by McKenzie Hahn
“You perform the way you practice.”
Ever witnessed someone doing something they’re passionate about – a hobby, a career, a sport, a pet cause, a caring act of service – and been completely enthralled not just by what they’re doing but by how they’re doing it?
On the other hand, have you ever witnessed someone who had all the passion and gusto for a certain subject but seemed clueless as to how they were coming across to the people around them? (Arrogant, tunnel-visioned, insensitive, boring?)
In high school I played several instruments in marching, jazz, and concert band and our conductor repeated a frequent mantra in our ears: we perform the way we practice, and vice versa. Our band room sat across the hall from the stage, where we squeezed in as much practice as possible to get used to the acoustics, the smells, the temperature, and the environment before “it counted,” before concert season began. Little things like stage lights, uniforms, and risers gradually found their way into our rehearsal routine when it became clear that we could play our pieces backwards and forwards in our sleep and still maintain our sound quality and tempo as a team.
Such is the way of the church, or should be. Gone are the days when it was enough to put on your Sunday best, sing some songs to Jesus, and visit the neighbours with casseroles once a week. In the downtown cores of Canadian cities, as in that dimly-lit auditorium of my youth, all judging eyes are on us, and the world is waiting to hear what we have to say: a truth that changes lives and redeems people, or so we thought, right? Of course, there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you’re already convinced that something needs to happen. But how do you talk to someone and fulfill the Great Commission when it seems that opportunities for such conversations have all but dried up?
Here are a few simple ideas to get you started, assuming you’re already reading and studying your Bible, involved in a small group, and praying for your city regularly:
1.) Practice Hospitality
After seven years of attending and observing various outreach-focused events and programs put on by churches (yes, even the ones waving the “authenticity!” banner), meant to encourage non-Christians to come to faith in Christ, I’ve found that the deepest conversations about God and truth often happen either over a series of several good meals, when both parties have the chance to think without needing to watch the clock. Of course connections can happen at these events, but depending on how traumatic or damaging someone’s story is, it generally feels less contrived when it happens on their own terms.
I realize this comes from someone who invests a lot of time in Christian conferences and courses, however, we as the church still must do the heavy lifting before anyone we know actually comes to them! And mind your manners: learn to ask how people like their coffee or tea, and to pour it without spilling it in their lap. Pick up their plate when they’re finished, or stay later to help with dishes or the garbage. It really is the little things that make people feel cared-for.
2.) Learn Something New
Some favourite pet topics among my circle of friends are preborn rights, post-abortion ministry, politics, evidence for the resurrection of Christ, moral relativism, philosophy, logic, intelligent design, irreducible complexity, and fiscal conservatism. Staying humble gets difficult the more you know, and requires a push or shove out of your comfort zone to remind you that you, in fact, do not have all the answers (!). For example, I’m currently researching storm water management techniques and sediment control for work, and it helps me realize that although I don’t know everything, neither does anyone else.
We’re all beginners at something, we all have to work at it, and this helps us relate to people who have never heard certain terms or concepts, especially those related to Christianity and the Bible. At my job, engineers have shorthand terms for their scope of expertise (usually acronyms), and frankly, it reminds me of the first time I heard the word “propitiation” thrown around in a church service as a freshly laundered Christian. Where possible, break it down. Life is complicated enough already.
3.) Be A Reader
It should go without saying, but in order to learn, you must feast on answers outside of your own head. Leave books lying around that you will actually read. Years ago, before I was a Christian, I brought a copy of the Da Vinci Codewith me on a plane and a possibly-well-intended-but-unfortunately-misguided woman hissed loudly, for everyone around us to hear, “That book is blasphemy!” I had no idea what that word meant, but it conjured up images of witch hunts. “It’s published under fiction?” I squeaked, not sure how she’d react.
In the time since, my memory of how our conversation ended eludes me, but her reaction remains crystal clear, all because I opened up a book. Imagine if I’d simply asked, “Which part of the book are you referring to? Have you read it?”
4.) Stay Curious About People
I’m not sure if there’s a formula for curiosity, but we teach every first-year sociology student to “see the unfamiliar in the familiar.” Why do people do what they do? What do they seem to value above all else? What goes unnoticed or neglected about them? What encourages them? What intrigues you about them?
5.) A Final Word About Respect
Everywhere I go lately, especially for work, someone mentions the buzzword “integrity,” but in an odd sense of the word. I’ve heard it used to mean honesty and hard-working, but it goes much deeper. It also means actively pursuing opportunities to make yourself indispensable to those around you. Find out what they need, and provide it. You won’t believe the conversations that happen when people know they can trust you.