In 2003, Daniel Hill held a steady part-time job working one or two shifts a week at Starbucks. It was hardly a career-track position, and it was not that he needed the extra cash or battled a secret caffeine addiction. It was the people.
For Hill, whose day job was ministering on staff with Willow Creek Community Church's Axis ministry, Starbucks provided a context to build meaningful relationships with postmodern, Gen-Next 20-somethings who were far from God.
"Nothing has been more transforming for me than working at Starbucks," says Hill. "These people matter to me."
But the moonlighting gig wasn't a free pass to easy evangelism. His coffee colleagues were like a good cup of triple espresso—plenty of steam, a little bitter, and enough kick to knock you on your backside if you aren't careful.
With fingers pointed at Christians, we're obliged to identify the underlying accusations and offer a response. Three questions are at the core:
1. Why should I trust you?
Anyone who claims authority today—politicians, parents, or pastors—will face the question of trust.
Rick Richardson, author of Evangelism Outside the Box and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's national field director for evangelism, observes: "When people ask questions about homosexuality, for instance, we're tempted to think they're asking questions about right and wrong. But they're not. They're asking questions about dominance and oppression."
In other words, the answer requires more than words. Christians, with PowerPoint presentations and four-point evangelistic outlines, have mastered the art of proclamation. But words alone aren't going to answer the trust question. Trust is built by actions, not words.
One of the most fundamental ways to represent God's kingdom is by being kind to the disaffected, even when we have genuine disagreements with the way they choose to live. In whatever way we respond, the one thing we can't do is ignore the trust issue.
2. Isn't that just your reality?
According to the Starbucks-serving Daniel Hill, the "whatever works for you" mentality is a foundational part of the postmodern mindset. Still, it can be fruitless to engage that argument directly.
Hill calls the postmodern mindset "kind of the air they breathe" rather than a deep-seated philosophical barrier to faith.
"I've never been able to persuade someone intellectually to abandon the relativistic mindset," he says. "That's never the doorway I get someone to walk through. What's more likely to happen is that they'll see the power of a transformed life in another Christ follower and be transformed."
Hill says we also do well to remember that relativism has its plus side. "People are open to Jesus," he says. "They just don't consider him the only way. I try to engage them in who Jesus is rather than prove that the others aren't correct."
3. What good is Christianity?
Richardson calls this the question of utility and relevance. Does your belief change lives? Does your religion work? Does it help me, whether I'm in your group or not? Or are you just another self-serving group?
"The question of the uniqueness of Christ is not primarily philosophical," he writes. "People are not looking for theological comparisons but for attractiveness, relevance, and usefulness."
In today's culture, there will always be questions and accusations—some fair, others unfair; some informed, others ignorant. As ministers of the gospel, what is our response?
Hill suggests the best way may also be the simplest. "Be intentional and authentic in your friendship," he says. "Their response to my overtures can't determine whether we stay in friendship. If it does, then it's not a friendship but a manipulative ploy to get them to become a Christian. It's a difficult paradox to reconcile."
—Brett Lawrence, a former youth minister, is a writer in Newark, Ohio; adapted from our sister publication Leadership Journal, © 2003 Christianity Today. For more articles like this, visit www.Leadershipjournal.net.
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