You don’t know. I don’t either. Nobody does.
We never know what significance a given interaction with another person is going to have. A seemingly random question, a chance meeting, a minor tidbit of common experience...and without warning the mundane becomes noticeably not mundane.
Or maybe it doesn’t. Perhaps we never notice the moment of significance. Maybe we go through the rest of our lives without any awareness of what took place. The event which catalyses someone’s decision to pursue a new career, propose to that special someone or reorder everything in order to follow Jesus faithfully could happen under the cover of darkness...just as Jesus’ birth.
And sadly the moment that someone walks away from their marriage, falls off the wagon, gives up their investigation of Christ or walks away from the faith of their childhood can happen in just the same way.
Over the past few years I’ve had to learn to deal with rejection. Since being laid off in 2005 I have lost count of the number of search committees that have been kind enough to point out my faults and flaws...or just tell me they liked the other guy better. Then I started fundraising. That’s been fun too. Its kinda amazing how many different ways the human being can say no.
Now I’m a roofer, often going door to door asking people to trust me to rip the top off of their house. Occasionally they also say no. Maybe, just because this is all so fun, I'll get another part-time job as a census taker...
Needless to say, I’ve learned to deal with rejection. And yet it still bothers me when people are unnecessarily rude about it.
Recently I had a whole new experience. We’ve been working in the wake of hail storms for the past few weeks...and so have a million other roofers. Many homeowners have had 10 or literally even 20 different contractors knock on their door. When you’re number 17 they are often at the end of their patience. I understand.
Adam and I have decided to take a different approach. We are working as roofing contractors to support our mission work...maybe churches affected by the storms up here would be interested to know that.
So we’ve spent time mapping out churches in the area and try to visit around 20 each day. Some are small and don’t have anyone at the building during the day, so we leave our information and move on. Some tell us that they have contractors they work with but they will pass on our information to those who make the decisions. Some are actually very glad we’ve come by and begin making plans to connect us to the right people for further conversation. But there has been a disturbingly high number of others.
For some reason there are those who meet us at the door with a scowl and, even after hearing who we are and why we are there, dismiss us rudely. Then there was the guy who dismissively cut me off and said, “we are a large, established church. Our decision makers would never agree to sit down and listen to a... cold call.” He said this as though we were standing there getting leprosy on his nice furniture.
One secretary told me through the intercom that the pastor wasn’t in and she didn’t feel like getting up to come to the door, I could just leave my information in the mailbox and someone would get it eventually (that’s a quote). Another lady, I’m not kidding, put her hand over her eyes like a 2 year-old convinced that we wouldn’t be able to see her and refused to acknowledge the guys who stood at her door and knocked.
To put it bluntly, I’ve been extremely disappointed to see first hand evidence of Barna’s research which shows that Christians are not statistically different from the rest of society in most categories. (If you are unaware of these findings, check out www.barna.org and use the search bar to check out articles on a number of depressing studies...)
If you want to stick a Christian fish bumper sticker on your car, don’t cut people off in traffic. If you want to put a “God Bless This House” doormat a few feet away from your church’s bible study sign in your yard, don’t stand in that same yard and yell obscenities at your spouse. And if you are going to put a sign outside of a building that says words like “Christian” or “Church” then consider carefully the way you treat the people who come through your doors...assuming you have any doors that are unlocked for people to come through.
Scripture is clear that we, as citizens of a new kingdom, are to receive people - strangers and even enemies - with hospitality. In so doing we receive Christ in the same way. Then there’s the somewhat cryptic passage in Hebrews 13:2 that warns us we may have already “entertained angels without knowing it.”
We never know what effect a seemingly mundane conversation can have. Yesterday, we had a great conversation with a lady at a Lutheran Church. She didn’t seem all that interested in talking about roofing, but when she learned about my role as a church planter with a missional/incarnation interest she perked up. She was very excited to learn about my work at SMU. She commented how amazing it was that God brought us in at that time on that day because she was struggling with how to have these conversations with her mainline established church, and then asked if I'd be willing to come by some time and talk with her whole staff. If she’d dismissed us as so many others have done she’d never have known our common interest and passion nor the possible benefit of our interaction.
What a shame it will be if someone who has been asking questions about Jesus walks away because a person refuses to have even a moment of interaction to learn who they are! Likewise it is sad that some will likely form negative views of Jesus because someone who could have simply said, “No thanks,” chose instead to withhold basic respect.
I’ve had plenty of experience entering a church building as a minister, or sometimes as a Sunday morning visitor with family in tow. Today I have stood at the door and knocked as a dreaded “cold caller” and more than once received a very different sort of (un)welcome.
I can't help but keep asking, "What if it wasn't me? What if it was one of my non-Christian friends that I've prayed for and for whom I've spent so many hours pouring myself out? To what extent would this rude, self-satisfied person have just undermined our message of love and grace?"
Though I was certainly annoyed by these interactions, this isn’t a post about the mean people who hurt my feelings. This is about considering the implications of the labels we choose to accept. This is about welcoming strangers because hospitality is a central expression of the kingdom we proclaim. It is about recognizing that the seemingly insignificant conversation in which we have the chance to engage could be much more meaningful than we are able to see at the time.
And just FYI, I can still see you when you are hiding behind your hand.