October 19, 2017

iMonk Classic: The Coffeehouse

coffee1

Originally posted in July 2006

Skip Towne opened the door to his office and sat down to check his voice mail. Skip had been youth minister at Central Baptist Church for four years. As associate minister for youth at a large, traditional Baptist church, his life was always busy. Three services on Sunday, visitation on Sunday afternoons and youth group on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Mondays he led a Bible study for small group leaders, Tuesdays he coached an Upwards team. Wednesdays were full of junior high ministry and Thursday was his only night home. Friday night it was football game and open gym afterwards. Saturdays were always some kind of scheduled trip, concert or special event. It was the life of the youth minister he’d always imagined.

Skip’s youth group was one of the largest in the community. There were over a hundred students who were highly involved with the student ministries at Central, and many others who visited. It was sometimes embarrassing to eat lunch with youth ministers from other churches and find out that their attendance had been down because so many of their kids were attending an event at Central Baptist. The church was generous to the youth program. They paid for mission trips, recreation, concerts and new facilities. Skip even got to take in three or four conferences a year. And it was one of those conferences that had Skip checking his email this morning.

Skip wanted to start a coffeehouse, and the speaker at the conference he’d just attended had started a coffeehouse in his community. Skip wanted all the how to’s. After sorting through some spam, there was the letter from Greg. A complete packet of information on how to start a storefront coffeehouse for the community as a way to begin a kind of positive presence, laying the foundation for evangelism.

Greg’s coffeehouse was a presence in the community. It made no demands other than an open door. It was open 5 nights a week in a storefront right in the middle of a neighborhood frequented by students, minorities and young people. Local musicians were invited in to play and the coffeehouse provided a sound system. Volunteers worked the coffee bar, and the sponsoring church paid the rent and kept the operation inexpensive and solvent. The student ministry worked to make the coffeehouse look good and to get the word out about whatever was going on. After two years, the ministry was a success, by Greg’s testimony. The coffeehouse had made a positive impact in the community, provided a place of service for Christians, and given the opportunity for thousands of conversations between Christians and members of the community who would never come to a worship service. The next step was to have a worship time at the coffeehouse on Sunday mornings. It all sounded perfect.

Skip was interested from the first moment he’d heard the story. For a couple of years he’d had moments of looking at his ministry at Central and being unsatisfied. His kids were great, and they needed Christ and the Gospel. But these were church kids. They had grown up in church. Their families were church leaders and workers. These were kids who saw the church as just as much a part of their life as their school and their sports teams.

When the church started “Youth Church” in the new 3 million dollar youth recreation facility, attendance went up, but Skip knew that, despite all his efforts at publicity, those kids in the youth facility were almost entirely church kids from other churches. Only a very few of the students at youth church were kids from outside the church culture of this community. It was another example of something that had bothered Skip more and more: he wasn’t having an effect in the real community. Thousands of students that lived within 3 miles of Central Baptist would never be reached or affected in any way by Skip’s ministry. That was unacceptable.

It felt odd to have such a successful ministry, but to feel like you were a failure. The students, parents and leaders at Central Baptist thought Skip was the best youth minister they ever had. He never lacked for affirmation. Central treated its staff well, and his wife and kids were happy and secure. The coffeehouse idea wasn’t needed because anyone was unhappy. The few people he had mentioned it to seemed intrigued, but then began asking questions about why and how much and how long….and soon the enthusiasm was gone. Just the idea that it was going to simple BE THERE, and not be a concert event or an occasional evening event, seemed to throw cold water on the idea.

What bothered Skip the most was that he knew it was his own approach to ministry that made the coffeehouse idea seem so strange and alien. It wasn’t a good time. It wasn’t fun for Christian students. It wasn’t big numbers or an outing with a t-shirt. It seemed to have no purpose because Skip hadn’t presented a mission that comprehended the purpose of a coffeehouse whose purpose was a place for Christians and non-Christians to meet on common ground, have conversations and develop relationships. He’d been brought in to build a church youth program, and he’d done it. He’d done it so well that a ministry of missional presence, serving the community and asking for nothing, made no sense.

When Skip had talked with the chairman of the parent’s council about the coffeehouse idea, she had listened politely, but immediately wanted to know why Skip didn’t just take the kids out witnessing to students on the streets in that community. When he said that he wasn’t looking for an evangelism project, but a place for relationships to form that might lead to evangelistic conversations, she had shaken her head and said the idea wasn’t a good one.

Skip took a weekend and outlined the entire coffeehouse idea into a presentation. If nothing else, he wanted the senior pastor and the rest of the staff to hear the idea. The pastor always spoke about missions and evangelism, and this was an opportunity to begin to do some of the kinds of missional projects that could change the entire culture of the church itself. Wouldn’t it be great if Central Baptist could one day be known as a church that loved the community enough to open and sustain a coffeehouse as a way to say “We love our community, and we want to show that love in a way that asks you to do nothing, not even come to our building.”

Skip finished the presentation, printed it up, and sent it to the staff, complete with a PowerPoint detailing everything necessary for the first year of the project. He asked if he could have 30 minutes of the next staff meeting to present and discuss the idea.

bord1002bTuesday’s staff meeting arrived, and after the usual matters of pastoral care, worship planning and administration, Skip’s time came.

He made his presentation, and he was passionate about what he was dreaming and feeling. He connected with the Bible and with the values of the church’s missions heritage and emphasis. He talked about other churches that had implemented successful coffeehouse ministries in their communities. He admitted this was new, risky, expensive and not comfortable, but he asked his friends on staff to consider if it wasn’t what the church needed to do if it was to really say something to the community about the Gospel.

Skip sat down. Pages turned. The sound of people shifting in seats dominated the silence. Pastor Pat was shaking his head “yes,” and Skip was immediately encouraged.

“Great thinking here, Skip. I can’t really see a lot to disagree with, and I see a lot that is part of what we want to encourage people here at Central to be doing. Relationships with unbelievers are basic to building up this church. We can’t just reach our kids, even with guys like you doing a great job. We need to reach the community.”

Dan, pastor for administration, had been writing down various things on a pad. That always meant questions.

“I’ve got some questions, Skip. Where would this be?

“We would be looking for a storefront or small facility in the Billings Landing Road area, or anything on either side of the University. The idea is to be in the same area where students go to eat, to clubs, internet cafes, other coffeehouses, and so on.”

“I guess I’m confused about why you couldn’t just have a coffeehouse over at the youth facility. You have everything you need over there. You could have a coffeehouse and spend almost nothing beyond the normal expenditures. Plus, the youth facility is ours, we wouldn’t be renting, it would be insured, our janitorial staff would clean it, and so on.”

Skip started to answer, when Pastor Pat spoke up. “Of course, Dan, I think Skip wants to be off campus to make a statement. To actually get off the property as a way of taking a risk. Right?”

Skip nodded. “Exactly. We do things here all the time, and we don’t reach these students. The idea is to go to their turf, and to stay there taking a risk that costs us something. That is the statement that means we want to know and relate to those kids.”

Pastor Pat continued, “I see that aspect of it quite clearly. What I wonder, Skip, is if you’ve considered how the parents of the kids in our student ministry are going to see this. The junior high parents won’t let their kids go down to those neighborhoods, and the senior high parents are going to be ringing your phone and asking you about cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. I think our parents- who are very important in your ministry and in the success of this church- are going to feel that its too risky to take our kids into the communities that are full of the kind of people they don’t want their children being like.”

Dan spoke up on the same lines. “Right. A mission trip or a mission project involves a lot of adult presence with the students wherever they happen to be. If you open a coffeehouse, have a musician in there using bad language, singing about sex to an audience full of kids with tattoos and piercings, the parents are going to have nothing to do with it. And many of those parents will be on the deacon board and on church committees. Many of them are going to say this is exactly what we are trying to get our kids away from. They will say that’s why we spent 3 million on a youth facility and why we have the programs we have here.”

