A few weeks after arriving in Barrouallie for a six-month ministry term I met a man named Philip (not his real name) and we ended up talking for almost forty-five minutes about St. Vincent, the needs of Barrouallie, and even his spiritual beliefs (Phillip doesn’t know the Lord). Since that first conversation its been a goal of mine to get Phillip attending services at Tabernacle since he didn’t attend anywhere, and the local Church is in my opinion Gods chosen tool for missions.
While we had many conversations about spiritual things Phillip would always come up with excuses about why he couldn’t come to Church
- He was working that day
- He was too tired to come
- He was too busy to come that day (forgot)
- And each time Phillip told me he would come later
Eventually I learned the real reason, a distant family member of Phillip attended the Church regularly, and he didn’t want to be in the same Church service as her.
One of the biggest challenges in missions is moving from the “religious conversation” to Church services or an outreach. The reason for this is our conversations are focused on a back and forth give and take of ideas. A service in Church however involves the clear preaching of Scripture which leads to conviction, and some very uncomfortable feelings. It’s interesting that most unsaved people would be interesting in having a Bible study outside of Church, but refuse to come to a service!
It’s tempting when dealing with people like Phillip to just stay in “religious conversation mode” because the Gospel can definitely be shared, relationships are developed there, and it doesn’t include the awkwardness of a Church service. Yet the back and forth of these conversations means our foundation (proof) often comes from personal opinion, while in Church services proof comes from the clear teaching of God Word, and an open Bible.
As time passed I continued encouraging Phillip to one and he continued using his family member as an excuse saying he didn’t like her gossiping (I don’t agree with gossip of course, but using that as a reason for not coming to Church is silly since none of us are perfect). Finally one afternoon as we sat on the porch I told him “you know Phillip its possible to sit outside or sit on the steps so that nobody can see you come in.” He was silent for a few minutes and I knew he was thinking seriously about it since I had just taken away one of his biggest excuses. Of course it is better to enter a Church service but the important thing in these situations is to take away any excuse people may have.
I was walking home from Church one Sunday morning when Phillip stopped me and said “hey I listened to you!” He had taken my advice to stand outside where nobody could see him and there listened to my mornings message. “That’s great!” I said and encouraged him to come in for a service.
That was about a month ago…
Yesterday I had told him about a Bible study on the book of Mark I was starting on Wednesday nights and encouraged him to come “i’ll be there” he told me but to be honest I had me doubts. We were just getting started when I noticed Phillip standing in the shadows outside, he stood there for a few brief seconds, then slowly walked in, and sat down on the back row (three rows behind his family member). It seemed to me that a lot was going through his mind in those few seconds but Phillip chose to came in, and enjoyed it!
As I walked with him an hour later he talked about how much he enjoyed the service (even stopping a friend and telling him he needed to come to the preaching) and promised for the first time I can remember to attend a Sunday evening service. Now the truth is Phillip probably wont enjoy every Church service that much. They will make him feel awkward, uncomfortable, convicted, and very out of place. But with the Lords help he will continue coming, and hearing God’s truth.
The important thing about our relationships with the Phillips of the world is that we don’t just have religious conversations;
- We move those conversations towards the Gospel
- Uncover why they refuse to attend Church
- Take away their excuses with the Lords help
- Allow them to take baby steps (like sitting outside)
- And never stop inviting them in
It took a long time for my friend to enter the door of a Church (almost a year) but the few seconds it took for him to step outside of the shadows inside made it all worth it.