"Hang Out" Evangelism

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jim Elliff, an itinerant evangelist and church planter and dear friend of mine, filled my mind and heart with a wonderful biblical epiphany a few years ago. Jesus "hung out" much of the time during His three year ministry time on earth. To be sure it was divine and providential "hanging out," but "hanging out" nonetheless. He hung out with prostitutes, with tax collectors, with the dregs of society, and He healed many of them, ministered to all of them, and saved a lot of them.

I decided what better time to put this practice into use than way up here in Gallatin, TN where I have been for the last week training for my new job. I will have been up here for a total of about 16 days, stuck in a hotel, sitting in a classroom all day long. After we are released from our training, we all go back to hotel, meet in the lobby around six, and decide where we are going to eat dinner.

For almost everyone the decision is based largely on where the best bars are. There are four restaurants near the hotel within walking distance, and a mexican restaurant a mile down the road. Chili's serves two for one magaritas on Monday nights, the mexican establishment serves two for one margaritas on Tuesday nights, and Longhorn's evidently does on Wednesday nights. So I tag along most nights to "hang out" with the crowd. What am I doing?

If the restaurant has a dark ale of my choice, I'll have one. I'm picky about my beer and thankfully I can barely hold a whole beer in my stomach. Needless to say it is quite an amazing feat to see a young lady ten years younger put away four Miller Lights and two tequilas, only to hop to another bar afterwards and down another who-knows-how-many. And it's a wonder of nature that the stomach of a man ten years my senior can actually hold about ten beers over a three hour time period. Obviously, drunkenness abounds after about an hour and a half or two of this kind of drinking. And I suppose that if you are lost there's really not much else to do in this small one-horse town except drink all the time. But it is during the pre-drunken state that I do my "hanging out."

What do I do? I chit-chat for a while about whatever they want to talk about. I usually try to keep the conversation on family, kids, marriage, life...you know, the kinds of things that keep us tied to reality. Usually, and strategically so I might add, that route of conversation ends up coming back around to me, my family, my marriage, my kids, and my life. I then get an opportunity to talk about my wife, my marriage, my past. And eventually that leads to a wide open door to the gospel. The question at that point, of course, is whether they are sober enough to walk through it without busting their heads open on the door jamb. And believe me, I've had only a couple of gospel-conversations with drunkards to know not ever, ever to do it again.

The Lord has orchestrated a couple of conversations in which I freely and lavishly talked about the gospel, about my Savior, and how good He has been to me, one so undeserving. There is one other believer in training with me, and she "hangs out" with us too! She is probably old enough to be my mother, enjoys a margarita with the crowd, laughs where appropriate, and works with my conversations and I with hers to gently guide the conversation toward deeper thoughts than those mostly oriented around coarse and foolish joking.

I have about nine more days here and Lord willing I want to use the wisely with this crowd. Everyone of us needs Jesus, and none of us necessarily needs Him more than the other. Therein lies the philosophy of "hanging out" with sinners. Without participating in their sin, we can "hang out" with them (when appropriate of course), enjoy some of life's bounties together, and purposefully guide the conversation toward things eternal for the benefit of both our souls. It works in some instances, but in most cases this past week it has worked hardly at all. But we've got nine more days together, too.

So this post is sort of like a toast, going out to all those who "hang out" with sinners in an effort to lead them to the Savior. Encourage the "stiffs" out there who love Christ with all their hearts, but battle terribly with the concept of doing what Jesus did in order to save sinners. Hang where they hang, as long as it is legal and smart, have as much fun as you should, but be intentional about your attempts to win them to the Savior and see them saved from a life of heartache. Use every opportunity to guide the conversation in the direction you want it to go, and do so unashamedly. Here's to the glory of God in Christ Jesus!

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