Skip wasn’t responding any more. It wasn’t difficult to see where this was going. After further fisking, and some closing niceties, Skip was told that it was a good idea to consider later, or perhaps in some form that could be done at CBC.

Skip tried not to look too discouraged, but he probably didn’t succeed. He opted out of the usual lunch and went back to his office. He was still there, two hours later, when Austin, the worship leader, stopped in. He’d been in the meeting, and knew Skip well enough to anticipate what he was feeling. He tapped on the door.

“Leaving the ministry?”

Skip laughed quietly. “I think I may have left the ministry a long time ago.”

“That’s cynical. We’ve all had Dan shoot things down in staff. It’s just part of the game around here.”

“I’m not being cynical. I was just told that what I’m doing and what we’re doing is providing a “program” for the children of our church members. Our values are safety, parental approval and use of our own facility so that we look good. If it means going across the street to someone else’s neighborhood, opening ourselves up to the possibility that someone who smokes and drinks might be around our kids, then we aren’t going to do it. We can go on a supervised excursion that we will call “a mission trip,” but actually doing something that would be understandably missional in this community is simply unthinkable.”

Austin wasn’t particularly tolerant of Skip’s whining. The young minister wasn’t a quitter or a whiner, but he did need to vent, and that was part of what friends allowed other friends to do behind church office doors.

“Listen, Skip. When you work at a Central Baptist, you see what they do and you work through that. You accept the programs, the salaries, the safety and the security. That’s your mission field. You don’t come here and stay here wanting to start coffeehouses in the landing. You come here and stay here by putting the coffeehouse in the youth facility once a week, and then trying to give one of those kids the vision to take it across the street. You take the missions trip, but you teach a vision for missions that will send some of them far beyond that.”

Skip was quiet. Austin was, as usual, much wiser than anyone gave him credit for. He was right that a church like CBC was a base; it wasn’t going to do all the ministries that Skip could see in other places, not at this point. It raised up young people who would one day carry that mission out in a way that Skip and CBC never could. CBC was many things, but diverse enough to take this kind of risk? Not yet.

Austin could see that Skip heard him and understood him, so he continued. “We’re going to inspire people to be part of a mission that goes way beyond this kind of church. The stuff we do here isn’t worthless if we put the vision for a larger, better mission at the center of it. So you have to take what you are seeing and feeling, and pass it on in a way that will one day, in God’s time and place, get beyond CBC. We don’t do eveything we can dream of, Skip. But we can pass our dream on to better people, who will make it happen.”

Skip rubbed his eyes. They were tired from looking at the computer screen for two hours, thinking about his resume and writing letters looking for a new position somewhere. “God is the one who is stirring me up, but God is also the one who put me here, and somehow, God may even be the one shutting this door so he can open another one.”

“Exactly. That coffeehouse can be a reality someday, but the CBC staff isn’t going to start it. But someone AT CBC right now- someone you might never anticipate- may be the one who will make it, or something even better, happen. Use the platform God has given you to teach the vision, even if you can’t totally bring it to pass. Be stirred up, and stir someone else up. That’s part of our work.”

Skip smiled. “I need to buy you a vanilla shake at the Corner. I’m feeling generous.”

“See- salvation by works isn’t a bad deal at all. I like it.”

The two young ministers headed for the parking lot. Skip looked at his friend. “But I still may revise that resume.”

Comments

  1. Jacob C says:

    I don’t know. A coffee house where people could develop relationships? Jesus wasn’t much into that relationship building stuff, was He? And you might have to talk to someone on and off for days without getting around to pressuring them for a “decision.” What good is that? In an efficient evangelization program, you stop random people on the sidewalk, tell them they are going to hell, read them a few Bible verses, get them to recite the Sinner’s Prayer, and you are done and off to the next person. An effective soul winner should be able to conduct such a transaction in five to seven minutes, tops. It’s all about numbers. Discipleship? Get ’em to make a decision, that’s the main thing. Those who made a decision for Christ and actually show up at church – keep telling them what sinners they are and offer them moral advice – we all need a little self-improvement, after all. That pretty much covers discipleship, doesn’t it? We invite people to come into our comfort zone and teach them how to conform. That’s what the Great Commission is all about, right?

    • Patricia says:

      Spot on Jacob C! Yep – that’s how we roll . . . My daughter went on a medical mission last year with some med students (some did not know Jesus – yet) and was really put off by this typical approach – mainly because she saw the effect it was having on those unbelieving “kids.” She came back asking for us to pray that this experience would not negatively affect them as they considered their own relationship with (or without) Jesus.

      We have been subjected to some criticism over the circles we travel in . . . read non-church folk. And yet we have been incredibly blessed by the friendships we formed and are now seeing many actually consider their relationship with God as a point of conversation. God is at work both in and outside the church – And I think He is still asking, “Who will go for Us?”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      What good is that? In an efficient evangelization program, you stop random people on the sidewalk, tell them they are going to hell, read them a few Bible verses, get them to recite the Sinner’s Prayer, and you are done and off to the next person.

      And the in-your-face screaming.
      Don’t forget the screaming:
      “IF YOU DIED TODAY, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU WOULD SPEND ETERNITY?????”

      An effective soul winner should be able to conduct such a transaction in five to seven minutes, tops. It’s all about numbers.

      Because Souls(TM) are the currency of Heaven.
      And the better your sales figures, the more notches on your Bible, the more brownie points on J-Day and the bigger your Crown of Glory and position in Heaven.
      “It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby!”

      Discipleship? Get ‘em to make a decision, that’s the main thing.

      Once more, the effects of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

      • HUG said,

        And the in-your-face screaming.
        Don’t forget the screaming:
        “IF YOU DIED TODAY, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU WOULD SPEND ETERNITY?????”

        I can see how that approach can be off putting for some, but I have heard many, many times over the years, various people say they came to Jesus precisely because they heard a minister on TV or in a radio show pose that question, and tell them about Jesus.

        It’s easy to ridicule approaches like that, but sometimes, it works for some people.

  2. Great post! If you resonate you might want to check out The Parable of the Found Sheep by Bryn MacPhail at reformedtheology.ca.

  3. The mindset of the church as Austin describes it in Michaels’ story reminds me of this short essay by Merton;

    “Thy Kingdom Come.”

    The question of the Parousia remains the great question of Christianity: and of course in itself it is no question at all. The Kingdom is already established, but not yet definitively mani­fest—we remain in a time of development, of choice, and of preparation.

    We remain in a time of decision. A Christian is, or should be, one who has “decided for” the Parousia, for the final coining of the Kingdom. His life is oriented by this decision. His existence has meaning in so far as the Parousia is crucial to him.

    But the Parousia is, it seems, indefinitely delayed. This is no accident either. It must be taken as part of the question. The Parousia by itself is no question. The delay of the Parousia is not the whole question. This delay raises the question.

    The question is as follows.

    As Christians we are men who have based all our hopes on the Kingdom of Christ, to be definitively manifest by final victory in the Parousia—this is the final victory of life over death.

    The Parousia having been “delayed,” we have been for two thousand years left to construct for ourselves in the world a kind of kingdom, a cultural-religious-political Christendom, which is admittedly not all one would have looked for, but which has its advantages.

    Now the question is—if the Parousia means the end and destruction of this provisional structure, indeed its judgment, should we really desire the Parousia? Should we not in all earnestness pray for the Parousia to be delayed indefinitely, and indeed, with all the power given to us over the will of God, by prayer, should we not rather attempt to change His plan, and forget the whole business?

