Yesterday, we had one of those worship services where not much went according to plan. The music team had to redo their set at the last minute. I lost my lapel microphone. While presenting a “Distinguished Service Award” to a lady in my congregation, I dropped the certificate and broke the beautiful frame I had bought for her. Our attendance was low. You know, one of those Sundays.
But then after church, we had our “Year End Meeting” where we celebrated the end of another fiscal year and all that we accomplished. That went really well.
Around 1:45, as we were preparing to leave I walked into the middle of a room where children were playing “keep away” with a hat. The hat randomly landed in my hands and I knew just what to do. The wind was blowing at 20 miles per hour outside, so I charged into the parking lot with a group of kids in tow and threw the hat like a frisbee into the wind which carried it several meters out into our field. The kids were yelling and giggling as they raced out after it.
Then I turned around to see a parked car behind me with the engine running. The car was a generic, gray, four door sedan and I didn’t recognize it as belonging to any of our church people. Without gazing too awkwardly I tried to get a good look at the driver but could only see that he was wearing a gray suit and was looking at a phone in his lap.
I went inside and peered back out. The children were running in from the field with the retrieved hat. The man sat in the car. He looked lost. So I walked towards his window. As I did he turned the engine off and climbed out of his car. He was younger than I had expected and definitely not one of our regular attenders.
“Do you need help finding anywhere?” I asked because he looked very uncomfortable and very lost.
“No, I think that this is maybe where I want to be. Are your meetings going on right now?”
“Meetings” is one of those words in Utah that definitely indicates a Mormon.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “We meet at 11 but we had a lunch meeting after our regular worship time today so we are all still here.”
“Well, I am LDS” he continued, “but I am curious about other faiths and religions and wanted to come to one of your meetings to see what it is about.”
I invited him into our building and we talked for a half hour as I gave him a tour, of both our facilities and of the Nazarene culture and polity. He was full of questions about everything from worship and sacraments to pastors and missionaries to even hymns and choruses. I managed to find out that he is a young, single realtor who still lives with his parents up on the hillside above our church. He spoke about himself very cautiously, which led me to believe something else was going on. I couldn’t put my finger on it and didn’t want to be too forward, asking something ridiculous like, “Why are you really here?” So I stuck to the surface stuff.
In the end we exchanged phone numbers. He all out guaranteed me that he was going to come to our church next Sunday and then drove away with one of our hymnals and a copy of one the Jesus films that he grabbed off of our bookshelf.
Things like this have happened so many times throughout my ministry that I know not to be too hopeful. Awhile back I had a very similar experience with a Mormon teenager who was sitting in our front field crying after church one Sunday. He said he was going to come to our church but we never saw him. I regularly meet people of all religious affiliations and walks of life who downright promise me they will come to our church “this next Sunday, right at 11 o’clock.” I never ask them to come but for some reason they always promise to anyway. Then they never show up. Even our city’s mayor has made those promises and has yet to fulfill them!
Yet yesterday as I watched him drive away, I couldn’t help but be filled with hope regardless. As the day went on I found my mind racing with the exciting possibilities.
My hope is not shallow. New church attenders are nice. Sometimes they bring friends who stick around and that is nicer. Sometimes they share awesome testimonies that are fun to brag about at District Assembly. Sometimes they even buy into your church, heart, soul, mind and strength. They not only start showing up but they start giving of their money and their time. That is always really cool.
But none of those things is what I am hoping for.
My hope is that he and I will become friends. I hope we can regularly meet for lunch or coffee. I hope we can go see movies together. I hope that our friendship spans decades and is not one where I lecture him about “true Christianity” while he asks for pastoral advice about love, marriage, family, finances and emotional health. My hope is that as we meet and talk, that we will both be formed and shaped into the image of Christ. My hope isn’t that I would “save” him but that as we form a true friendship God would save us both.
I have that hope often whenever these random encounters happen. It has almost never worked out. Most times I never see the person again. Sometimes they become acquaintances whom I occasionally see at the grocery store. Only two or three times have they turned into true friends.
But those two or three times are more than enough to keep me hoping.