My dog and I take daily walks on a bike path that passes by our backyard. I like the creek that it follows as well as the regulars that share the path with me.
Occasionally I am surprised by the people I encounter.
Such as “Jim.” [fictitious name]
I first talked with him when he called out, “are you a pastor?” The question sounded dangerous. “Yes,” I replied. It was followed pretty quickly by a follow-up which was loaded “to the gills.” One of those inquiries you can never answer in a brief conversation on a bike path.
I found out that he had a recent tragedy in his life. Knowing about that helped some, but, again, in this is tiny, brief conversation that knowledge could do no more than tantalize. Over the next few months we had more of those brief interactions, the result of which was a greater understanding, opportunity for transparency, and clarifications.
“Oh, I see what you’re saying,” was how one of our brief conversations ended. At the most recent conversation I gave him a book which he gladly received. He was about to be cooped up on an airplane, and the book was going to be his reading fare. He was happy, and the conversation ended with a hug which he initiated.
“Jim” reminded me of two really important, essential church planter skills without which I can’t do my work.
The first skill is the suspension of judgment. Jim made me aware of how infinitesimally small my knowledge of another person is. The bike path conversations with Jim were like peeling the thin layers of an onion, each by itself only a fraction of his identity. I told my small group Bible study that the difference between the first loaded conversation and the last was like a whole world experienced in tiny fragments.
The second skill is patience. Lots of patience. The impatience of much evangelism turns people into projects and artificially hurries up relationships. Getting to know another and learning to love them, and vice versa, are processes. At maturity, these relationships yield wonderful fruit: vulnerability, trust, and humor, the greatest indicator of depth.
Jim taught me that. Now we have something. I look forward to future conversations and where they may lead us.