    Should we not rather make it our duty to ask Him to let us build the Kingdom in our own way, a kingdom consistent with what we have begun, a Kingdom of God that is at once a sacred enclave in the world and also politically in collabora­tion with the world?

    Should we not insist that the Parousia should simply be regarded as our social, cultural, religious, and political triumph in the world, so that we are no longer an enclave, but have finally succeeded in taking it all over? We tried it once, beginning in the eighth century and going on through the Middle Ages—it was a good attempt, but some important points were overlooked. Can we not get ourselves into a position to make a better try? And this time to succeed?

    Thus we find ourselves, in effect, deciding against the Par­ousia. “Thy Kingdom come”—but not now, not in that dis­tressing way—but in our time and our way. Thus the Christian has learned to pray against judgment, and for an eternity that is an indefinite prolongation of time, because time is what we need: time to try it over and over again.

    Suggested emendation in the Lord’s Prayer: Take out “Thy Kingdom come” and substitute “Give us time!”

    But then what? What are we going to do with “time?” Make deductions from past history, devise a system—a Chris­tian system—and put it to work? Or rather consider carefully the systems devised by others and baptize their systems, mak­ing them suddenly Christian, and discovering in them the unexpected Kingdom?

    Mirgeler* shows how the Stoic concept of “Natural Law” became extremely convenient for a Christianity which was reconciled to settling down in the world of late antiquity and getting along without the Parousia.

    * See A. Mirgeler, Mutations of Western Christianity, pp. 17-18.

    (Thomas Merton, pg. 124, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

    • Robert F says:

      Yes, Tom. But I’m not sure how baptizing coffee shops answers Merton’s questions, or responds to his concerns. In fact, it could be move us further toward the emendation “Give us time!”

      But anyway, to paraphrase almost the last public words that Merton spoke before he died, as he was wrapping up a presentation before a group of assembled Buddhist and Catholic monks in Bangkok: I think it’s time for us to take a break now. Maybe we can all go get a Coke, or something…

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Tom, thanks for sharing this piece from Merton. It brings to mind Robert Capon writing about right-handed and left-handed power.

  4. Richard Hershberger says:

    Talk to me like I’m stupid. I get that the point of this piece is the church’s fearfulness about going out and making disciples, preferring to turn inward and make itself a safe harbor. But the objections to the specific idea seem to me entirely valid, even overwhelmingly persuasive. The idea seems to be to encourage a bunch of high school and junior high school students (Coffee for junior high kids? Is this a thing? I am old.) to hang out with college students in a semi-controlled (at best) environment in order to foster personal relationships. What could possibly go wrong? Um… I can think of lots of things. These are trivialized by putting them in terms of placating the important (i.e. wealthy) parents’ concerns about cigarettes. My concern would be pregnancies or worse. University students don’t as a rule hang out with high school–much less junior high school–kids because it is a cool thing to do. So when I look at this idea, I imagine the “what were they thinking?” pieces after a thirteen year old girl ends up upstairs at a frat party. What am I missing here?

    • Richard, your objections are valid. But, quoting from the story;

      “Our values are safety, parental approval and use of our own facility so that we look good.”

      My question is, Why do those values trump “mission”? Or, what really is the “mission”? In reality, didn’t the Austin character actually kick the mission can further down the road?

    • Richard, as Tom said, some of your concerns are perfectly valid. And when I read this story, I don’t think it’s quite as black and white as you are making it out to be, as though Michael was being unequivocal in his criticism of the church. When the friend Austin speaks near the end, he gives Skip a bigger perspective, and some of that involves the fact that this church isn’t ready for his idea, and I would think that some of your concerns are part of the reason they weren’t.

      But what I would also say is that a church that has “safety, parental approval, and the use of our own facility” as its core values will neither be involved in God’s mission as it should nor will it be able to protect its families the way it thinks it can. Kids will get pregnant, go to frat parties in a university town, and find ways to stretch their wings that neither parents nor churches will be able to control. Not that they shouldn’t try, but to think that you can exercise that level of control will put you on the path to disappointment every time.

      I think the story is nuanced enough for discussion about what the way forward should be, both for the church and this youth pastor. Is he right to think about moving on from this church? Is his demand for an all or nothing proposal the way to go here, or might there be alternatives? There are many ways this scenario could play out.

    • Richard, it’s a STORY written to make a POINT! It’s not a real life situation or a second person account.

      What I get out of it is that the youth minister forgot that his job was to train and inspire his charges to missional thinking. That is what a teacher does. What the young man experienced was that he was bumping up against the walls of his chosen job’s boundaries, just as we all have experienced in OUR professions.

      This story was not so much as a condemnation of the “church” system as it is a lesson that we CAN think big while working within the bounds of what we have.

      In reality, if the young man felt such a burden for this coffee house, rather than imitate someone else’s ministry, he should just plan his OWN jailbreak, write up a business plan, find those few who shared his vision, then QUIT his soft cushy, safe job and launched out into the deep himself.

      The “church” complex is not the end-all of ministry, but a safe place where we can reach out successfully to the world. If we fail we still have the safe harbor of fellow believers to pray for us and comfort us.

      • Patricia says:

        You defined the church as a “safe place where we can reach out successfully to the world. If we fail we still have the safe harbor of fellow believers to pray for us and comfort us.”

        I suspect that many are in congregations that fail to be that safe harbor. What does this bode for those who would endeavor to be missional?

        • “Mission” like politics always starts and is most effective “local”. Church as “safe harbor” should be a given, but, I think it’s more meaningful to understand church as a local instantiation of the Kingdom. Being that kind of incarnation/sacrament to the world can get you killed. “Playing it safe” is not the Kingdom. And, “risk” and “danger” are not the same thing.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > “Playing it safe” is not the Kingdom.

            Neither is sticking your finger in a light-socket. Some safety is entirely warranted, some people are in need of safety.

            Criticizing people for wanting safety, for themselves, their families, and their children is not realistic.

            > And, “risk” and “danger” are not the same thing.

            Agree. Risks need to be honestly realized and discussed by everyone involved, and then consented to.

          • Adam T said,

            Neither is sticking your finger in a light-socket. Some safety is entirely warranted, some people are in need of safety.

            Criticizing people for wanting safety, for themselves, their families, and their children is not realistic. I agree.

            I was brought up to be codependent, something I’ve worked on escaping, and I get tired of Christians who cast enlightened self-interest and getting your own needs met as being selfish, anti Gospel, or un-Christian.

            There is nothing wrong with a person putting himself first, keeping himself safe, etc, while at the same time trying to reach out to other people.

            Not all Christians are called to plead the case of Jesus before hostile Roman soldiers who want to toss them to lions.

            There are some American Christians today who say to other American Christians if you aren’t doing ‘radical’ stuff, like literally giving up all your money and nice house in the burbs, to go live in a shack in Africa and preach to the Natives, you are Selfish and Horrible.

            I disagree.

            I don’t think God expects or demands every single Christian to live in dire poverty, put their life at risk to spread the Gospel to Natives in Foreign Land. It looks like some people are called to do everyday, mundane stuff, like be a parent to a kid or hold down a 9 to 5 job, etc.

          • My reply to Adam was not formatted correctly, I did not put the tag in the last blockquote thing.

            His last comment in my post was,
            “people for wanting safety, for themselves, their families, and their children is not realistic.”

            My comment starts at the phrase, “I agree”

          • Adam, I hope you noticed that I put MISSION in ” “…

            The “mission” that was presented in the story was that of “safety, parental approval, and the use of our own facilit(ies)”. Or call that “core values” if you want. Whichever you call it I’d say it’s the values of a Religious Business Club and not that of the Kingdom.

