When Leslie and I started planning our move to Austin, we spent some time thinking about ways that we could connect with people and make some new friends. We want to start a new community; new relationships seem like the obvious first step. (By the way, this is really awesome. Sometimes we make evangelism into some kind of impossibly hard science or convoluted, church staff-dependent program, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It can start out as something as simple and fun as making friends.)
We also reflected on the balance between befriending people and evangelism. We want to have friends and we want to share Jesus with those friends, but that dynamic can veer off into some strange places if you get too goal-oriented or focused on your own performance. Today’s cultural environment can be pretty hostile to proselytizing, which I think is fair if you define it as “inducing someone to convert or change their belief.” That kind of approach doesn’t sound very respectful to the person you’re trying to reach.
Luckily for us, we have Jesus’ example of gathering people that we can consider and try to imitate. We want to try to do the same things Jesus did for the same reasons. God has reached out to us through Jesus and his Spirit because he loves us. So, as we try to build new relationships here in Austin – even as we work towards the strategic goal of a missional community – we have to make sure that our first motivation is to love people for who God made them to be. No agenda – just love.
Friendships tend to come easily when you are spending time with people around some kind of common interest. I find beer/brewing beer and basketball to be very interesting, and these days those two activities are quite popular among people our age in Austin.
I found out about a homebrewing event through a husband of one of Leslie’s coworkers. I showed up wearing this t-shirt and almost immediately bumped into someone wearing this one. What are the odds!? (For non-basketball fans: these are both shirts featuring Nerlens Noel, a promising rookie on the Philadelphia 76ers but certainly not a household name outside of Philly.) I had a great time talking with him and his friend; we’ve kept up and are currently working on plans to see the Sixers when they play San Antonio. I’ve met more people through these two and play basketball with them once a week.
My takeaway from all this? God’s Holy Spirit is in charge of giving us opportunities to connect with people. I was a bit anxious going to the original event. I didn’t know anyone. But God made it really easy for me! I don’t know what will come of these friendships. But it doesn’t matter! The Holy Spirit will take care of all of that. I just have to show up and cooperate with Jesus.
I had a similar opportunity a few weeks later. I was invited to a Brewers Night (social event for the local Texas Craft Brewers Guild chapter) by a connection I made through Leslie’s Dad. I showed up – again not knowing anyone – and this time my connection was ill and unable to attend. People were nice and welcoming, and I spent a lot of time talking with a bunch of guys working at a new startup in North Austin (4th Tap Brewing Co-op). I followed up, started helping with construction and brewing a few times a week, and now I can point to beer on shelves in local HEBs that I helped brew!
I don’t know how God is going to use these relationship opportunities. I’ve been able to have some good conversations with people about spiritual stuff – even about our own plans for starting a new missional community. We’ll see!