Meeting up with Joe was not part of my official schedule but he was a friend I knew who was living in St. Erth, near Penzance and I thought as I was passing be great to look in and say “Hi!”
I first met Joe on a warm summers’ night with the street pastors in my previous parish in Kingswood around seven years ago. He came up to us with his (then) girlfriend looking a bit wide-eyed and scared.
“You al’right mate?” my friend and fellow Street Pastors Mark asked.
“No, not really, it’s our flat, everything’s weird and we think it’s haunted!”
I gulped… Why do they never teach you this stuff at theological college!!
Anyway, we prayed with them and in their flat, and left them with a Bible. Later over the next few weeks and months Joe and his girlfriend became friends, made easier by Joe’s shared love of Manchester United! They began to attend a local church and responded to a gospel message when preached one Sunday.
Yet, too often we make conversion the end of the story rather than the beginning of the journey of discipleship, often a tough journey and one we rarely talk about often or seriously enough!
“I was a bit of a nightmare” Joe admitted with a grin as I sat in his front room six years later, he has made a good life in Cornwall, he’s got married, has two kids, and is self-employed and has a lovely home, he’s done well for himself. When we chatted he’s not found a Church in Cornwall to be a part of: “they’re all really traditional and no one my age!” (I imagine that finding a lively fellowship when you are 27 might not be easy in rural Cornwall).
I began to think how many people make a commitment to Christ but for various reasons they struggle, and we struggle to keep in touch with them too.
As I drove away I ft bad about how poorly I’d kept in touch with Joe, and then I thought how many other Joe’s I knew who had accepted Christ and began the discipleship journey but had slipped away from my radar and contact had been lost.
I began to think about Joe (and many others), who probably doesn’t need to hear another gospel presentation but does need real friends alongside him who are also wanting to follow Jesus.
How many Joe’s are out there who are open to Christ but not found a place of belonging in a local church?
I smirked thinking that could describe me as I love Jesus but have found Church to be a real struggle here in Poole.
When I saw people who had moved away and they had not got joined to a local body of believers, I was sometimes a bit sharp, but now looking at it from the other side, I realise how impenetrable many Churches are, and how hard it is to feel like the outsider always trying to make the effort. As I continued to drive, I repented for the times I had been a nothing more sharply worded Pharisee unsympathetic to people struggling to find a Church family to belong to, as tears rolled down my unshaven cheeks.