Comedians like to start with the same line over and over again and put different spins on the punch line.  For instance, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” or “Knock-Knock” or “a guy walks into a bar…”.  We have learned from experience what will come, knowing that it has to be a lot funnier than “to get to the other side”.  Each new joke-teller has to at least do better than that.

It turns out that preachers and pastors have their own set of opening lines they use when getting together with one another.  Some of the favorites are, “So, how big is your church?”  “When did you become a Christian?” and “Where did you go to seminary?”  To that list I want to add another.  “I was sitting next to this guy on the airplane…”  What follows is typically an amazing, astonishing, and tear-inducing tale of how (with just the right blend of courage, wit, Scripture quoting, and Holy-Spirit anointing) the preacher was able to engage that fellow passenger in conversation, save his soul with a powerful presentation of the Gospel, and seal his eternal destiny.

Other preachers hear these tales and testimonies and feel simultaneously guilty over their uneventful recent plane flight and awestruck at the courage and skill of these preachers.

“Knock-Knock”

“Who’s there?”

“The best preacher in the room!!!”

But I am finding more and more than my best gift as a preacher might not be my speech at all.  It might just be a set of listening ears.

Here’s my plain plane story.

A fellow sits down next to me with earrings and tattoos and spiky hair and we make small talk and then find something to laugh at in the captain’s intercom address to the passengers.  Our captain wouldn’t stop talking!  It was as if he was going to give us a comprehensive description of the entire mechanical system of our 737 jet.  We learned more about wind tunnels and the air conditioning unit and the time spent by each crew of mechanics and, while it may have been kind of interesting in its own way, the captain was talking SO LOUDLY into his mic that we were kind of going crazy.

Anyway, my new friend was, not surprisingly, an artist.  He was in charge of setting up the Mini Cooper showrooms all across the country.  He had both mechanical skill and artistic acumen and was able to exercise them both in his job…which he loved.  After sharing some photos of our kids from our phones, another LOUD announcement came across the intercom that we would be having turbulence due to a storm, but we would miss the bulk of it and have a smooth landing.  The captain made a comment about how he was praying that storm would clear out and it did (Thanks, Captain, you just gave me an opportunity!)

You see, up to this point, I had not shared my name or my vocation, but then saw an opportunity to say, “Well, I am a pastor and talk to God for a living, but my prayers regarding the weather don’t typically seem to make much of a difference.” (Easter Sunday, 2013, at Refugio Beach the one clear exception!!)

A few minutes later as we were descending into Charlotte, NC, I was able to encourage my new friend about God.  It turns out his wife’s two sisters were committed Christians, although he and his wife did not go to church.  He went as a kid, but hadn’t as an adult because he felt that Christian people were too pushy.

“I get that.  I have been part of churches that did that kind of thing, and I know it can be a turn-off.  But most of those people’s intention is good, despite imperfect execution.  But, most important of all, Jesus is always good.  He is graceful and kind and instructs us in the best ways to live life.  And you know how we are about to land and those people on the runway will be there with their glowing sticks waving our plane into the terminal?  Well, maybe God just put me here to wave a glow-stick toward Jesus.  He changed my life.”

“Cool, man. Cool. It was good to meet you.”

Timothy Tennent titled his latest blog entry, “Missional Leaders for the Church” and it was a great source of encouragement to me simply seeing the title before reading any of the blog! Why? Because I believe that is the word of the Lord for Light and Life Goleta as I believe the Spirit of God has been speaking this over our church for the past few years.

Here’s a little excerpt from Dr. Tennant…
“Demographics don’t lie, you just have to be willing to listen to them. For example, if China has 90 million believers, but the vast majority of those believers are under 30 years old and the United States has 90 million evangelicals and the majority of those are over 50, then there is a demographic story that is not “heard” when one is looking at the raw statistics of Christian affiliation.”

That means that the spiritual landscape of the United States is changing by getting older. Many, many churches in this country are filled (its a stretch to say “filled”) with folks who are older and gray. We need to do something to engage and be relevant to the younger people in the US. We need a MISSIONAL approach to our own country!

“The USA is one of the fastest emerging mission fields in the world, but Christians probably won’t “feel” it for another 20 years. The younger the Anglo demographic in the USA the more likely one will question the knowability of truth. This means a likely rejection of anything that might be described as divine, objective revelation. The loss of confidence in human reason is almost palatable. The language of “I think” has moved to the language of “I feel” which is quickly moving to the language of“whatever.” The younger the Anglo demographic in the USA, the more likely you are to discover a distrust of authority, institutions and, indeed, of all hierarchies. This includes a deep distrust in government, in churches and in church structures, including clergy. It also includes a rejection of any kind of metaphysical hierarchy which posits God as the sovereign Lord over His created order.”

I see this and I imagine you do too. But I don’t think it is hopeless at all. As I have said to many people recently, the single reason that we are seeing fruit and growth in our Isla Vista ministry is because we have been CONSISTENT. Many of the homeless folks out there thought we would be there for one month or so, take a few pictures, and be done. They have seen many well-meaning people come and go to do their “good deed”. We haven’t been like that. We have been there week in and week out and the people respect us for that. In fact, it has EARNED us a “hearing” with them. This is the same thing we will see with the younger people around us. They may also be skeptical of our mission and message, but if they see the love and the consistency, we will get a hearing.

So, let’s adopt a “missional mindset” to engage these younger people with the love and message of Jesus!