“Sure, let’s go outside and talk.” I replied, as I folded up the easel and gathered my materials.
Week 3, of my 12-week seminar, had just come to a close and I was feeling pretty good about things. The discussion was lively and most of the 30 or so participants seemed to be enthusiastically tracking with what I was presenting.
Most everyone, that is, except for one couple – Ben & Kathy – who had not uttered a single word the entire three weeks.
Since this was a public seminar offered by the Chapel at a U.S. Marine Corps Base, you never quite knew who would show up. Often, at an event like this, the participants themselves were meeting each other for the first time, and it was only natural to assume that some people would feel awkward opening up in a new group.
“No doubt that was the case with this couple – they’re just shy! Yes, that could be it,” I thought to myself as I closed my briefcase, “but you don’t ask to speak to someone privately just because you’re shy! I’ll bet they’re having a problem with the material I’m covering and want to give me a piece of their mind......ugh! But what could it be?”
As we made our way out to the parking lot, I began to quickly replay in my head all that we had talked about the first three weeks. I was doing a 12-week seminar on Lifestyle Evangelism and though nothing seemed to be overly controversial, yet, I racked my brain as fast as I could to try to think of something, anything, I might have said that could have offended them.
“Let’s see, the first week we talked about the culture gap between Christians and non-Christians – nothing controversial there.”
“Week 2, we looked at the resources that God has at His disposal – nothing controversial there.”
“Today, well, we discussed the stages in a person’s journey toward Christ……hmmm……that could be it! Yeah, I’ll bet I offended them when I suggested that Christians can actually be friends, good friends, with non-Christians.”
“Or maybe it was that chart I showed attempting to quantify a person’s journey on a scale of -12 to -1, and my suggestion that not everyone is ready to be reaped; that evangelism is a process involving cultivation, sowing, and reaping; that our role in the process and view of success should not be based solely on whether we get someone to ‘pray the prayer’ but on seeing God use us to move a person one step closer in their journey toward Christ.”
“That’s it! That’s got to be it! I’ll bet they're strong advocates of a ‘turn or burn’ approach in evangelism and feel that I’m both underestimating the power of God and overestimating the role of Christians! I've heard it too many times before......ugh!”
As we made small talk on the way to my car, I learned that Ben was a Marine Captain; that he and Kathy had only been married a few years; and that they saw this seminar advertised on base and thought it would be good for the two of them to attend together.
“So what is it you’d like to talk to me about?” I asked cautiously.
Kathy looked at Ben, then at me, and then at Ben again. “You know that chart you showed tonight,” she said hesitantly as she turned toward me, “the one that outlines a person’s journey to Christ on a scale of -12 to -1?”
“Yes, did you have a question about it?” I asked innocently as I inwardly congratulated myself for correctly identifying the source of contention.
Bracing myself for what I thought was certain rebuke to come, I soon found out how terribly wrong I was in my assessment, and was completely caught off guard by what I heard next.
“No, I don’t have a question, well, not exactly,” Kathy replied, “but I wanted you to know that I did some reflecting on the different stages on that chart, and I think……no……I know……that I’m a minus 9 on that chart.”
Though the darkness of the night sky no doubt hid the full extent of my surprise, never in my wildest imagination did I ever consider the possibility that someone who was not yet a believer, who knew for a fact that they were not even close to believing in Christ, would show up at a 12-week seminar on how to lead other people to faith in Christ! Nominal believers - yes! Church goers who don't have a clue - yes! But a person who was completely removed from the "Christian scene" - never!
Still in shock, I listened as Kathy continued: “The reason I wanted to talk to you is because I didn’t think it was right for me to sit here and listen to the discussion each week without you knowing about me. I know you're talking about reaching people like me and I feel a little like I’m the opposing team listening in on the plays being called in the home team’s huddle. We just think it’s wrong not to tell you!”
“Well, thank you for letting me know, but why did you come to this seminar in the first place?” I managed to mutter while trying to hold back my utter amazement.
