Yesterday evening my friend Matt and I visited a local pub/restaurant in Lewisville for an evening of fellowship, darts and watching the baseball All-Star Game on 60 inches of HD goodness. We set up at the back of the restaurant, next to the dart boards, ordered a specialty beer (they were $2) and some food and started playing. Darts are a new addition to my gaming repertoire and I really enjoy the challenge. It reminds me of baseball, especially pitching. You know how catchers put up their gloves right where they want the pitcher to throw the ball? Well, that’s darts in a nutshell. You see the think sliver of board under the number “1” and try to fire three steel-tipped darts into that sliver from 10 feet away. It’s quite a fun challenge. And I’ve showed that I got game.
Anyway, the beer was good, the fish and chips awesome, and the ballgame was starting when three other people, two guys and a gal, came over to start throwing darts on another board. At first I felt a bit encroached upon (my natural reaction) but as time went on they minded their own business while Matt and I ate and then played a game. The game was a snoozer, and when Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler pinch hit with the bases loaded, Matt struck up a conversation with a guy in the other party. “Oh no, not Kinsler!” the guy said, knowing that Ian has struggled to hit all season with men on base. “We all know how this is going to end up,” I commented. Can’t you sense the optimism in the air? Well, Ian failed but Matt kept talking. It’s his gift. He’s also persistent. Another gift. Eventually, darts became a side note and we started talking with the other folks about golf, baseball, the Rangers, and ideal vacation destinations. They were Gen-X just like us (me, at 35, more than Matt, 27).
Matt pursued the conversation more than I did and eventually he pointed towards me and told the other guy, “You know, John’s going on a mission to Scotland.” My heart stopped. So much for using tact! As expected, the reaction of the other guy to hearing this brought out a number of opinions about missionaries and preachers. I’ve heard them all before and anticipate hearing them again everywhere I go in Scotland. His reaction wasn’t positive. “No offense,” he started, looking at me in sincerity. I think he meant it in a socially-polite way. And that’s fine. I knew what was coming next, and I paraphrase: “I’m not a fan of the missionary preachers who are just thump their bibles and preach at you and stuff like that.” I think Matt realized that he stirred up something. I know I did. But we both honestly agreed. “I don’t either,” I said to the guy, knowing that I really have an adverse reaction to street preachers and their stereotypically forceful demeanor. Lifestyle evangelism is what I’m all about, so, if I could convince this guy that a Christian could be on mission for God and NOT be a bible thumper, that might be helpful. “No offense,” the guy continued, repeating this a few more times in my direction. I wasn’t offended. I was actually rather curious to hear what he had to say. Matt said something to him about helping people (I think) and the guy replied, “I mean I don’t have a problem with meeting the needs of poor people or, like actually helping them — that’s a good thing — but if they’re going to…” I can’t recall the rest, but I got the gist of what he was saying. Forceful judgmental evangelists are out. Loving, sincere people are all right. Matt and I both told him that we agree with meeting the needs of people and taking care of the poor. Eventually, the conversation turned to something else — golf, I think.
We ended up talking to the other party for about an hour, I think. Matt even got the guy’s Facebook info. My friend’s great with networking. He can enter a conversation with someone, cover five or six different subjects and become best buds within five minutes. It’s a real gift. As for me, I take the long route. I’ll shoot the breeze for a while before getting deeper in a conversation. And I like to allow conversational room to breathe, so to speak. My natural response to social situations is introverted, so it takes some time to come out of that shell and be bubbly and crazy and extroverted. I think that’s why I dislike being in large groups, whether at a Christmas party or a large dinner. I have an introversion/extroversion threshold that must be met. Or so it seems. Personal contact is everything to me and I can’t get that when in a large group.
I learned several things from last night’s experience about living missionally (living in a cute awareness of and desire to participate in the mission of God, which is His loving pursuit of all people so they might come to faith in Jesus).
- Having a “Matt” around is a good thing. Extroverts and conversation starters have a valuable role to play in witnessing. They can not only strike up a conversation, they can sustain it.
- That even without a “Matt,” everyday things like sport or drink can be a conversation starter. All it took last night was a baseball game. Someone made a comment, Matt and I responded, and, bingo, a dialogue was established.
- That the age of “street preaching” and “door-to-door” proselytizing is coming to an end. At least with my generation, it is. We’re sick of people pushing stuff on us, especially religion. We want to see someone love us, not judge us. And unless we’re convinced that you care, your words have no meaning to us. This is the generation’s attitude. That’s why Christian Associates advocates the planting of “missional communities” that move into the neighborhood and establish roots with people and places. We seek to love people until they either ask why or want to join us. We live the gospel openly — no hiding — but we let our lifestyles and attitudes reflect a life of grace and love that the world cannot offer.
It was supposed to be a simple fish-and-chips, beer, darts and baseball night. I’m glad it wasn’t.