He came to our church one Sunday morning accompanied by his wife and children. A friend had recommended us, and they'd come for a visit. Since I'd never seen him before, I moved quickly to introduce myself and make sure they met several other people who could make them comfortable. • First impression: late thirties, a bit reserved, comfortable in his own skin, at ease when meeting new people. • Over the next few weeks, our paths crossed several times. He and his wife not only came to worship services, but they lingered in the Commons where people drank coffee and enjoyed extended conversation. It was clear that they were soon making friends. • Where were they in terms of faith? I had no idea, so I decided to find out by inviting him to breakfast at the Egg Shell Restaurant, my usual meeting place.
When we met there, I started with my favorite question. "Would you tell me the main events in your life story in three minutes?" The crazy question always elicits laughter, but is followed by a serious attempt to do just that: summarize life's highs and lows.
In this case, the lows involved a horrific childhood only barely survived. Highs: a wise decision in finding a good wife and a business that was doing quite well.
Spiritually, the present moment was one where there were questions about life's future direction. Thus the decision to try church for the first time.
Then he turned the question on me. "So what's your life story … in three minutes?" I swallowed my own medicine and offered it. He asked me about my job, and I described what was important to me and why I liked what I did. He appeared interested in everything I was saying, and I felt that he was measuring everything I said to see if it could fit into his experience.
There were one or two further breakfasts. I came to see him as a Nicodemus: a good man looking for a better grasp of what it means to have God in his life.
My early training in evangelism—had I applied it—would have led me to immediately ask my new friend "to accept Christ." As a college student, I had been one of those many who often fanned out across the campus using clever methods to pull people into a conversation intended to culminate in their saying a prayer that led to the promise of eternal life.
In those early days, I'd seen many pray the prayer, but I'd not seen many people stick with the implications of the prayer. When told afterwards that some form of church might be involved, that Bible study might come into play, that relationships of one kind or another might be expected, they tended to drift away. Free pass to heaven, no strings attached, was one thing; this version of eternal life with all its fine print was too costly. They said, in effect, you should have told me that stuff before.
So I didn't follow this protocol at the Egg Shell Restaurant. I chose another way. One morning I said to my stranger-become-friend: "I have a thought for you. Since you're so interested in what I do, I want you to consider giving me six weeks. Meet me at church each Sunday at 7:45 a.m. and shadow me until Gail and I leave the church at about 12:45. Sit next to me on the front row, eavesdrop on every conversation unless I have to ask you to step aside, follow my sermon with a copy of my notes that I'll give you. Ask me any question you can think of during the morning. Oh, and I might occasionally ask you to do some little thing for me like getting a drink or carrying a message to someone. Let me know if you'll do it."