Sometimes the best opportunity to demonstrate the gospel to those who do not know Jesus is quite simply not being a jerk when you have the opportunity. I'm talking about those times when you've been wronged and most people would excuse you for flipping your lid and taking your frustrations out on the next person in your path.
In the last two weeks I've had a few such opportunities. I want to mention one in particular. Last week I went to Sam's Club to sign up for a church membership card so that it would be easier for us to make purchases for church events. It's something the volunteer staff here has been bugging me about for a while. It was something I needed to get done, but kept putting off. Finally I decided to go over there. I was anticipating filling out some paperwork, getting a picture taken, and having a card within a few minutes. Since we are a nonprofit I assumed it might take a little bit longer than normal, but should be a fairly easy process in this age of technology.
I was wrong. I won't bore you with the details, but Jay (my assistant) and I ended up standing at the counter for two hours on one day and two hours the next day while the associates at Sams attempted to get us a membership card. I was floored at how complicated it seemed. To be fair, their computer system didn't seem to be working right. But it also seemed like the associates weren't totally up to speed on how to process a nonprofit membership application.
So, this took four hours of time over two days--totally unexpected. It cost Jay and I precious working hours. I could have flipped out, demanded free stuff, write an angry letter. Part of me wanted to do this. But all along I kept thinking to myself, "Dan, they know you're a church. They know you are a pastor." I realized that it is these moments that often define our Christian testimony. Everyone expects us to fly off the handle and most people think we should. But we don't. Why?
The reason is that we should act differently and be under control, because we know the Lord and His Spirit controls us. I'm not sure if the Sam's associates noticed this or not, but I hope that perhaps they might see something different in me. Maybe that provokes them to ask questions about Christianity. Maybe not.
I'm not saying that this should be the sum total of our evangelism. But moments where we could get angry butdon't provide great platforms. Perhaps you're flight is delayed and you're the only person at the ticket counter not swearing, demanding, or being angry. Perhaps the auto shop messed up your car and unexpectedly you don't fly into a rage and at like a jerk. Perhaps you are playing basketball and instead of reacting angrily to a hard foul you brush it off and keep going. Perhaps you won't berate the waitress when she brings you mashed potatoes instead of curly fries.
I'm not saying you should be a wimp and should never assert yourself. I'm not saying you shouldn't firmly demand better treatment or justice if a company or a person trampled them. But there is a difference in being firm and being a jerk. Sadly, we Christians fail this test. I know I do. I can think of situations where I was hoping someone would never find out I'm a believer, because my selfish behavior tainted the gospel. I've talked with customer service people I know and sadly they say Christians can be among the toughest people to deal with.
Perhaps it would be helpful for us to remember that we are Christians all the time not just at church. And every opportunity is an opportunity for the world to see what the gospel looks like in real life. And maybe, just maybe, God allows us to be wronged for the express purpose of demonstrating His love in a surprising and unexpected way, a way so shocking it causes people to ask what is different about us.
I heard someone once say that the world won't sit up and take notice when we say "Praise the Lord" in good times. They notice when we say "Praise the Lord" in times of distress.
Sometimes not being a jerk is the best opportunity for gospel witness.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). You can find more from Dan at his website DanielDarling.com.