A few days ago I was sitting in my favorite worn-in brown leather chair in my favorite corner of my favorite Starbucks. Being less than a 1/4 mile from my house and it’s distance from my church office, this Starbucks has turned into a second office. A place where I can sit at a large community table with my Bible, commentaries, and books. A place where conversations are light, never too heavy, and where the baristas know my order when I walk in the door.
As I sat in my chair I could not help but notice the college student who walked in. It was still that weird time of year when college students are home with not much to do other than hangout in Starbucks or hangout with Netflix.
He was wearing what was a stereotypical young pastor outfit: hip shoes, professional shirt and tie, and trendy cardigan. He paced anxiously as he waited for the girl he was meeting. I knew who he was before he sat down to visit with his high school crush and begin to reminisce about the good old days (less than 6 months ago).
I checked out of their conversation and back into my book. Headphones on with Welcome Wagon strumming away in my ear, I am usually in my own little world, pausing frequently to jot down notes in my notebook or to get up and go to the bathroom (I seriously have the bladder of an 80 year old man). But when I heard that not only was young hip soon-to-be pastor guy a student at THE Libetry Unversity and that he was changing his major from architectural engineering to theology I perked up. He explained as he strutted his stuff to his high school crush that after leading a group Bible study he knew he was called to ministry. In my mind I was thinking ‘good for you, just run away from Liberty’.
The news of his new found call to ministry caught his crush by surprise. She blurted out, ‘well I will be your toughest conversion.’ She was referring to the fact that she was an atheist. ‘Good luck lover boy’ I thought to myself.
When Chris Tomlin began playing on the Starbucks speakers I took it as a sign from God that my time of eavesdropping was over and it was time to get back to work. Headphones on. Nose in book. Pen furiously jotting down notes and journaling.
Then it happened.
He said, ‘I am taking a class called Christian Apologetics next semester.’
‘What in the world is that about?’, she asked.
‘It’s a class that confronts our societies obsession with the homosexual agenda’, he asserted.
Before I knew it, or even realized I was doing it, my headphones were ripped out of my ears and I was interrupting his attempt to woo his would be first convert.
‘What are you talking about?’, I blurted out (at least I hope I didn’t say a bad word in there, it’s not out of the realm of possibility).
And that’s where it went down hill.
I informed him that Christian apologetics was more than just a reaction by the church to the ‘homosexual agenda’. I was unaware that equality was an agenda that needed to be fought against by the church of all groups.
I told him, probably not as eloquently as I should have, that the only group that seems to be obsessed with the homosexual agenda are institutions like Liberty University who refuse to even fathom that God’s grace is freely available to all people, regardless of what brother Jerry is telling them at convocation.
And the idea that he was taking a class solely devoted to the homosexual agenda as a preparation for ministry is missing the Good News of the Gospels entirely.
I took a breath.
I realized what was going on.
People were beginning to stare. Here I am, the new youth pastor of the local Methdoist flavor of the church confronting the aspiring 18 year old pastor who attends the epicenter of Convserative Evangelical values in a very public forum. All the while his high school crush was standing by waiting for his response while he sat there with his Warby Parker glasses and deer in the headlights look. This would have been the perfect opportunity for a conversion right?
I went back to my book, popped my headphones back in, and went back to my work. 30-40 minutes passed, I packed up my Apple products and headed home. As I left I wished my newly minted theology buddy the best of luck in his ministry and that I hoped I’d see him around so we could continue the conversation (which in hindsight wasn’t really a conversation).
I got home and I thought about what happened. I talked with Allison about it and I think I owe this guy a follow up. Because it wasn’t my finest hour and I probably won’t see him again this is the only forum I have.
So here goes:
Dear Liberty University Student,
I’m sorry my emotions got the best of me and I acted, mostly likely, like an ass.
I apologize for screwing up your date and hopes of a winter break fling with your high school crush (are flings allowed at Liberty?).
I really do wish you the best in your ministry. The church is hurting right now. We are so divided on who to allow in the church, who can love or marry who, and even who is allowed to lead the chuch. Let’s not let those divides determine who we will share the Good News of Jesus with.
If you want to convert your Atheist crush, to share the grace and love of God in a meaningful way to her, trying starting with that and not with what the church is against (or is still figuring out).
If our paths ever cross again, the coffee is on me. I promise to be a better listener. I promise to share the Good News rather than preach.
PS – When I say the coffee is on me, I mean a drip coffee or Americano. Not that $5.00 Frappuccino you were drinking. If you’re going into ministry, you need to just accept that high priced coffee drinks are not in your future.