The instigator?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 April

Why I keep winding up in conversations with strangers about Jesus.

I have a lot of stories in which I’m talking with strangers about Jesus, Christianity, the church, and so forth.

Because of this, y’might get the wrong idea about me—that I’m the one initiating these conversations. That I’m one of those evangelists on the prowl. You know the type of person: If they’re not selling Jesus, they’re selling something, be it cars or timeshares or herbal supplements. In their case they just happen to be pitching salvation.

You’ve met ’em when you were minding your own business at the coffeehouse, nursing a mocha and trying to get a grip on the day. Suddenly one of these yahoos nudges into your “me time” and tries to talk about the eternal destination of your immortal soul. Like you’re ready for deep stuff at that point in your day.

But nope, this isn’t me.

You can probably tell I don’t care for that type of evangelist. I don’t care for that type of salesperson either. Likely neither do you. I’m fine with them on the street corners or outside the grocery stores, asking permission to pitch their ideas, sign their petitions, or buy their Girl Scout cookies. I expect ’em there; I’m fine with them there; sometimes I look for them there when I’m in the mood for Thin Mints.

I’m not fine with them when they’re trying to sell me Jesus in the coffeehouse. And I don’t do that to people either. Ten times out of ten I’m also minding my own business.

Since I’m not a sociopath, I’ll be friendly and accommodating to others: No I’m not in line; yes you can take that extra chair; let me step aside so you can reach the half and half; yes that is a 20-year-old iBook I’m typing on and no it doesn’t get wifi anymore; yes you have seen me somewhere around town before; excuse me but your phone is catching fire.

They strike up the conversations. And since Jesus takes up a significant chunk of my life, if they ask about my life they’re gonna hear about Jesus.

That’s all I do. That’s all anyone need do.

Why your methods feel artificial.

The reason why sharing Jesus feels so strange and foreign and uncomfortable to so many Christians, is because they’re trying so hard to artificially instigate things. They’re trying to start something instead of letting things just naturally start. (Or, since I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit likes to stir the pot in most of these situations, letting things just supernaturally start.)

Look, if you wanna instigate stuff, I already told you: Street corners and outside the stores. Since you’re nonprofit, you can usually go to public parks and squares as well. Set up a stand, put up a sign, and promote Jesus. I’ve done it; you’ll get a lot of people to stop and talk about Jesus. (Especially when you offer ’em free candy.) Wireless companies do it all the time to get people to switch their mobile phone plans; far better that people switch religions. It’s how the apostles did it, Ac 17.17 and it still works.

The problem is some Christians don’t wanna do that. Sometimes they get it in their heads that the public-square methods don’t work anymore. It’s not because they’ve tried it and it didn’t work; it still totally works. But they think they need to try something different. Or need to try to reach all the people who don’t go to the grocery store. Are there such people? Yes; they’re called shut-ins. We usually reach ’em through TV, radio, and internet.

But these Christians wanna try something new. It’s not all that new; it’s basically trying to have one-on-one encounters with people and steer the conversation towards Jesus. Advertisers started calling this technique “stealth marketing” or “buzz marketing”: They’re trying to promote their thing without people quite realizing that’s what they’re up to. Because people really don’t appreciate it once they recognize what’s going on. It feels like a scam.

And it is a scam. Redirecting a conversation is taking advantage of people’s goodwill to push your agenda. Just because it also happens to be Jesus’s agenda doesn’t justify it to anyone: They don’t appreciate you trying to sell ’em something they don’t want. They don’t wanna be proselytized.

Would you like it if a friendly, casual conversation with a stranger turned into an urgent pitch to buy household products? Or to visit their ashram? When in doubt, ask yourself if you’d appreciate it if someone from another religion—a Muslim or Mormon—tried the same techniques on you?

Oh, you’d hate it? Well then.

Become the right person.

Whereas what I’m doing isn’t artificial. Other people start a conversation with me, ask me what I’m up to, and I tell ’em. Like I said, Jesus takes up much of my life, so he’s gonna naturally come up in conversation. If people see me using my Bluetooth keyboard on my phone and wanna know what I’m writing, it’ll usually be a religion piece or one of these blog articles—so I’ll tell them. Hey, they asked.

I’ll tell them what I’m up to, but I don’t proselytize. I’m trying to be purely informative. I might ask ’em where they go to church, and if they don’t go, I won’t push, “Well you have to go to church, so come to mine.” If they misunderstand Jesus, I’ll try to explain him as best I can. If they wanna pick a fight about religion, I’ll try not to take the bait. If they have questions, I have answers—and frequently they do have questions. The Holy Spirit has a way of bringing people to us to specifically talk about such things. They might’ve prayed, “God, I have so many questions; bring me to the right person,” and sometimes that’ll be us.

But first we’ve gotta become that right person. Get to a point in your life where you’re always ready to talk about Jesus, 1Pe 3.15 especially because you’re always busy doing his good works. Ep 2.10 Work on your character so that instead of being the argumentative Christian jerk who keeps turning the good news bad, you got the fruit of the Spirit and will act as kind and gracious and patient as Jesus does.

Be that right person. Then watch the Spirit bring you people. You won’t even have to seek ’em out.

But you are gonna find it tricky to get your articles done in the coffeehouses. As problems go, that’s kinda minor. Well, unless you’re writing them at the last minute. Don’t do that.