Two new visitors came in to our church service this morning and took a seat after we were well underway. We had already finished praise and worship, special singing, and announcements. After the ladies sat down, we took prayer requests, and I started my sermon.
At the end of the service, I walked to where the ladies were standing, introduced myself, and started to get to know them. They told me that they are with the group of Buddhists who meet at Ijams Nature Center. I mentioned the name of their group leader, Ike. I think they were surprised that I knew his name. I told them I had not met him yet but had been looking for that opportunity. Ike arrives early, and he is already in meditation by the time we come to set up for church.
The ladies said that when their meeting was over, they were curious about our church service and decided to visit. I told them they were welcome anytime, but what I really wanted was for us to be good neighbors. I think that was not the kind of response they were not expecting to hear, and they received it well.
This type of engagement is typical of how I want our church to interact with people that we meet. I did not put up a wall when the ladies told me they were with the Buddhist group. I did not make snap judgments about their character. I did not take a position that their life choices were wrong and that they should disconnect from their group. I did not criticize their religion.
The experience today reminded me of an article that my wife forwarded to me this week on Facebook called, "10 Things You Won’t Find in a Church That Attracts Millennials" When I first saw it, I only took time to skim it. This afternoon, I read the article in its entirety. Here is the article she sent me.
My core values, and those that I want for Spirit and Truth Fellowship of Knoxville, are in direct opposition to the ten characteristics described in the article. I believe that item number eight, "Culture is viewed as the enemy", is the one applies in the case of my conversation with the two ladies today.
In the United States of America, our culture is shaped by the melting pot of people from all over the world. European settlers were among the first, and they brought Christianity to America. But people from the Far East immigrated here in the 1800s through West Coast ports and brought the influences of Eastern religions. In more recent decades, there has been an increase of immigrants from countries where Islam is the dominant religion. To be an American is to be connected with people of all faiths who are our neighbors and fellows citizens.
Of course, I would like to see everyone that I meet come to the saving knowledge of faith in Jesus, but that is not something that will be accomplished in a combative confrontation. If you are a Christian, then your calling is to be a living witness of Jesus, who ate with publicans and was a friend of sinners. It is important to see people as people first. Get to know who they are. Make opportunities for friendly, social interaction. If they see Jesus in your life, then perhaps they will want the same light in them that shines in you.