Tripping over my words in a conversation with an unchurched friend
I'm back from my hiatus from blogging with a scary story for a Halloween day...
A couple of days ago I had a conversation with Mike, my favorite Sacramento barista, about what I do as a pastor. He's not a Christian, and I don't think he has a lot of church background. He asks great questions. As he was making a mocha for another customer, he inquired, "So do you... you know... preach?" It was like being asked if I pull kittens' tails and throw rocks at children.
I said, "I do preach, but at the same time I'm not sure how I feel about the word 'preach.' It carries a lot of baggage."
He said, "Yeah, like all that fire and brimstone. That's not good. Well, what do you do if you don't call it preaching?"
Quickly fumbling for a way to reinterpret preaching on the spot, I replied, "I help people imagine what it is to live a constantly improving life."
As he put the finishing touches on the mocha, he smiled and nodded. "Oh, that's good. I like that." Still, I walked away and thought, "Where did that come from?" Sometimes it's like that. You dare to engage a spiritual conversation and find yourself saying something you have never said before and barely even understand. God wants to use us to bring others to Christ. I have to look up to the heavens and say, "Good luck with all that."
Still, it was good to be talking about my faith with an unchurched friend. I think of D. L. Moody, who promoted practicing flawed evangelism over not practicing it at all.
Back to my explanation of preaching. It's woefully inadequate, mainly because I didn't say anything about unpacking the Scriptures or presenting Christ. That's the core of preaching. But in this particular conversation, I didn't feel it was time to go there. Mike knows I'm a Christian, and I follow Jesus. I was trying to avoid stereotypes and find some common ground that wouldn't alienate him from that and future conversations. If he thinks of preaching as yelling fire and brimstone messages at people, and I tell him I preach, does he then imagine me yelling at people? That's not what I do. It's something closer to helping people imagine a new way of life.
I also said to Mike "a constantly improving life." By those words I mean "following Jesus more closely every day and becoming more and more like him." I wish I had just said that, and I don't know why I didn't. I hope I get the chance to re-engage the conversation with him. Not that there's no truth to the words "constantly improving life." It's constant movement toward the ultimate standard of excellence: God as revealed in Jesus. It means none of us are ever finished products. We don't sit on our laurels. Even though we're as imperfect as my off-the-cuff explanation of preaching, we're always straining to go higher and further.