I met him at the end of a service in a rural New York church. His name escapes me but the question he asked has been unforgettable. Let me explain.
The first meeting of a planned week-long conference in this scenic area was well attended. At its conclusion, I learned that many of the people who had come to the service had been invited by one man, a new convert, who had turned into a one man church growth dynamo.
Faith had so changed this man’s life that he wanted everyone to know about it and share in his newfound joy. This moved him to find ways to reach out to friends and neighbors, telling them of the discovery he had made and inviting them to his church. He was a pastor’s dream, a natural born pew-packer. But something was bothering him and before the week ended, he raised the question I’ll never forget.
"What can you tell me," he asked, "to keep me from becoming like them?"
I wasn’t sure what this questioner meant so asked him to elaborate.
He explained that he had great respect for the people in his church, admiring their faithfulness in attendance and in fulfilling their various offices that made the church operate so efficiently. But he recognized that these seasoned people of faith had somehow lost something along the way that he possessed: a compassion for others that motivated him to tell them of God’s love and how to respond to it.
The answer to this new convert’s question rests in remembering the simplicity of the good news we’re commissioned to share (Matthew 28:18-20). Once we complicate the message, we’re afraid to get involved in sharing it, thinking this must be left to ministers or others we see as more qualified than the rest of us, forgetting our Lord called untrained fishermen to become the first evangelists and to plant churches in the world.
In order to avoid being like them, we’ll have to become more interested in people than programs, caring for every person we meet regardless of status, success or standing in the community. We’ll also need to take time out of our busy schedules to talk to others about their personal problems and needs, showing compassion continually.
Once I was irritated by calls from telemarketers, who I resented because they interrupted my schedule and often called when I thought I had more important things to do than spend time talking to them. Then I began to see each of these calls as an opportunity to talk to a person about his or her needs and explain that God is interested in every obstacle we face.
Since my attitude has changed, telemarketers tell me their problems and often invite me to send books or other faith building materials to help them understand how important they are to God. Some have written to me expressing their appreciation for my concern and help when they’ve been going through tough times.
I’m indebted to a new convert and his unforgettable question because it reminds me that sharing my faith is more important than going through religious routines. And if you allow his question to keep you from becoming like them, you’ll be indebted to him too.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years.