            I doubt that it didn’t matter in a situation described by M. Spencer if the issue was a store front coffee house or a county jail ministry–except that minors would not be allowed by law enforcement into the jail to “minister”. The “core values” are still “safety, parental approval, etc.”

            I have similar qualms about the usage of the words “mission” or “missional”. They strike me more as marketing terms than anything else.

            >>Neither is sticking your finger in a light-socket. Some safety is entirely warranted, some people are in need of safety.

            Criticizing people for wanting safety, for themselves, their families, and their children is not realistic.<<

            Your first sentence is hyperbolic, yet amusing. It's like daring someone to lick an iron pump handle in sub-zero weather….Some risk are appropriate, some are not. Many factors involved and they're not the same for every individual. Some people, especially moms of teenagers, need some nudging (not demanding or guilting or coercion) to allow themselves to allow their kids to take appropriate risk.

            "Safety" at any cost is extremism. Moderation in the pursuit of integrity is no virtue. And, teenagers see through it all and often chuck church in the first year of college.

            A basic problem that was exposed/created in the story was that in the described programmatic RBC the greatest concern was continuation of the structure and services.

            I've dealt with these kinds of issues first hand in church settings–as I'm sure you have also.

        • Yes Patricia, and all who claim to be Christians are not necessarily Christians. Just because there are imperfect situation does not mean that the whole enterprise should be scrapped.

          • Patricia says:

            No church is perfect of course. However, if/when we fail, many of us do not have what you describe as a safe harbor in the church where we can receive prayer and comfort, encouragement etc. I’m wondering how “safe” kingdom living really is/or should be at times! Perhaps that is a point to consider as well as we all fail to live our Christ in us to one another. Even in the “story,” where was the prayer and comfort you suggest should be there for Skip? Was any even offered – or did I miss that part?

            Over my life, I have been disappointed more by fellow “Christ followers” than those who don’t know Him. However, I have learned that any disappointment often means God has something better in mind. And this, as well as knowing that Jesus suffers along with me, makes the hurt easier to bear. In the end, I’ve learned to be more generous with His grace and not so quick to usurp His judgment.

            It sure is interesting to see how these “stories” bring out our differences. Hopefully, these will not divide us but make us more aware of the beautiful human mosaic the LORD is in the process of re-creating as we are united in Him.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Richard, it’s a STORY written to make a POINT! It’s not a real life situation or a second person account.

        I see you’ve never heard the one about ALL the parables being word-for-word RL situations and examples via Christ’s Omniscience. (op cit Dake’s Annotated Bible — one long strange head trip)

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > What the young man experienced was that he was
        > bumping up against the walls of his chosen job’s
        > boundaries, just as we all have experienced in OUR
        > professions.

        Ditto.

        > it is a lesson that we CAN think big while working
        > within the bounds of what we have.

        Succeeding at working within [always present] boundaries requires both robust constitution and real creativity. Which helps to explain why success is a rather rare thing.

        > he should just plan his OWN jailbreak, write up a business plan

        And run an actuall for-real Coffee shop. But I don’t know how that would be specifically missional, he would then be operating a public accommodation.

        • Adam, the point would not be to just run a business. Finding supporters who share the vision and are willing to partner in the risk is part of the plan. Even churches have business plans but that doesn’t make them only businesses. Whatever idea he had for a “mission” could still be carried out while conducting business. And the sad truth is that if his venture proves to be minimally successful THEN the church might throw in their support as well.

    • Danielle says:

      I know that details are not really the main point of piece. Nonetheless, the problems with the specifics mentioned in the story do suggest broader principles that are relevant. Richard mentioned safety. Safety in this particular case would not keep me awake at night: I think the chances of a junior high or high school student integrating into a college student’s social circle is fairly remote. I was once a 15-year old taking college courses, and I chatted with my classmates, but no one thought I belonged a frat party. And does anyone really want a bunch of kids at their drinking parties? But the principles still stands – safety is a question you have to pose when dealing with junior high-high school age youth. You are in the formation stage with that group.

      A second consideration: Who to enlist in your cause. The reason I WOULD let a teenager work at the coffee shop points out the flaw in the idea: If you are going to try to develop relationships with college students and possibly have meaningful discussions with them, your best emissaries are not the church youth group. You want college students, and college graduates.

      (This is a bit like sending high school students without even menial labor skills to Mexico to build houses: They like going to Mexico. They are terrible construction workers.)

      Both Skip’s intensions and the pushback suggest a reasonable principle: The youth group needs to be given opportunities to serve outside the evangelical subculture bubble, in venues that are age-appropriate and that match the skills teenagers have or can be expected to develop.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Aside: I was involved in an nearly parallel process to the one described here. Except that a coffee-house [of sort] actually got opened/built. It got built in an unused house on property adjacent to the church, on a major stroad, with no pedestrian access, at a freeway exchange, in a place with no other adjacent services. Of course it failed, completely. A lot of money got spent. And the insane “compromise” plan was obviously doomed to everyone involved. It happened anyway; organizational inertia, it would have been a lack of faith to just kill the project but too risky to do it ‘for real’.

    > If you open a coffeehouse, have a musician in there
    > using bad language, singing about sex to an audience
    > full of kids with tattoos and piercings, the parents
    > are going to have nothing to do with it.

    It may not be popular to say on this site – but the church leaders were correct. This project is flawed. How would these *inevitable* conflicts be resoled? It points to the flaw in the thinking – Why does a church need to run a coffee shop? Aren’t there coffee shops? The entire notion of store-front Evangelism is misguided.

    If church members are not in the coffee shops, pubs, and shops as a part of their normal daily routine… then it is just more marketing; they are exclusive, and those relationships they hope to manufacture are unlikely to happen.

  6. I have read through this 3 times. What was the core value for me here. I noticed the paragraph, “Austin could see that Skip heard him and understood him, so he continued. “We’re going to inspire people to be part of a mission that goes way beyond this kind of church. The stuff we do here isn’t worthless if we put the vision for a larger, better mission at the center of it. So you have to take what you are seeing and feeling, and pass it on in a way that will one day, in God’s time and place, get beyond CBC. We don’t do eveything we can dream of, Skip. But we can pass our dream on to better people, who will make it happen.” This is a great encouragement as I have a vision (if I may) about Christ-follower men at our place of worship. I am a man of older years and would love the opportunity to share with a great bunch of kids the vision that may or may not happen in my life-time. It takes love, perserverance and trust in God. Thanks

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The stuff we do here isn’t worthless if we put the vision for a larger,
      > better mission at the center of it

      I am extremely skeptical of this “mission” oriented concept, from the ground up. The center of my life and my community is not a “mission”; I am not a Holy Double-Oh-Seven. I guess I’m OK with “vision”, but “mission” makes me uneasy.

    • @ Jerry
      “I have read through this 3 times.”

      You deserve a medal. I read it one time. It was quite long.

  7. IMO, the coffee shop itself isn’t the issue. It is the discomfort Skip felt about becoming successful in a system that was a self-feeding loop. The kids he drew to his care were from his own church or from other churches, that’s it. Everyone gave him kudos but he saw it was inadequate.

    His church leaders didn’t even consider the intentions underlying his coffee shop proposal. There was no discussion at all and that is a spiritual problem. “Mission” for them was the periodic over-seas trips, which we all know are of limited value and financially inefficient. In fact, such youth mission trips inculcate a shabby understanding of mission because the greatest good in them largely redounds upon the US youth, another self-feeding device.

    Cultural separatism and self-feeding are gigantic problems in the US church.

