As I lurched forward over my small metal cart full of groceries, I instinctively tucked in my left elbow and braced for impact. The birds kept singing, oblivious to my impending doom; nearby cars honked and hurried to important destinations. The approaching sidewalk pavement stared at me with a gritty, menacing smile in the form of cracks and general disrepair. My momentum carried me forward. I felt nothing; then everything in quick succession as I tucked and rolled. Quietness, then pain. Frustration, then gratitude, realizing nothing was broken, although I did sustain minor bruising. In that moment all alone on the ground, with peanut butter and bread spread across the sidewalk alongside cans of soup, a package a skinless chicken, plus bags of spinach and lettuce among sundry other items, a car stopped near me.
A woman rushed to my side. She identified herself as a registered nurse. She insisted I rest for a moment while she ascertained my condition. Then she gathered up my groceries and packed them back into the basket, asking me if I needed further assistance. After I thanked her and pointed out that my home is just a hundred yards away, she left.
It occurred to me once again as it has so often in the past: I am alone, but I am not alone. Although this event happen two years ago, it remains fresh in my mind today. It encourages me to do life on purpose, seeking ways to encourage others and to find ways to enter into community with them.
So I continue leading kids church twice per month, I enter into conversations with my apartment neighbors, I befriend bus drivers and fellow travelers throughout the city, I know my local grocers, the Starbucks baristas, my hair stylists, the gas station attendants who fill up my work truck, the workers at my local goodwill who wave each time I come in to find a new treasure, the warehousemen and customer service staff at local flooring vendors, fellow truck drivers, and so on. Just now as I wrote this paragraph I shared a laugh and brief conversation with a lady whose dogs were curious about my activities outside this Starbucks.
By doing life on purpose with a view toward becoming a Christlike witness, mission moves from merely marketing Christian information to incarnating the life and work of Christ through authentic relationships which inspire new friends to dare ask of the hope which they perceive in you.
I contend that it is bolder to befriend a person with an attitude of genuine interest and posture of listening and learning, than it is to preach at her with no clue as to her story. Likewise, it is more redemptive to inspire questions from her about your hope in Christ, then it is to proclaim your doctrine in a manner disrespectful to her struggles, however unintentional it might be.
Proclamation is important, yes. But base it on relationship, preferably friendship. Evangelism should not be like a marketing call center which is satisfied with a 2% success rate based on voluminous contacts. It should be committed to long-term conversation as providence supplies the opportunities.
This requires commitment to doing life on purpose, particularly despite criticism from some within the Church leadership establishment who prefer their paradigms and programs to real relationships in a messy world. It calls for vulnerability. It will probably cause pain. Mission was never intended to be for our pleasure or comfort. It’s intended to proclaim Christ and alleviate spiritual, emotional and physical suffering.
Are you in?