For some reason coffee shops attract Christians. Throughout the day I see many pastors who are waiting to meet someone to talk over a cup of Joe.
The obvious explanation for this is the fact that there are few other public venues where pastors can meet someone other than a restaurant- and most pastors are fat enough, so if they can meet without eating all the better. The other reason for this is more of an inside story: after years of drinking terrible, motor-oil coffee before church services or at every church social, pastors are finally able to fill their caffeine fix with something that tastes much better than what they are used to.
You can tell you are serving a pastor by the look in their eye- probably the same look a hungry tiger gives to the child innocently playing in the jungle. Not only do they order the more boring drinks- being afraid of ordering the “wrong” thing- but they take a while with their order as they awkwardly attempt to start a conversation. Besides all of this, they don’t tip either- but that’s true of most Christians.
Sometimes, when a pastor is a regular, they start to feel more comfortable and will attempt to prolong the already uncomfortable conversation while you attempt to serve other customers. If the pastor is feeling particularly guilty for not evangelizing throughout the rest of the week, they will more directly attempt to spiritualize the conversation. Nothing is harder than attempting to be polite to your customer when someone else is trying to tell you what you are doing wrong and what you should be doing instead.
I know all of this because I used to do this when I was a pastor.
Our coffee shop is no different. There is one pastor in particular who embodies all of these attributes at the same time. As if it weren’t hard enough to work while someone is lecturing you, try doing it when they have a demand for a perfect drink- it has to be just the right temperature and sweetness.
Being a comfortable regular this pastor openly interjects spiritual content into his conversation. One day he proceeded to quiz the barista staff on their Bible knowledge: “What is John 3.16?” and the like. He also likes to randomly pepper his conversation with a “halleluiah” or “praise God.”
I tried to stay out of it. Not only didn’t I want to be associated with this fiasco, but I believe that evangelism is an opportunity you earn by loving someone. I couldn’t escape it, however, because the pastor turned to me and said, “You should be teaching these people scripture every morning!”
Now, before you do like me and curse this person in order to justify yourself at their expense, I want you to remember that he is attempting to evangelize the barista staff. I think we should give others, especially brothers in Christ, the benefit of the doubt. In this case this would mean that we have to assume his motives are pure and, as Paul says, at least the Gospel is being preached.
But what Gospel is being preached? Hearing this pastor attempt to evangelize the staff made me question the way I have attempted to evangelize others. Was I trying to convince someone of the existence of God or just trying to prove myself, right? Had I wanted someone to see the truth or just to show them that I knew more? I think so much of our evangelism is just an attempt to justify ourselves.
That was the case in the example of this pastor, wasn’t it? What was he showing the coffee shop staff by pointing out they didn’t know much about the Bible? He wasn’t giving them a heart for God or an interest in the Scriptures- he was only showing them they didn’t know as much as he did. Apparently, this didn’t justify him enough because he had to turn to me and blame their lack of biblical knowledge on my negligence. Like all forms of self-justification, this one didn’t satisfy.
My point here is not that we can all share in how terrible of an evangelist this one pastor was. I use this as an example for us to consider how we all do evangelism. When we attempt to share the Gospel, are we trying to prove ourselves right?
Some of this comes from a slavery mentality that many Christian’s suffer from already. They are burdened down by unattainable expectations, including the duty to evangelize their neighbors, so much that this can’t help but infect the way they share the Gospel. It’s almost a, “I’ve got to be miserable so you have to too.” Other times, especially when they see someone sinning evangelism becomes, “I can’t have any fun doing that, so I won’t let you either.”
Let’s not forget what “Gospel” means. “Gospel” is one of those Christianized words that has, in turn, lost all its meaning. “Gospel” is an old English word that has combined two separate words: “good” and “spell.” Put together, these words mean “good story” or “good news.” This is the exact meaning of the Greek word that Gospel is used to translate.
And it is good news! There is no better news, is there? Well, there is if the Gospel has become a series of things to do and not to do- God’s attempt to spoil all our fun. But if we return to the Scriptures and learn that we can’t obey the law at all so God has sent Jesus to die for our forgiveness and be raised for our justification we can remember why Jesus called it “good news.”
Only when we embrace the Gospel as good news will we be freed from trying to use evangelism to prove ourselves better than someone else and begin to love them. With the Gospel we have nothing to prove or lose. We don’t have to make people think we know more than them so that they will become a Christian. We can admit that we struggle with that same sin and have a hard time turning away from it. We can stop trying to prove the other person wrong and start to really love them. Then we will see some real evangelism begin and some hearts change at the same time.