    I think Austin gave Skip a mediocre response intended to settle him back down/in. It was an answer for someone entering church volunteerism at retirement, not a younger person in full enthusiasm. What if Austin had instead offered to help give Skip’s ideas legs? What if they began discussing why/what, drawing others in to bat ideas back/forth? Any number of smaller/larger projects could have been put in place to help the church out of its self-feeding loop and into the broader community.

    • You all are having exactly the kind of discussion I think this complex but simple story was designed to engender. There’s a lot more to it than church = bad, coffeehouse = good, etc. Like real life, the possibilities for all involved are only limited by our inability to see them.

      • Patrice says:

        Yup. If Skip’s priority was not the coffee shop but to remain working with youth in a church context (he was obviously gifted that way), any number of projects could have brought them into the broader community.

        Are there thriving scout troops or could something like them be established? Are there artsy types for public music/dance/theatre/painting programs? Chess/computer/reading clubs? Community gardening plus roping in the old folks to teach food preservation? Animal husbandry, Humane Society, hunting? Tree planting? Caring for neglected lands? Nursing homes? Hospice aides? Are there soup kitchens, homeless shelters, domestic abuse shelters in which to plug some of the teens, or do they need to be established? Big sister/brother type programs? Is there a need to for challenging speakers/bands for college population?

        Could he build cooperation with the churches from which he pulled many youth? Perhaps, between them, the various age groups could be given focused attention.

        Literally hundreds ideas could be hatched, ideas that combine the needs/interests of church youth with those of community youth and through them, develop relationships at all levels. It’s the only effective way to be “missional” inside one’s culture. The Spirit works in relationship with us—why would we think something less would suffice when we show Him to others?

        If Skip’s church leaders had recognized the need underlying his proposal and if Austin hadn’t reined him back in, the story could have ended with Skip happily digging through a bucketful of ideas rather than revising his resume.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          You’ve nailed it. In focusing on A Mission the opportunities got narrowed.

          > It’s the only effective way to be “missional” inside one’s culture.

          But the cynic in me believes he can see what would have happened to many of these ideas. Planting trees, cleaning up parks or transit stops, providing labor assistance at shelters, computer clubs… I have some experience with all these ideas. You’d get met with “how does that lead people to Christ?” They aren’t *direct*. That they connect the church with the community, build good will, provide young adults with constructive uses of time and opportunities for networking and skill development… that isn’t “missional” [that’s “just life skills” – an actual quote]. Why should the church pay for that?

          And Animal Husbandry… I think it is a great idea. But at least in my environs you’d have risked being laughed out of the room. Animals have no place in The Salvation Story. A quote said to me regarding a group helping to plant a community garden: “Well, at least they aren’t taking in strays.” 🙁

          One root flaw, IMNSHO, is that the very notion of Mission is a flawed one. Having the discussion using that kind of terminology inherently aims people at other people, it makes everything bent.

          > Literally hundreds ideas could be hatched, ideas that combine the
          > needs/interests of church youth with those of community youth

          Sadly my experience has been that any youth with a real interest in something would have to find another venue to pursue it. I hope that is different elsewhere, but my admittedly anecdotal experience suggests otherwise. Of course having to find another venue may not be a bad thing – it probably has to happen that way in smaller churches in any case – but the feeling that one’s interests are devalued is extremely deleterious.

          • Patrice says:

            Yeah, they are also life skills. What, Christians don’t want to be efficient? Lol

            That quote shows cluelessness about what it means to be “salt”. Those who say such things need extensive teaching about what God calls us to do, how Jesus lived, and taking the lazy quick way out of loving others versus the whole life-time way. Sermons, bible study and Sunday School could start moving Skip’s church forward right now rather than just hanging on for the next generation. (And anyway, how will the next generation learn this if it is not already being taught/modeled?)

            That quote also forgets that teens are not adults. They need to learn how to be “out there”, to see it as part of themselves, distinct but not different from “in here” (every teen needs to learn this, only separatists think otherwise). They need to learn that unbelievers are like them, how to be in relationship with people they disagree with, how to handle destructive ideas and how to be available for good ideas no matter where they come from. When they have a handle on these things, they can be made aware of how Christ winds through all their lives and how He becomes available to those who don’t know him when opportunity presents.

            Those who have no clue about God’s delight in animals/nature/earth? I put hunting in the list for that group, since they’ll often be fine with that. There is much about valuing creatures that can be taught via hunting — the astonishing beauty and complexity of their bodies/lives, for eg. Respecting the life given. The need/nature of a healthy environment for their continuance/thriving. Etc. And once understood, those principles can spread outwards. There’s a direct line from those concerns to issues of climate change, you know?

            “Mission” is a thread in the rope that is a believer’s life. It is its own thing but cannot function apart from the other threads. Pulling that strand out will bend it, yep, rendering it so flimsy as to be nearly useless.

            I agree that it can be fine to “find another venue” esp for smaller churches or those mostly made up of different age groups, as you said. Success depends on older Christians helping teens learn what they need to learn, in practice. Interested adult singles can make excellent mentors.

            Sometimes I think the worst of US Evangelicalism is their complete lack of creativity. All that law-emphasis has ruined it in them.

            Thanks Adam. That was fun.

          • Adam:
            Many of those who are self described ‘missional believers’ would say that exactly the types of things you say you are involved in are missional.

            The idea is that it is no longer an inward focus but an outward focus on helping the community (promoting God’s shalom) and that we need to develop people not programs.

            There are an increasing number of people who are concerned that church is all about programs and building the membership list, not about being salt and light in our communities.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > Many of those who are self described ‘missional believers’ would say
            > that exactly the types of things you say you are involved in are missional.

            Yes, I have no doubt would, they are also wrong. They are practicing a linguistic trope. These things are not “missional”; some are just wed to the term, they need to keep “mission” so the definition is stretched until it includes everything – and then is it even worth saying anymore? If everything is missional then what does missional mean?

            A mission is a goal oriented targeting thing, that is what mission means. A soldier goes on a mission. A missionary goes on a mission – to reach the people in XYZ with the gospel. A life is not a mission; it just isn’t.

            Unless hospitality is practiced solely with the hope that someday I’ll get to have The Talk with someone. In which case it is (a) missional, (b) not hospitality, (c) most people will smell it, and (d) is dishonest.

            > The idea is that it is no longer an inward focus but an outward focus on
            > helping the community (promoting God’s shalom) and that we need to
            > develop people not programs.

            That sounds a lot more like “love” than “mission” to me.

    • Skip’s REAL issue was his misconception of what “going into the ministry” really IS, that is, serving the “saints”. It is never about reaching the lost, as much as many would like to think, it is more about entering a system where the already converted can be ministered to, with the part time chance of doing outreach to the “unsaved”. This may sound cynical, but it is the truth.

      • @ oscar.

        I totally agree!

        I said much the same thing in my post below. I typed my post before seeing your post.

    • Patrice said,
      Cultural separatism and self-feeding are gigantic problems in the US church.

      I’m not sure I totally understand how you are defining or understanding the term “self feeding” there, but if I understand you rightly. I kind of disagree – maybe.

      I do think a lot of seeker-friendly evangelical churches are self absorbed, but they claim to want to reach out to the Non Christians in their communities, so they put in a coffee shop and a rockin’ guitar rock band, thinking stuff like that will attract Non Christian people.

      Meanwhile, if you have spiritually mature Christians in that church, THEY are not “being fed.”

      When these Christians – the spiritually mature ones – go to the preachers of the seeker friendly churches, they get scolded by the preacher or his staff and told that “church is not about you, it’s only for reaching the lost. Stop being selfish.”

      Well, for fudge sake, yes church is indeed for those already saved.

      Christians are supposed to help other Christians out, and Christ told Peter to “feed his sheep,” not “attract and entertain the goats.”

