Over the last two weeks, we’ve had a new guest at Good Shepherd, a man who is in the middle of relocating to the Carolinas from another part of the country.
On his first Sunday among us, Ron Dozier was preaching and I was sitting in the congregation. Our new guest approached me before the service even began, introduced himself (wait, aren’t I supposed to initiate that with guests I might not know?!), told me where he had moved from, and then named the United Methodist Church he had been part of there.
And it was one of those Major-Methodist-Megas, a church long known to be so cutting edge that it invented new edges and then cut them, one of those places that I suspect in years gone by I aspired for us to mimic. Led, naturally enough, by a highly influential and widely read denominational star. Maybe even superstar.
So, of course, all my insecurities immediately came to the surface. Are there enough people here today? Is his coffee good? Does he like the band and the visuals and the lights and the diversity?
Well, the service carried on and concluded — Ron was terrific, by the way — and my new friend from Major-Methodist-Mega and I chatted some in the lobby. Turns out someone from the aforementioned Major-Methodist-Mega had recommended he try us out. (Hallelujah!) I breathed a little easier.
But then I realized that because of his interim housing situation, we would not be able to “mug” him (home deliver a world famous Good Shepherd coffee mug on Sunday afternoon) and that I needed to think of something to impress him quick.
And it came to me: books. We can’t give him a mug but I can give him The Shadow Of A Doubt! So I hurried to my office, picked up one of the spare copies, brought it back to him, and explained how this was one of four-soon-to-be-five out from Abingdon Press (yes, I can work that into almost any conversation). He seemed pleased and surprised, but then the 10:00 crowd started arriving and he needed to head out to resume house hunting, so we parted ways. Part of me wondered if he’d come back.
So fast forward to this past Sunday. Guest from Major-Methodist-Mega returns, still in the midst of house hunting. And he told me that he read the book in one sitting, on a plane while taking a business trip, was greatly impacted by it, and felt for sure I had found my calling (apparently somewhere in Shadow I confess to times when I think I should exit the ministry and enter landscaping).
And then after the service — where he heard me preach and, yes, I thought to myself, “how is this stacking up with preaching he heard from You Know Who at You Know Where?” — we spoke in the lobby again and he asked the most interesting question:
“Where’s your bookstore? I want to stop by and pick up the other books.”
We don’t have a bookstore. We don’t sell stuff on Sunday. Nothing wrong with those who do, it’s just not the vibe we want to have for a worship gathering. We would probably do a brisk business and I’m sure we’d sell a lot of the Abingdon books. But for us, we’d sort of sell our own soul in the process.
He appreciated the rationale, embraced our strategic simplicity and lack of commercialism, and assured me he’d head to Amazon or Books-A-Million online and pick up his very own copies.
And I realized, for perhaps the millionth time, that if I spent a little less time comparing and a lot more time celebrating, I’d realize anew the unique community God is assembling at Good Shepherd.