One of the most freeing experiences I have ever had in terms of learning how to share faith with people came about twenty years ago.
We were down in Hollywood a block or two off the famed walk of stars. I was part of a group that was supposed to go out into the street and share Jesus with people.
Before we were sent out in twos and threes, we had a little training. The person who was helping prepare us said to us that everyone has a barrier between themselves and God. Call it sin. Call it separation. Call it rebellion. Call it whatever you want. When we interact with others in Jesus’ name, we either help diminish that barrier or we make it larger. If we sense that we are creating more separation, we are free to walk away. God will use someone else in a different way at a different time. I found that permission to disengage exceptionally gracious and liberating. It became all the more true as I saw someone flagrantly violate that premise and erect a twelve-foot electrified fence later on that day.
All of us have places we work and places we play that are uniquely attached to us. Our jobs and callings (vocations) and hobbies and recreations (avocations) are in large part who we are in the world. Throughout our time in these places, we encounter many who need Jesus. Will we be open to God working through us to deconstruct barriers and help facilitate salvation?
“I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22b, NRSV)
Paul, I don’t buy it. It is too hard some days just to be who I am already supposed to be. Are we really to believe that you existed as an evangelical chameleon? Did you really shape-shift at will and through that brought so very many to salvation? Maybe you did. I don’t think most of us can. Beyond that I don’t think most of us should.
We are people who have been called to particular tasks and vocations. We grow in ability and fluency in the trade parlance over years of apprenticing and experiential learning. Our avocations are just as drenched in specialized skills and insider talk. It is no little thing to enter into our worlds and do the things that we do day in and day out. Perhaps God wants to use us–this very day–right where we are.
One of the premises of Peer Ministry is that people often seek out their peers for comfort and solace. People naturally forego counselors, clergy, doctors, therapists, etc., and talk to the person who works in the next cubicle or drives the next shift or brings their kids to the same playground. The task of Peer Ministry is to equip as many people as possible so that in such cases, there are deployed people with some training and some ability to engage compassionately and refer to the appropriate professionals when that need arises.
God has great work to do in the world. Some of it can only be done or is best done in the context of worship and structured instruction at the congregational level–this is most certainly true. God has so much more work to do–and much of it can only be done or is best done in the context of trusted relationships, shared contexts and long hours spent together over the projects at hand.
All of us are called into the priesthood of all believers. All of us have seeds of faith to sow. All of us have faith growing into our lives. The bumper-sticker platitude: “Bloom where you are planted” takes on a new life if we think of the blooming as Christian spirituality coming to bear and we realize that the plant we are talking about may well be the industrial plant where we earn our pay or the community garden where we burn off our stresses and reconnect with God and others.