      Yes, evangelism is one part of what Jesus told Christians to do (go forth) but it was not the ONLY or even primary responsibility of Christians.

      • Hey, Daisy!

        Yes, you’re right, but I think that is a different problem, one of poor and spotty nutrition. We take in plenty of sermons and books and studies but it’s McDonalds all the way down, if you know what I mean.

        To pull the metaphor further, the “dying to self” meme often comes up looking like anorexia, a disease specific to wealthy societies. So many Christians, even when approvingly quoting the two great Commandments, will say, “Love God above all and love others”, as if there’s not quite enough love to go around, or perhaps there’s enough love but too much of it will make one personally lose control. We all need love. So certainly we need to take care of each other inside the church.

        (Extending metaphor to breaking point), yes, we feed ourselves poorly, but on top of that, those on the outside only get leftovers. It is not surprising that they find both the gesture and the food tasteless, and don’t bother to pursue us.

  8. I understand it’s easy to mock and ridicule how certain types of Christians evangelize, but… Christians are told in the Bible to go forth etc.

    And Christ told the disciples to go from house to house in the towns he sent them to.

    I do see how modern attempts at evangelism can backfire or come across as tacky to some types of people (such as teens), but how else would some of you here suggest that Christians reach Non Christians, or to specific types, such as teens?

    I read an article by someone months ago (can’t remember if they were ex-Christians or atheists or what – maybe this was the page, “Jesus on the Side” ?), but they had this big page about a church somewhere who gave out free pizza to local high school kids.

    IIRC, the idea is that the kids would come to the church (or church sponsored community center, whatever it was) after school, hear a Bible story, and get all the free pizza they wanted. The local kids dubbed it “Jesus pizza.”

    It may seem kind of pushy or lame for a church to win teens over in that way, to get them to listen about Jesus by doling out free pizza, but how many other ways can a group of Christians spread the message to teens?

    It’s not that I’m totally in agreement with some of these methods churches are using to evangelize, but how else does one go about it?

    This:

    The church was generous to the youth program. They paid for mission trips, recreation, concerts and new facilities

    Yep. Churches throw all funding at married with children couples and Youth junk but won’t spare a dime funding adult singles ministries and social events, and by single adults, I mean adults past the age of 30.

    I just finished reading the coffee house thing (man that was long).

    Why does a church have to build its own coffee house? Why can’t the pastor and a few Christians just visit the local Starbucks weekly and strike up acquaintanceships with the people who go to Starbucks?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > It may seem kind of pushy or lame for a church to win
      > teens over in that way, to get them to listen about
      > Jesus by doling out free pizza, but how many other ways
      > can a group of Christians spread the message to teens?

      Agree; it is tack and off-putting. But I don’t have any concrete alternatives to suggest – and I did youth ministry. Teenagerdom is such an ungainly and weird thing; someday I hope our culture evolves some other model for early adulthood.

      > Yep. Churches throw all funding at married with
      > children couples and Youth junk but won’t spare
      > a dime funding adult singles ministries and social
      > events, and by single adults

      I believe there is some expectation that adult evens will be self-funding. There is a kind of rationality to that; obvious youth events cannot be self-funding.

      And there is the old meme that there is a “window” in which people choose a direction for their life – and you need to get to them in that “window of opportunity”. I recall that being discussed quite a lot in my Evangelical days. There is probably some degree of truth to that too. But in hindsight a lot of those decisions didn’t stick as once you aged out of the window the institution didn’t really provide much in the way of direction or answers.

      > Why does a church have to build its own coffee house?

      Ditto

      > Why can’t the pastor and a few Christians just visit the local
      > Starbucks weekly and strike up acquaintanceships with the
      > people who go to Starbucks?

      Aren’t they just doing that anyway? If going to a coffee shop and happening into conversations… if that is missional…. your life has a strange color. People may find it hard to have conversations with you.

      • Adam T W said,
        And there is the old meme that there is a “window” in which people choose a direction for their life – and you need to get to them in that “window of opportunity”

        I am not sure if that remarks is in regards to youth ministry or single adults,…

        I’m over 40 and never married. I did not choose to be single.

        I followed all Christian advice to get married (pray, have faith, wait) and I never got a spouse.

        There is just no excuse for churches giving the shaft to adult singles, not giving equal funding to adult singles. They often have to financially support themselves, it is a myth that adult singles have tons of loose change laying about.

        It’s not that kids don’t have the money to pay for church things, it’s that churches ignore adult singles, or consider them lepers.

        Most churches worship the institution or marriage and parenthood. Their money goes to where their idolatry goes – at the golden calf of marriage and parenthood.

        You are viewed as a weirdo or loser by evangelical Christians, some Reformed, and Baptists, if you are not married with two kids by age 30.

        • Robert F says:

          “You are viewed as a weirdo or loser by evangelical Christians, some Reformed, and Baptists, if you are not married with two kids by age 30.”

          You forgot dangerous….weirdo or loser, or dangerous…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          >> And there is the old meme that there is a “window”
          > I am not sure if that remarks is in regards to youth ministry or single adults,…

          It is just what I remember hearing, frequently. And I think it has some, but limited, merit. People are, in a way, more flexible before they have home, careers, families [be they children or elderly parents], etc… But the practice of acting like everything is settled once someone turns 25 is simply crazy; and that is what seems to happen. I’ve changed a lot since 25; if I met my 25 year old self I’d probably smack him upside the head.

          > There is just no excuse for churches giving the shaft to adult
          > singles, not giving equal funding to adult singles.

          I don’t know, something like “equal funding” sounds odd to me. Maybe the whole issue would go away if churches just focused on their congregation and communities and stopped carving people up into categories. Or maybe that is a pipe dream. The carving model rather clearly left a lot of people without a niche except as the leftovers, at least where I was.

          > it is a myth that adult singles have tons of loose change laying about.

          I don’t believe I said that. But they are adults, if they wanted to get together for some purpose I’d hope a great deal of it can be worked out amongst themselves. But I suppose it depends on what you mean. I cannot imagine organizing a Coffee Shop for adults, for example. And, IMNSHO, the whole missions trip thing is just a pointless waste of money for everybody – which I know makes me scandalously unpopular.

          > it’s that churches ignore adult singles, or consider them lepers.

          The Evangelical church I experienced had some of the “lepers” vibe. I don’t really see that in the RCC. But adults are more-or-less expected to find their own thing. Some of this awkwardness comes from the culture at large and not just from The Church. Our culture is only now adapting to the reality that most people are not Families; and by 2030 the single-occupant will be [by a healthy margin] the majority American house-hold. Big shake-ups are on the horizon.

          > Most churches worship the institution or marriage and parenthood

          That is what they know. Our culture, of which The Church has just been a participant, has been obsessed with the Ward Cleaver suburban white-picket fence model for decades. It has always been a fantasy; it has never described the majority of people. And it is rapidly receding into history. I understand at least some of your angst – as I stand impatiently on the platform waiting for that train to *finally* leave so a conversation can be had about the real world.

          > You are viewed as a weirdo or loser by evangelical Christian

          Yeah, that is one of the reasons I left. One of many.

          It is funny – outside The Church – when I say I do not have children and do not and never did want any – how often I am quietly affirmed; seriously, at least once a week. So so so many men have quietly said “I think that’s the best choice”. It appears, on the flip side of this, quite a few people were steered toward a life they didn’t necessarily want, or at least hadn’t thought through.

      • Robert F says:

        Hey, Adam, I know Daisy used the “idolatry” word and all, but go easy on her anyway…(right here I would put the smiley face thing, if [techno-idiot that I am] I knew how).

