God's process is not man's process
In industrial engineering and manufacturing, the process of creating a product is keenly scrutinized -- by a team usually using some type of Lean Management or Six Sigma process improvement strategy -- to find out the best way to begin the product's cycle of creation to completion, beginning to end, over and over again, so that whatever product is manufactured is done as-close-to-perfectly as possible. The goal is to finish with as close to 0% imperfection as possible.
Wouldn't it be nice if lifestyle evangelism was like this? But that would mean working with machinery and robots, not human beings. If there was a perfect science for convincing humans of God's life and light, then the heart would no longer play an important role; emotions wouldn't play such an integral part of the human connection to God; God wouldn't be personified as love. If the science of human conversion were the primary method of lifestyle evangelism, then we should be discussing what math equation most likely navigates a human heart, and which nearly-perfect process there is for taking someone from the beginning of the process to the end, from the first interaction, to the pearly gates of heaven.
While it's helpful to consider and implement important, biblical elements of lifestyle evangelism into our every day lives, can't be deduced to a math equation or a series of equations. Sometimes, doing everything the "right way" doesn't end in a saved soul, other times, making a total fool of yourself in every way (I've done that 100 times) ends in someone becoming a Christian anyway. We must remember that God is at work, and he grows people in perfect, incredible ways, from a tiny seed planted in the soil of the world, to a perfect, sanctified disciple of Jesus.
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" -- 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
Below is Chelsea Caraway's story. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, God moved powerfully. Beyond any perfect process or any "conventional" plan of conversion, Chelsea still came to know God, and many people in God's "process improvement team" were utilized. However, by human standards in the manufacturing world, the process was mediocre and awkward. But in God's masterful power, he used seeds planted in different cities and different countries to water and grow a flower of his own.
In 2010 I made the bold decision to move 17 miles down the road and attend Clemson University. Towards the end of my freshmen year, I decided to give a high school friend of mine a call while I was walking near his side of campus. I ended up stopping by to say hey and ranting about my concerns over finances for the following year. I needed a job badly and had no idea what that would or could look like while being a full-time student. He told me he could get me a position with our campus’s technical support group, CCIT, where he had been employed that year. He was right. It was a job I kept for the next three years. The various roles I held while there put me in contact with a number of students that I would have never had exposure to otherwise. One of those students introduced me to the major that I received my degree in, Packaging Science, and another had various conversations with me in regard to his church.
Fast forward to my senior year and I run into the friend, Daniel, who I had met at CCIT and who had invited me to church. At that time he was preparing for a summer in China, going to encourage different bodies of believers who belonged to the same family of churches that his church was connected to. I was preparing to leave on a six-month co-op with Nestle in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire for Packaging Science. We had a quick conversation about our trips and he shared with me how the church he was connected with also had a location in Abidjan. He seemed excited to be sharing this with me.
I had known Daniel to be great at engaging with others so I acted as if it were exciting for me too, but internally, all I was thinking was that his news seemed no more interesting than being told there were now 13 churches in my hometown, rather than just 12. Growing up in the Bible Belt, everyone has a church and churches are everywhere. I let him know that I was looking forward to hearing how his trip went and I continued on my way.
A few short weeks later, I was landing in Abidjan to begin my own adventure. It no longer felt like I had five senses, but 20. I was completely attentive at all times and I could not believe what I was taking in. The city was incredible, the people were amazing, and I loved my job. I had no idea what a girl from Easley, South Carolina could be doing in Africa working for a company like Nestle, but it had somehow worked out and I was more than okay with it. I spent the first month taking everything in, trying to comprehend that I was actually there and how I could manage. What ended up being most shocking, though, was that my transition began to feel effortless. It was my first time being a minority, and I had never once spoken a lick of French, but the country’s culture of open arms and big smiles had stolen my heart.
It was then that I could begin noticing other details. Therefore, it was then that I began to notice the character of my boss, Franck. His ability to lead was intriguing. As someone who had begun working at 14, I had many experiences with all sorts of bosses. But this boss seemed quite different. He was patient, encouraging, and with no reason to believe in me at all, he chose to have complete confidence in my abilities. This was way more than enough for me to pause and take notice.
After about a month or two of employment, Franck invited me to his church. There were very few things I would turn down at this point in my stay. I was up for anything and everything so of course I said yes. He, his wife and their two young boys picked me up for church that Sunday morning and we were off. Once we got there, I was amazed at the energy in the room and the love everyone had for one another. I wanted to come back. The good news was, from that point on, Franck never stopped inviting me. Franck was fluent in English from his many years spent in the U.S. so, he and his wife not only spoke my language but they understood me culturally. It was because of this that they could bridge the language gap as well as relate to me in how strange I could feel in different environments and situations.
Soon enough they became my family. Every Sunday was spent riding with them to church, and joining them in their afternoon activities. A month passed by of this new routine and Franck’s wife eventually asked me if I would be interested in studying the Bible with her. My eyes lit up. It had been a dream of mine for an older woman to help me along spiritually. I immediately jumped on board. I was reading scriptures I had never seen, understanding stories I had never heard and experiencing the Bible like I had never known was possible. I had no idea what building a conviction looked like, but I knew that this was definitely it. Three weeks later we were discussing Jesus’s decision to die on the cross and all I could say was “what do I do?” It was then that I decided I wanted to be baptized.
My last 40 days living in Abidjan were spent as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
My mind had been renewed and I knew there was no going back for me. My new understanding of God and his son was a precious treasure, but the example I had been left with in Franck’s example felt precious to me as well. My life had been forever changed because a boss of mine had not only chosen to invite me to church, but to live a life that set him apart. He wasn’t employed in full-time ministry. He was employed full-time by Nestle. Franck wasn’t a minister, he was a manager. God used a man who worked 9-5 to introduce me to his church.
Franck’s example was a powerful one. I don’t have to live under the delusion that I can’t be used to build up God’s kingdom unless my title empowers me to do so. Being a child of God is title enough. Our choice, as disciples, to live by example not only pleases God, but brings others to him. God could have chosen any situation to work for his good. However, in this story, he chose my decision to go to Clemson, my high school friend who introduced me to CCIT, the girl who told me about Packaging Science, Daniel who told me about his church, and Franck.
Franck’s church was Daniel’s church. That seemingly irrelevant detail turned out to be an extraordinary one. I returned to the United States, and to Clemson, and attended church with Daniel.
As you go throughout your week, remember that every interaction you have could be the first step in the process of creating a disciple of Christ. Look at Chelsea's story. She was met and shared with on several occasions, but it wasn't until she moved 5,300+ miles to Africa that God's plan came into fruition. Never underestimate the power of God and his eager desire to see people saved. God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
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