Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Bar Exam

A few years ago when I was in college, I went to a worship service which was led by a man who is now a well-known pastor in the world of evangelical Christians. He was very charismatic, told funny stories, and made a good point. At the end of his way-too-long sermon, he announced that he was getting a group together to go to a local bar to do “ministry.” 
Later I spoke to some students who attended this gathering, which consisted mostly of handing out tracts to patrons on their way into the bar. I even got a look at one of these tracts. It was a small booklet that featured a skull and crossbones on the cover and the question: “Where would you go if you died today?”
In Matthew 10:7, Jesus tells his followers to preach this message: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” It seems to me that many people interpret this passage to mean that Jesus wanted them to go out and strike fear in the hearts of the people, pointing them to the urgency of impending doom. However, many theologians suggest that Jesus’ proclamations about the Kingdom were always about pronouncing the availability of the Kingdom of Heaven to all in the present tense. 
According to this view, Jesus wants the apostles to tell the people that God has moved into the neighborhood to love them with impunity. The people of Israel had known God in many ways, but not always as a compassionate, loving one who was walking among them. Instead of looking into the future at their own mortality, Jesus sent the apostles to tell them that they could know God here and now as well. Although fear tactics may get a few butts in the seats (e.g. Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening of the 1730’s), I believe it was (and is) Jesus’ message of life-giving love and redemption that reached/reaches into the depths of our humanity. 
It seems the unbelieving among us today may also have a view of God that is not always positive or available. I think if you want to do a bar ministry, consider going out to have a drink with someone from work and let them tell you their story. Leave your scare tactics and tracts at home.

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