    • Our church gave out free pizza for kids to come to our weekly youth events. We had a strong group going numerically. About ten percent were actually from our congregation. The rest disappeared as soon as the pizza was no longer offered.

      Why can’t the pastor and a few Christians just visit the local Starbucks weekly and strike up acquaintanceships with the people who go to Starbucks?

      You question is the correct answer, imo. The problem is, in terms of leadership bang, this does not net measurable results quickly. This requires the kind of patient presence in a community that slowly invests in relationships over time.

      My wife and I uprooted from southern California a while back to move to Long Island for a job. After nearly three years, we have a couple of places we go where the people genuinely recognize us. This did not happen for the first two. Even still, I’m not about to ask them “Do you think you would go to heaven if you died tonight?” Our secular acquaintances are not targets, they’re people. The right thing to do would be just to get to know them and let those conversations happen when they do. Unfortunately, the “purpose-driven all encompassing family activity community center” that is our church and school together has a tendency to monopolize your life and schedule in a way that virtually eliminates any hope for effective networking outside. Sometimes, the church is the worst enemy of evangelism. We’re so busy with all our projects and our program that we don’t have time to do the work of Jesus. I think the problem for way too many churches is they cannot accept that to do less is to do more. We’re too concerned with attracting other believers to our incredible offerings that we let the busywork necessitated therein slowly dehumanize us a little and isolate ourselves into our little cultural ghettos. Breaking free from this is hard work, but I fear for the future of churches who do not.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Yep

        > After nearly three years,

        Sounds about right. Making relationships is a s-l-o-w process.

        Perhaps part of this stems from that, as a child, making friends was much easier. I can actually recall asking “Do you want to be my friend?” and then going off and doing some thing or another. But that is life as a child. Adult friendships are nothing like that. But at least some part of us, at least for some people, want it to be a bit like that.

        Instead I go to MARP, LUG, DGRi, GRBC… etc.. [the meaning of any of those acronyms is irrelevant] events and meetings for years and I get to know a *few* people, I frequent my favorite coffee shop for years and I come to recognize a *few* people. I keep seeing the same guy walking his dog. I encounter the same people at the bus stop at the same time. And some acquaintances persist, and some disappear, and a *few* become friends. And some of those will still be hostile to any religion-talk. But that is life as an adult. One could just hide out in the church, but it is way less interesting.

        • Radagast says:

          I am not bashful… I will talk to anybody and it tends to bear fruit. There are a handful that are close to me, but many more, from different walks of life, that I will talk to as I meet them in that particular environment. Few transcend all environments. Not a chameleon though – I am who I am wherever I talk with folks.

      • Radagast says:

        Just curious… Are you in the city or the Burbs?… Spent my first 11 years in Plainview…

  9. Christiane says:

    there are no steps towards the light of Christ that are too small . . . sometimes it’s even a matter of ‘falling forward’ that shows hope and trust in what is to come

    ‘sojourning’ may not as popular a concept among the ‘saved’ who see themselves as safely above it all;
    but for those of us who are on a journey through this world as pilgrims, it is a journey of trust and hope that is ‘anchored’ in a place beyond this Earth . . . there is much struggling, much falling, and much stopping to help another up along the way. But in this process, we are able to remain humble and as servants of one another

    It is not for nothing that St. John spoke about the Christ as the Light in the midst of the darkness, and for those among us out in the darkness of the ‘great empty’ , there is much more meaning in the coming of the Light of Christ into this world to guide us to our home

    an old Hasidic story about the Light and the Darkness:

    ‘ ” The rabbi asked his students: “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?”

    One of the rabbi’s students suggested: “When from a distance you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep?”

    “No,” was the answer of the rabbi.

    “It is when one can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?” asked a second student.

    “No,” the rabbi said.

    “Please tell us the answer then,” said the students.

    “It is then,” said the wise teacher, “when you can look into the face of another human being and you have enough light in you to recognize your brother or your sister. Until then it is night, and darkness is still with us.” ‘

    small steps
    . . . even lighting one small candle in the darkness makes a difference in such a world as ours

  10. This is a wonderful story. and it shows that we must think outside the box like Jesus did when he shared himself with people. There is no right or wrong way to share the gospel. C. S. Lewis pointed that out when he said

    “You can’t lay down any pattern for God. There are many different ways of bringing people into His Kingdom, even some ways I specially dislike! I have therefore learned to be cautious in my judgement.” from God in the Dock, p. 262.

    Paul said it well when he said

    Philippians 1:14-18

    New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

    Yes, and I will rejoice

    And,

    1 Corinthians 9:19-23

    New American Standard Bible (NASB)

    19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under [b]the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

    The question is, are we attracting the kind of people that Jesus did, or are we just looking out for the “good” people? Then, we won’t be worried about whether the people we attract (gasp!) smoke or drink, but that they’re people Christ died for. And they’re not just potential notches on our King James Bible, but men and women created in God’s image.

  11. Randy Thompson says:

    It seems to me that ministry is about doing things in the present that may not bear fruit until sometime in the (distant?) future. Austin’s point, it seems to me, is to prayerfully influence the people God gives you now so that, perhaps, they go on to become the people who “make” the vision happen.

    The parable is about ministry in the short-term perspective versus ministry in long-term perspective. If God wants a “coffee house,” God often takes His time in making that happen. We think almost always in “right now” mode. God doesn’t. God’s Big Idea was sending His Son to us, and it took him thousands of years (at least) to make that happen.

    A coffee show that is the product of “wretched urgency” is probably not going to be worth much. A coffee shop that becomes a vision for outreach and evangelism that is planted deep in the hearts of the church’s youth group could be of great worth, even if the literal coffee show never happens.

    Great parable. Thanks for posting this.

  12. Robert F says:

    Zen saying:

    When chopping wood, just chop wood.
    When carrying water, just carry water.
    When running a coffee shop, just run a coffee shop.

    * * * * *

    If you open a coffee shop, your first goal should be to make and serve good coffee that people will enjoy. Any other motivation is a cheat.

    • +10,000

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Hmm…I don’t know. A part of me agrees with you, yet a part of me doesn’t. When praying and prepping our church’s coffee house “ministry,” we visited a few similar coffee houses in our area. One, in basement of a church, was so void of anything spiritual/Christ-like that it rubbed several of us the wrong way, almost like they went so out of the way NOT to offend that it left a bad taste in our mouths. So, if you’re opening a coffee house as a way of trying to connect people to God in at least in some manner, then you probably need to have more than just good coffee in your shop.

      • Robert F says:

        You can connect people with God by making really good coffee…a good cup of coffee is just a little short of the Beatific Vision.

        The problem with the basement coffee house you mention is that they were not focused on making good coffee.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Again, not sure about that. While your Zen sayings have a point, a thing can be so “Zen-like” as to be totally void of anything. Sometimes you need to do more than chop wood, carry water and make a good cup of coffee. (And I believe some of your experiences with Zen would back this up. Why else believe in Christ, if all things Zen are sufficient?)

          • Robert F says:

            I really do think that if you advertise yourself as a coffeehouse, your primary thing should be making coffee. If your main thing is providing a place for people to meet in the hope of building relationships toward converting people to Christ, you should advertise yourself as such. Otherwise, you’re tricking people in the door; they generally don’t like that.

            Do Christian coffeehouses actually draw a lot of non-Christians, or lapsed Christians? Or are they merely clubs for young Christians to hang out in?

            The Zen thing is just fun for me, although, there is some truth in it. If we do whatever we do to the glory of God, even just making a good cup of coffee and serving it to a stranger with no strings attached, we are as surely serving the Kingdom, and reaching the world, as if we convert a thousand souls.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > Otherwise, you’re tricking people in the door; they generally don’t like that.

