of what it means to walk with Christ. This whole matter of faith and relationship with God was still puzzling on many levels. Another hour session and he walked out the door, and at least to this point, out of my life.
An old friend whose life has fallen apart due to his personal decisions comes in occasionally to connect. Another friend who hasn't yet come to faith in Christ tells everybody I'm his pastor. A man who used to work in the neighborhood comes in to talk when he faces moral struggles. Yet another came in the week of the election and said "after this election, you're the first guy I wanted to talk to... I know you're levelheaded and can help me find perspective."
All of these are examples of one of those unmeasurable factors I think we need to consider as a requirement for success in ministry today. Faithful presence. All of the people I've referenced know that there's something special about Renaissance Cafe. They know it's a safe place where they'll be welcomed and encouraged.
I believe that God has called me to pastor not just a church, but a neighborhood. I believe that he's placed me here for just such opportunities. Not one of those has produced a new member or attender or supporter of my ministry. If I had a denominational report to fill out, there wouldn't be a spot for it on the form. But I am convinced that the Kingdom of God is built primarily in such exchanges. Whether it's encouraging a struggling believer, providing a moral anchor for those who don't believe or challenging mature believers, this kind of give and take makes a big impact. It's investing in people's lives. Which is ALWAYS investing in the Kingdom.
As I read the scriptures, it leads me to believe that we're all called to live this way.
What does faithful presence look like? It's putting down roots. It's knowing your neighbors. It's frequenting the same places over and over until you're known. It's intentionally developing relationships where you live, shop and work. And sticking with it for the long haul. It's making time for people.
And if enough people in our neighborhood buy into this idea, we can significantly impact the world...