When Pastor Elijah Mwitanti was between pastoral calls, he took a job as an Uber driver for 18 months and quickly realized he had a new mobile congregation.
“Trying to satisfy the ‘friendly atmosphere’ aspect of the [Uber] contract brought the pastor in me out into the open” Mwitanti realized. God had put him in that car and at that time “to be a connection between people and God” (Living Lutheran, April 2018, 40).
Here are the lessons he learned through the experience:
- People were willing to engage in meaningful and uplifting conversations when approached in a nonjudgmental way.
- People were more responsive to small talk than he expected.
- People had an interest in knowing about him.
- People were receptive to his comments about his faith.
- People were civil and respectful.
Mwitanti returned to the pulpit with a greater sense of appreciating the need to connect with people on a personal level, not being afraid to initiate conversations with whoever entered through his church door.
Mwitanti’s experience makes me realize that I am often reticent to approach people in church to start conversations. But that may just be what God is calling me to do at that time and that place. People are more open and welcoming than we may think, and there is so much we can learn from each other about our faith lives and about what our Savior has done and is doing.
It often takes just one simple conversation starter to get the ball rolling. See what you can do to be a God connector with someone you don’t know at church.
Pastor Diane Roth recounts the story of how a friend of hers was touring cathedrals in Spain, and the tour guide cautioned to beware of thieves. So in the middle of a cathedral, the friend was startled by a woman who approached her with some words and a hand outstretched. The friend remembered the warning and shrank back. Only later did the friend realize that the woman was saying, “La paz de Dios,” the peace of God. She was sharing the peace (Christian Century, March, 14, 2018, p. 23).
Several thoughts come to mind as I consider this story. How often do I hesitate to share the peace of God with others during the passing of the peace in church because of how people look or how people approach me or how I am feeling? There are multiple barriers that we ourselves throw in our own paths that prevent us from fully sharing the peace of God with others. We need to stop shrinking back, but reaching out to those we see in church who may be sitting alone or visiting or just unknown to us.
The other thought that comes to mind is that the peace of God can often surprise us and present itself when we are not looking for it. We may be so caught up in fears about one thing or another, that we miss God speaking directly to us saying, “Peace be with you!” through a word heard from a passerby, a comment on the TV or a billboard on the highway, for instance. God has often creative and unusual ways of spreading his peace to us. We just need to be open to hearing and seeing them.
We must always remember that it is the peace that passes all understanding that God gives to us. We truly can’t comprehend the gift of peace from our Lord fully. We only need to accept it and share it. May the peace of God be with you always!
In an interview in the March 2018 Christianity Today, author and pastor Dominique Dubois Gilliard says, “It’s crucial to find the heartbeat of your church. Your church might have a heart for education. Or caring for children orphaned by the incarceration of a mother or father“ (p. 67).
I have seen this play out in the churches in which I have been a member. One program that may work in one parish will not work in another precisely because that is not where the heartbeat of that church lies.
I know churches in my community who minister to the deaf and have a sign language interpreter in worship. Another church has a minister for families with children with special needs, and makes activities available that cater to those families. International students meet for a Bible study at another church in the area.
Each of these is an example of how a church found their heartbeat and did something to keep that beat going.
So much in the church is about “the things we have always done.” But it is important to always take a step back and think about “the things we should be doing.” It is never too late to start a new program to tap into an energy and excitement among your people for a certain ministry.
In the self-help industry these days, there is a push for people to “find their passion.” The same can be said for our churches. Finding your passion as a congregation is important because focusing on that passion can build community and grow faith. People who are passionate about something get to work and are happy to be there. Isn’t that the type of people we want within our parishes?
Think about opportunities within your parish that you are sensing that people have heart and a passion for. Then keep that heartbeat going by offering more opportunities to serve in that area. The heart of God will be revealed in the process.
In the Testimony column in the March 2018 Christianity Today, Iranian refugee Annahita Parsan says, “For some, the journey to seeing Jesus as Savior is sudden and dramatic like ti was on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to faith looks more like the road to Emmaus: a gradual realization that Jesus is closer than the air we breathe” (p. 88).
Insightful words that got me to thinking about how coming to faith and growing in faith is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Sometimes we do indeed need to be knocked off our (high) horse, as St. Paul was on the way to Damascus. And oftentimes we need a quieter, gentler approach, as the Emmaus disciples experienced when Jesus inconspicuously walked alongside them.
My personal journey of faith has been more along the Emmaus Road lines. The words of Christ were revealed to me over time and I grew to know Jesus along the way. But there have been indeed times when I literally was caught off guard by a message from God.
It came recently at a conference in Phoenix during a breakout session in which the speaker was talking how hard it was for him as a father to watch his daughter who has Crohn’s disease suffer.
This verse flashed on the screen:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things? Romans 8:32
And I almost fell over.
Tears burst from my eyes and I recognized that I was being struck head-on with the good news that there is no length to which God will not go in order to care for me and love me. I do not need to worry or be afraid.
God watched his only child suffer and die so that we might be saved. That is how much he loves us.
I came out of that session with a new vision of and a new confidence in what God in Christ has done and is doing for me.
Think over your life about your journey of faith and recall what has been your Dasmascus Road moment and what has been your Emmaus Road experience. Our lives are filled with each and we need to be aware as much as we can of how God is speaking to us both dramatically and subtly. This is how we will grow more and more into who he wants us to be in Christ.