There are times when you not only feel but see the Spirit of God at work. An Unbounded Church group that meets weekly in a Pub experienced such a time one evening recently.
The group has been meeting there for about a year but was forced into meeting on-line for several months by Covid-19 lockdowns. However, we have been able to resume physical meetings for a few weeks now, although the number of other patrons has been quite small.
This particular evening started up with a conversation with a man I’ll call Mark who lost his wife recently and has no other family anywhere in the country. He is usually sitting on his own at a nearby table and week by week has been increasingly willing to talk about matters of faith, in particular about the question of what is ‘his purpose in life’. He recently sat in on our group for a while. The matter of ‘Purpose’ was again the topic of the conversation on this night and this gave plenty of opportunity to bring in a Gospel perspective.
After that the evening was fairly standard, the group did a bible study, with at least one hard copy bible visible on the table. There were several interactions with the staff who we are getting to know quite well. Many customers walked past us and would have seen (and heard) what we were doing. We prayed, audibly, as is normal towards the end of the evening. Then we got up and started to leave.
As a number of us got near the door a man who was sitting there with a group of friends, and whom we had seen around but never spoken to, turned away from his group and said to a couple of us ‘Can I ask you some questions?’. Then followed a discussion of 20 minutes or more in which he asked questions about some of the early biblical characters the first of which was Methuselah and his great age (He then followed up with questions about Adam, Abraham and Moses and the link between them). Clearly he has some, although very confused, knowledge of the Bible.
This discussion gave the opportunity to paint the story (for the man, name still unknown, and one of his friends) from those Old Testament characters to Jesus. I don’t think I have ever in my life used Methuselah as a starting point for an explanation of the Gospel, but if God so decides we’ll take it!
One important point to make here is that we had never spoken to this man or his friends. This shows that knowledge of who we are, and what we stand for, is permeating through the regular customers of the Pub, even to those we have never spoken to. This highlights the importance of Christians being a regular Gospel presence in places where those without Christ meet. This is not inside the walls of church buildings or in meetings in houses.
That man is a regular in the Pub, and we wait to see what God will do with this new relationship.
However, the Spirit was not finished!
While the conversation with the ‘unnamed’ man was happening, a woman approached us, whom I’ll call Debbie. She had been outside, unseen to us, but who had seen us through a large window.
Prior to the Covid shutdown she had been fairly regular at the Pub and as a result of our (strategic) location she had frequently walked past us and we had got to know her to some extent. During that time she had some serious heart surgery and she had asked us to pray for her, and for her daughter who had other medical problems. We did this for several weeks and told her we were doing so. Here she was turning up again and wanted to talk to us. This involved splitting our group so as to be able to carry on two conversations at the same time.
Debbie was effusively thankful that we had prayed for, what turned out to be, her very successful surgery. However, there was something else on her mind. She said that she had been thinking and worrying a lot post her surgery about the prospect of death and wanted to talk about it. It was evident that our regular presence, our willingness to take an interest in her previous medical concerns meant that we were the people she would seek out to share her current concerns with.
This conversation gave us the opportunity to have a discussion into which we were able to bring a Christian perspective on her concerns. One of our group also took the opportunity to give her a simple English bible.
From these encounters, for which we praise God, there are various lessons to be learned or reinforced.
1. As has been commented on this site before, these Gospel opportunities, while clearly the work of the Spirit, could only have taken place ‘Because we were there!’ They would not have taken place if we had met in a church building or in somebody’s house.
They only happened because we have been meeting weekly in that place and established a Gospel presence which has become known to regular customers. Even if in some cases, as it seems, the effect of that presence was unknown to us.
2. Local Mission in today’s effectively Neo-Pagan society requires Christians to invest a significant amount of time. In two of the examples above, relationships are developing with non-Christian people because a bunch of Christians have taken the time (many months in fact) to meet regularly in the same place, at the same time each week, to listen to people’s concerns and to build relationships with those who need Christ.
We praise God for the work of His Spirit in that place. However, there is a lesson that the Christian community in general simply must learn if there is to be any possibility of stemming the catastrophic Church decline and loss of Gospel influence. That lesson is that this only happened –
‘Because we were there!’