I met an astrophysicist this weekend. That’s not something you can say everyday is it? Actually he is “just” a physicist at this point – he is working on adding the astro- part to it in pursuit of a doctorate. I am certain this guy’s intelligence exceeded mine by a factor I cannot even try to calculate… because, well… I’m not a physicist.
The thing I always love about meeting new people – and it is one of my most favorite things to do – is that I am always amazed how much common ground exists between all people regardless of background, race, creed, religion.
On the IQ scale as I said, I’m sure this guy is light years ahead of me… But in a 30 minute conversation over breakfast we discovered some stuff that lined up… we are both bass players, (I use that term very loosely for myself – as I own a bass guitar and amp and can fumble through songs if I have bass tablature in front of me and I was once in a band), we both have very eclectic music taste, we both love to travel, we both have amazing wives, and we both know Jesus. Hopefully, I will get to know him better over time on his journey to astrophysicist stardom (pun intended) and we will find even more things in common. It’s a shame he and his lovely wife don’t live closer to Cincinnati – I already had some amazing band ideas in mind for a double bass band…
The problem today is that too often we approach life with our heads down, shoulder to the grind stone, minding our own business, putting up walls and wearing armor all the time. In the process, we have stopped taking time to make new friends. Christians can be really bad about this actually. Not all certainly!! But a lot of times we get too focused on associating only with the right people… to avoid getting poisoned by un-godly influences.
That has created a negative image about us in society. It’s one of the reasons for the title of this website, Unlikely Pastor. So many times when I meet someone new – I hate the part where they ask me what I do for a living. I don’t hate to answer out of any shame over being a pastor… I love being a pastor! I sometimes hate to answer too early in the conversation because I know that a lot of times the tone is going to immediately change because they will view me as judgmental, easily offended, intolerant. For example, recently I ran into another parent I recognized from my kid’s school at a coffee shop and we struck up a conversation. It was super relaxed until he asked what I did… I momentarily thought about lying… But instead, because we shouldn’t lie, I said it… I’m a pastor. I could see it immediately in this guys eyes… “Oh man… I cussed in front of this guy…” He immediately apologized because he had said a (gasp!) expletive… No matter how I tried to get him to be at ease again – it was gone. The conversation ended.
Honestly, I would give anything for it to be more like the guy I had do some work on our house a few years ago. He showed up to give us an estimate and was at the house for a couple of hours… probably about 30 minutes of which was about the repair job we needed done… the rest of the time was just talking. He was hilarious and he cussed like a sailor. He actually put together word combos I don’t think I had ever heard prior to meeting him. We talked about music, movies, his family, my family, his painful divorce, our mutual loss of parents… and after about an hour he asked the question… “So, by the way, what do you do?” Gulp. I knew where this would go now… I was thinking of the uncomfortable silence that was about to ensue as he recalled every bit of colorful phraseology he had taught me in our conversation, and all of the painful apologies he was going to make… I couldn’t stand the thought of that so I tried to defer… I said, “oh I just work right up the road here… How long have you been doing home repair projects?” So sly, I thought!! He said, “oh about 8 years I guess” … then laughing he said, “so what the expletive do you do up the road?” Dangit! For an instant I thought about saying, “oh I just work …” but I knew it wasn’t going to work… and so I said, “oh, I’m a pastor.” He stared at me for a second… here we go, I thought to myself… the uncomfortable apologies and the end of our conversation… Instead, without batting an eye… He said, “No expletive!! I’m shocked that you’re a pastor! I thought all pastors were expletive uptight old men… you aren’t like any pastor I’ve ever seen before… I could go to your church… I probably won’t, but I could!!” and nothing changed… We still talked and he still cussed like a sailor and I told him about my journey to finding Jesus and It was the best experience. I vowed at that moment to always try to have that kind of conversation with everyone I meet.
Paul said this is in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV): 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I think Paul is essentially saying, be an “Unlikely Christian.” Do you know what I mean by that? People outside of a relationship with Jesus may already have a picture of Christians in their heads and you can argue all day long that their picture is wrong but in the end no one’s mind is going to ever be changed by words alone. They may have already experienced the judgmental, mean spirited, Bible thumping, fire and damnation crowd – either in person or on tv. Your words will never change their mind. They’ll have to truly experience an actual Christ Follower before they’ll ever change their minds about Christianity. They will have to experience that Christ Followers, as true representations of Jesus, don’t judge, don’t hate, don’t talk bad about others, don’t look down on others… that we do love everyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of the clothes they wear, regardless of their actions, their words, their activities. Does it mean to walk around living a lifestyle counter to the one Jesus set as an example for us? No… it means just be yourself… Approach life with a desire to make friends and let them experience the life you lead for God through your actions.
You have to be able to approach new encounters in a way that will be hard for some Christians to do… approach people with a simple desire to be a friend rather than a desire to “save” them. Like it or not – some people don’t believe they have anything to be saved from… and if you can’t be ok with them feeling that way, you are never going to get anywhere with anyone. I believe strongly that the Holy Spirit will always be able to do far more than I can and if I can just be me… and in the process be the loving hands and feet of Jesus… He will take it from there.
I hope that very soon each of you get to meet a cool astrophysicist Jesus Follower – as well as a cursing, godless electrician and that when they meet you, they meet someone who is easy to talk to, is full of love and is a true picture of Jesus.
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.