            +1

          • Rick Ro, sometimes you need to do more than chop wood, but never while you are chopping wood. Otherwise, two things will happen: 1) You’ll get hurt and 2) You won’t be able to heat your house.

            I don’t know anything about Zen, but in Christian terms Robert F’s proverb reminds me of something Dorothy Sayers said: “The only Christian work is good work well done.”

          • Robert F says:

            Ted,

            For someone who doesn’t know anything about Zen, you know at least as little as the Zen Patriarch Joshu. See the following from the Gateless Gate:

            Once when Joshu was chopping wood, he became distracted by a falling snow flake, and severed his toe. When one of his students ran to help him, Joshu said to him, “See, the divided mind has only nine toes, and a cold hut.” At that moment, the student’s mind was opened, and he was enlightened.

          • Robert, that’s exactly the kind of thing I had in mind. Did you make that up just for me?

          • Robert F says:

            Ted, I did make it up, though Zen literature is replete with such stories, and I was merely adding one of my own to the corpus, under your inspiration. Joshu was a real figure in Chinese Zen history, known for his enigmatic and often enlighteningly humorous antics and utterances. If the Three Stooges had followed William Blake’s proverbial advice, “If the fool persists in his folly, he shall become wise,” they would have ended up like Joshu

        • Rick Ro. says:

          And also, note I never said the basement coffee house was a failure from a business sense. Just that it felt like it had absolutely nothing to offer that one couldn’t find at a Starbucks.

          • Robert F says:

            It doesn’t matter whether or not it was a failure in a business sense. They were not interested in making and serving coffee, but in converting souls, so they had an ulterior motive, and the coffee making and serving was merely a front for their ulterior motive, even though they tried to hide their agenda beneath a neutral veneer. What is remotely spiritual in any of that? That has to be a complete and abject failure in every sense of the word, including as a coffee venture, because no matter how well they did at the business, that’s not where their hearts were. Now that’s a lousy cup of coffee!

        • Does it have to be an either/or proposition? Is it a cheat if you have two goals of equal priority?

          Make the best damn coffee ever (or blessed coffee if you prefer)
          *and*
          Sharing good news of Jesus

    • Danielle says:

      Yes, this. The irony here is that the purported mission of the coffee house will ensure that it’s objectives will never be realized. If your goal is to create a good coffee shop that brings together a cross-section of people, then your first goal must be creating good place for diverse people to be. The religious value in play will have to be hospitality, not evangelism.

      Then, and only then, you can perhaps use what you’ve created to have conversations related to your religious mission. One might, perhaps, try to reflect something inherent in Christian hospitality in the environment created and the way it is run, or suggest religious themes in the artwork you put up, or perhaps hold some gatherings there that might attract notice from the college student population. I don’t think you can go much further without turning it into a Christian subculture outpost. If people see hospitality, no strings attached, and the proceeds going to, say, community projects of broad appeal, then they may appreciate it and if they have questions, they know where to find you.

      But if the coffee house is nothing more than a thinly disgusted mission outpost (staffed by teenagers used to wretched urgency, with all the tact that comes with it), everyone will be able to tell from a mile away what you are trying to pull off, and no outsider will be at ease there. Would you go to a “friendly Mormon coffee house” whose clear purpose was to create an opportunity for someone to talk to you about spiritual things? In the immortal words of Admiral Akbar, “It’s a trap!”

      • **”The religious value in play will have to be hospitality, not evangelism. “**

        Here you have hit the nail on the head.

        Nevertheless I will appeal to the both/and principle. Christian hospitality is evangelistic in the sense that it arises out of the hospitality we have been shown by God — who found us bleeding and filthy by the side of the road and took us in and fed us and bandaged our wounds.

        I have been helped by a former pastor of mine that referred to much of this kind of thing as “pre-evangelistic” work. It has enormous value in that it plows the field for the seed of Christ’s Kingdom to be planted. I found that when I expanded my definition of what is evangelistic to include acts of hospitality and mercy motivated by my gratitude to God, life got a whole lot simpler and much of the wretchedness was removed from my urgency.

        I

  13. This was a fantastic post that reminded me again of how much I miss Michael. You took him too soon, Jesus.
    I think there are several important things to think about in this story.
    1) The protagonist is dissatisfied because his current ministry doesn’t seem to actually be reaching the lost, which is commendable. As Jesus said, I came for the sick, not the healthy.
    2) The protagonist responded with what he knew. He was steeped in institutional, programatic Christianity, and so his solution was institutional and programatic. It was also an idea that came from his life experience and speaking with friends.
    3) The church is a group of people, and the concerns raised by the board were valid – and while we might scorn this as pandering to the nickels and noses, in point of fact, the board (or council or whatever) should democratically represent the desires of the people (this was a Baptist church in the story).
    4) However, a coffee shop is not the kingdom. The kingdom of God is within you. The protagonist had a legitimate concern, but it seems like he failed to think about categories and definitions.
    5) Even if the coffee shop got built, there is no reason to believe that the youth involved would develop a sense of mission. In fact, short-term missions trips are much better at opening people’s eyes to how most of the rest of the world lives.

  14. Robert F says:

    I’ve never (to my knowledge) been to a Christian coffee shop/house, but my feeling is that they couldn’t be too different from most CCM I’ve heard: second or third rate, and derivative.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      On an ironic note:
      (a) my favorite coffee shop is in a basement [of an ancient brick industrial building, the basement being a great place to be on blazing summer days]. Basements have come up a lot in this thread…
      (b) there are adverts for churches and “Christian” events on the billboard along with everything else. Right next to the advert for the gay pride rally or the underwear party.
      (c) I’ve sat next to groups doing bible study, or a pastor and someone working on a sermon, etc… more times than I can count.
      (d) other than the occasional gripe you find online about “avoid it unless you can stomach annoying Christian college students” – nobody is obnoxious, and it seems a very civil place.
      (e) Carry a spare phone charger – that will get you more conversation than anything else! 🙂

    • In the 1970s we ran a coffee house on Saturday nights in the basement of our church. It was explicitly Christian. Many nights it was packed. We reached dozens of people who were into the counter-culture who would come to talk about Jesus but would not go to a church. Many decided to follow Christ.

      Overall, it was a positive thing and a completely valid way to reach the culture around us.

      I have no idea if it would work today.

  15. Faulty O-Ring says:

    The story should have been set in Salt Lake City.

    Okay, why does the “community” particularly need a coffee house (and need this church to provide them with one)? Why not a comic book shop, or a massage parlor, or a million other non-churchy things?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Exactly. And other people have said that. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier for the people to enter the third-space than for the church to try to create a simulacra of one.

  16. Just a couple of observations that I haven’t seen here. Couldn’t a coffee shop be presented as a way to not only reach out, but also to retain kids that have graduated? No mention was made in the story about whether the church had anything to offer college kids at that point. Those high schoolers graduate out at a pretty fast clip. Those who stay in town might enjoy the opportunity to run a coffee shop near the college. I don’t know what others have seen, but most churches I know of offer nothing at all for those just out of high school. Generally they don’t feel ready to jump right into one of the adult groups.

    I always have caution signs when someone starts talking about casting vision for someone else. It seems to me, God gave this vision to Skip and it may or may not be right for the youth group kids to aim for. Presented as an option, it would be fine. Presented as guidance from God, get with the new program, not so much. So I really lean with whoever suggested that he present it to individuals and put it together independently.

    On the other hand, we are a few years beyond this original post. Church coffee houses have become quite common, at least the way I hear it. Going with the latest trendy way to reach the lost is bound to fail sooner or later, especially as the market becomes saturated with coffee houses of all types. And it could easily become just one more place where the unsaved won’t darken the door, if they feel they are being targeted.