When I think of the First Century church, my mind immediately jumps to the story in Acts 2 where the church --- about 120 men and women at the time --- are gathered together in one place focused on the resurrection of Jesus and the call to tell others. The Holy Spirit takes control of the meeting and God comes forth in a mighty way. I imagine people from the city peering into the windows, trying to get a glimpse of what was happening.
No one is peering in the windows in the church today, and they haven't for a long time. Most people in my inner city community in Charleston, WV are not just unchurched ---they don't give the church any thought. They say they do not believe the church has anything relevant to say to them.
In many homes throughout America, the name "Jesus" is not heard in a typical week unless someone hits themselves with a hammer or stumps their toe. We are raising a generation of children who have little or no knowledge of who Jesus is and how much He loves them.
It is my heart to see Christians work to "Change the Conversation" with the people we see in our communities. There are many ways to share the love of Jesus in everyday life. One of my favorite ministries is as simple as eating out in a restaurant. I learned from conversations with waiters and waitresses that the one shift people do not like to work is the Sunday lunch shift. They say the people are rude and do not tip well. When I first heard that, it broke my heart.
I was especially sensitive to this because I had seen the effects of Christians who were rude to waiters and waitresses. We had a team of volunteers come to West Virginia from North Carolina for a long weekend of ministry. After a busy day, the team went out to a local restaurant. The service was not very good and one woman on the mission team began complaining about the waitress to the management. Her complaints eventually led to the waitress being fired. Before the team left, the woman who had complained went to the waitress and continued to complain, saying the waitress did not do her job well. She then pulled out one of my business cards and, instead of a tip, handed it to her and said, "you need to talk to this man. You need to change."
It turned out the waitress lived just blocks from my house and she came to see me the next day. But, she didn't want my help. She was angry and hurt. Nothing I said to her then, or in the years to come, could convince her that I, or anyone else, cared about her. The damage was already done.
So, we began praying for waiters and waitresses to let them know God loves them, making sure that we act in a way that matched our words. Anytime anyone went out to eat, they were to order their meal and then say to the waiter or waitress, "We are going to pray over our meal. Is there anything we can pray for you about? They were also to be friendly, tip well and not complain about anything. I reminded people they were not there for the service. They were there to serve the Lord.
This simple act has changed lives. Yes, some said they didn't have any prayer needs, but often the requests led to a good exchange about faith. I have also seen wait staff sit down at the table, share needs and ask if we would pray right then in their presence.
On December 7, 2010, 10 churches participated in a "Change the Conversation" event. People from the 10 churches were assigned to eat at one of six Mexican restaurants in the area. They were asked to do three things --- ask the waiter or waitress for prayer needs and pray for them by name, be friendly and tip well (at least 20 percent). There was a tip given to the kitchen staff and another tip was given to the waiter or waitress. Each group of people was given specially made Christmas Cards, written in Spanish, to give along with the tip. The cards explained the reason for Christmas and offered the name and phone number of the man who led the Hispanic ministry. By the end of the night, our Hispanic Ministry leader had received a call from a man who was overwhelmed by the love of the people who prayed for him. They met the next day.
My favorite story actually happened to me. I was eating dinner at a local restaurant and offered to pray for the waitress after ordering. She responded by saying that she had a friend in the hospital and wanted prayer for the friend to get better and be released from the hospital. She came back to the table minutes later and said, "I lost my mom's cell phone last night. Can you pray that we find it? I feel so bad about it." We agreed to pray and even prayed that the Lord would work in these situations as we were eating dinner.
We were just starting to eat dinner when the waitress came back to tell us that she had gotten word that her friend had just been released from the hospital. A few minutes later, the waitress came back and sat down with us, this time in tears. "They just found the cell phone," she said. We spent several minutes at the table praising the Lord with her and talking about the goodness of God. The woman had been away from God, but having Him answer her prayers with strangers in such a personal way changed her that night. By the end of the night, she was telling people at work and even took a break to call friends and tell what the Lord had done that night. She, too, was changing the conversation and probably didn't even know it.
Norm Cannada has worked as a newspaper editor and writer as well as an inner cty pastor and church planter. He lives in Charleston, WV.
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