Ben spoke up with an uncharacteristically soft tone for a Marine Officer and said: “We thought this was going to be a class on basic Christianity. I was raised Lutheran in a small Nebraskan town but haven't been much of a church goer lately; Kathy grew up in California and has never been to church. She’s been trying to learn more about this part of me and we thought this class would help……”
Kathy interrupted Ben and proceeded to deepen my shock: “In fact, we already talked about it and have a special request to make. This may sound strange, but we really like your class and want to ask if it’s okay to keep coming.”
Still trying to wrap my mind around what I was hearing, Kathy continued without so much as pausing to take a breath. “However, before you answer," she said, "we have two conditions to our continued participation. First, we’d like to ask that you not call on us to start or end a meeting in prayer.”
Something that was, to me, a no brainer.
“And secondly,” she said, “we’d like to ask that you not tell anyone in the group that I’m a minus 9 on that chart.”
For a moment, I was truly speechless! They did not appear to be joking, nor was the question rhetorical. They were obviously serious and expected an answer – but this was all happening so fast!
By Kathy’s own admission, she was not even close to trusting Christ and yet she wants to continue coming to my seminar? On winning people like her to Christ? Without telling any of the others in the group that she was listening?
Suddenly it hit me! She really had been listening in on “the plays” being called in the home team’s huddle, and she’s been doing it for 3 whole weeks! Oh my gosh! What did she hear? What did we talk about and what might it have sounded like to Kathy from her perspective?
In a flash I once again found myself replaying the first 3 weeks of the seminar in my mind. This time putting myself in Kathy’s shoes, racking my brain as fast as I could from a completely different point of view.
It didn’t take long for me to wince as I thought back to the attitudes displayed the very first week. The discussion centered on the culture gap between Christians and non-Christians and I immediately recalled how the group seemed to display a not so subtle animosity toward "other" people right from the start. Did Kathy pick-up on it? Maybe she didn’t notice.
But what about all the comments about not having anything in common with “those people;” how so few in the group had any meaningful friendships with people who didn’t share their beliefs; how so many felt that the gap between “us and them” had become so pronounced it seemed more like a wedge than a gap. So many harsh, judgmental sounding statements these last few weeks....
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of the discussion to this point had revealed some pretty negative attitudes in the group……and Kathy witnessed them all!
And now she wants to keep coming? Without telling anyone that she’s one of “them?” I don’t get it!
If we haven’t already blown it with her, we will! If I can’t warn the others to be careful about what they say and how they talk about “this stuff” in her presence, it’s just a matter of time before someone says something that seriously damages Kathy’s own journey toward Christ.
And yet, she wants to come! Could it be that God has sovereignly placed her in my life, in our lives, to……to……to……
Ben and Kathy looked at me intently, waiting for my answer. After what felt like an eternity, I took a deep breath and said: “Sure! You’re welcome to keep coming. I won’t tell a soul and you don’t have to worry about me calling on you to pray!”
A genuinely warm smile came across their faces; they thanked me and we bid each other good-night.
When I got in the car the doubts immediately flooded my mind: “What have I done? I must be nuts to agree to this? I just gave the green light to continue listening in on "the plays" being called in our huddle without anyone in the group knowing that Kathy, and maybe even Ben, wasn't one of "us" - God help us to be the people we were meant to be! God help Ben & Kathy to at least not be detoured in their journey toward Christ because of us!”
And yet, as I drove home that warm summer night, a strange peace flooded my soul. There's no way I could have articulated it, but I was convinced that God was somehow sovereignly at work in all this and it seemed like all He was asking me to do was to trust Him.
This was obviously not the best "class" for Ben & Kathy to be in - a simple Bible study would have been much more appropriate. But they insisted on coming. Yet even if they didn't benefit one iota from this "evangelism class" I knew one thing for sure – this was going to absolutely change my life!
And change my life it did! This conversation with Ben & Kathy took place over 2 decades ago and, looking back, turned out to be the start of a watershed "moment" in my life! A time when I more keenly began to see things, as Paul suggested, "from their point of view."
It also changed Ben & Kathy's life, but not quite in the neat, orderly, and "linear" fashion you might expect!