Earlier today I asked for people in the service industry to share their horror stories of "Christians behaving badly," who might have left a tract instead of a tip, or who showed a bad side to the watching world. The responses were quite surprising. One person shared watching a friend throw a Whopper at Burger King because it had onions, after leaving Bible Study. Another that everyone in their restaurant hated working Sunday lunch. One person was yelled at in a drive through. And the best/worst was someone being told to "make the snow disappear, and I hope someone is praying for you because I'm sure not!"
When I worked for a large Seattle-based coffee chain, we were yelled at for not saying "Merry Christmas" and for our cups not featuring baby Jesus. One time I was told by a colleague "That's how you say Happy Birthday to Jesus, yell at people. Nice."
At a huge pastor's conference, the organizer got up on stage and told the crowd of thousands "We are so glad that you are here. But the servers and baristas in this town hate you because of how cheap you are. Fix that. Today."
Not all Christians are bad tippers or bad customers. But when we hear these stories, we cringe because of what we know Jesus had to say about his followers. In Matthew 5 we're called "salt of the earth" and "light of the world." We're uniquely placed in the world to bless it, to bring good, to shine light in the darkness. And all our good works, our kindness, our generosity, and our love is done so that "they will see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
Did you ever think about that for a minute? That the way you interact with other people can be a springboard to their faith, to their worship of Jesus? That's powerful.
To that end, let me challenge us as pastors: teach and model what it means to be the picture of kindness to others. That includes being on a support call when you've been on hold an hour. Or when your coffee order gets messed up (I had a pastor's wife once snap back at me for messing up her coffee, good times). Or when your steak is medium instead of medium rare.
Why pursue the picture of kindness? Because the way we act can point people to Jesus. You'd be surprised how far a little kindness goes. We've been fortunate over the years to have incredible conversations with servers and others we've encountered just by being kind to them. Whenever we go out to eat, our goal is to best reflect Jesus in the way we interact with others. Sure we ask for extra napkins or refills or have a ton of questions because we have picky kids. But our goal is to be kind in everything we do.
How can you as a pastor encourage your church to kindness as a springboard for Gospel witness? Let me propose 4 ways.
1. With a tract, leave a (bigger) tip - Servers will tell you how many times they've been stiffed for a tip so they could get a Gospel tract. I encourage you to leave them. Leave a contact card for your church and a note inviting the server to worship. But pair that with a generous tip. For us, 18% is the starting point (it's easy math, triple the tax minus a dollar).
2. Offer to pray - It's a non-confrontational question. When you leave your barber or your coffee place, ask if there's anything you can pray for. In almost every instance, you'll get something. Not only have you been kind, you've ministered. That also means follow up. Talk to them next time you come in, ask how <whatever it was you prayed about> is going.
3. Be patient - A lot of times after church it's second nature to want to grab lunch. Guess what, you and a lot of other people had the same idea! Patience is important so you don't compromise your witness. When the restaurant or salon or coffee shop is slammed, patience is what can open a Gospel door for you.
4. Pray for and Expect open doors - Whenever we pray for times to have Gospel conversations, we need to meet that with an expectation they will actually happen. This is where we have to be aware of what's going on around us--passing comments, body language, the wear of stress in someone's eyes. When we're seeking open doors for Gospel conversations, we should recognize them when they drop in our lap. That only happens when we actually expect them to!
What do you do to help bear witness to your faith in Christ with others, especially in the retail & customer service world?
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.