“Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ . . . Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.” –1 Cor. 9:19, 22 (NLT)
I had an interesting conversation this summer with a man at a church picnic. Because I had never met him, at first glance I thought he was going through chemotherapy. He wore a knit cap in ninety-degree weather, had no hair on his arms, legs or face, and had penciled in his eyebrows. Only after I sat across from him at lunch did I understand the situation.
After his grandmother introduced me to him, he said, “If you were the pastor of a church, how would you deal with people involved in alternate lifestyles?”
Not wanting to seem presumptuous about where he was heading, I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “You know, people involved in same sex marriages. You’re from California, so you know what I’m talking about.”
I smiled at that and said, “I cannot support a lifestyle that the Bible obviously condemns. However, people involved in alternate lifestyles are always welcome in ‘my’ church, but by choosing to live in a way that disobeys Scripture, I would not allow them to be involved in a leadership position. The same would be true for a man who chooses to gamble away his paycheck and then borrows money from his friends for food. My concern is always for the ultimate good of the individual, regardless of their actions.”
Then I said something that seemed to please him. “I have only one requirement for a person to come to my church: they must be a sinner. Therefore, everyone is welcome.”
The man smiled and said, “Thanks. That’s a good answer. I like that.”
As we were getting in the car to leave, another man came up to me and shook my hand. He said he had a brother who was gay, and every time he came to church, the pastor would preach at him and condemn him. He was glad to know there was a minister who would welcome all sinners into the church.
As I look back on that conversation, I see there wasn’t a great deal of “common ground” (1 Cor. 9:22) between me and the man at the picnic. The only thing we both seemed interested in was our place in the church, and this common ground became a place of Christ-like conversation. I don’t think he was trying to be controversial, but was searching for a Christian leader who looked below the surface and accepted him for who he is. I guess I did just that, because he was pleased with my response.
Titus 2:10 says our behavior towards others is an avenue that “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way” (NLT). As a Christian, I want people to be attracted to Jesus, because He is the only one who can save them from the penalty of their sin. What challenges me is this: the only way they will see and understand Jesus is if they see Jesus in me. Therefore, part of the “attraction” of the Gospel is the attractive lives of those who are disciples of Christ. In other words, it is impossible to attract people to Jesus if they are not attracted to me.
It makes me wonder how many people have rejected Jesus because they couldn’t see Jesus in me. On the bright side, it is good to know that at least one fellow sinner seemed comfortable enough in my presence to want to attend “my” church. And now that I am a pastor again, he will always be welcome.