A few years ago, a good friend, who I massively respect, told me that I needed to be careful with my alcohol intake. That the amount I was drinking was a lot for a pastor. That I could end up on the slippery slope to secret excessive alcohol use. To me the princely sum of about 4 pints a week didn’t seem excessive. To my friend, apparently, it was.
I don’t tell this story to make my friend seem like some sort of legalistic prude, he was genuinely looking out for me. But I do want to make the point that so often we can fall into simply following our cultural norms in how we think about living the Christian life. And, especially in a place like Cleck, that can have implications for how we’re able to reach the people who live around us with the gospel.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the fact that Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. It all started with a comment from Andy Prime, in his session at the Gospel and Class Conference in London last September, which my friend Matt tweeted.
It struck me as bang on for our folks, not just me, as we seek to reach our town and valley. For the vast majority of people in our town, social life is built around the pub and the chippy/pizza place. That’s where you meet your mates. That’s where you catch up on news. That’s where you laugh at the latest idiotic post about dog mess or bad parking on the Cleckheaton Matters Facebook group. That’s where you relax. Very often the people in the pub, including the people behind the bar, are your family.
And therefore, if we want to share Jesus with people, that’s where we need to be as well. Not just once a week where we all pile in as a group of church people. But regularly spending time where people are at. And spending time with people, chatting, getting to know them, remembering their names and situations. Now, before you shout at me, I am aware that for some people the pub’s not a helpful place to be. We do have to be careful not to cause people to stumble, or lead people where their conscience doesn’t allow.
But in our context, people spend their evenings in the Malt Shovel, the Commercial, and the Rose and Crown. And retired people spend their days in Wetherspoons. And that means I drink a few more than 4 pints a week (along with a decent amount of refillable coffee!) My friend might think I’m in danger of turning into a drunkard. I’m confident I’m not, and I certainly don’t drink to excess (as my wife and Elders will testify as they hold me accountable). But I’m willing for people to call me a drunkard if they want. Because I am building more and more relationships with the regulars in the pubs I go in. They’re slowly starting to accept me as one of the regulars too. And fairly often, we have discussions about what I do for a living, and why I want to follow this Jesus fella. Sometimes that morphs into fully orbed opportunities to clearly explain the gospel, sometimes it doesn’t. But I passionately believe, and am praying, that one day I’ll be baptising someone from Cleck who starts their testimony with, ‘So I was sat in the Malt Shovel one night…’
If I want to follow Jesus, and help others to know him, I’ve got to think through what taking up my cross means. Now let’s be honest, sitting in the pub regularly is not that much of a cross for me. But the quickly suppressed frowns of some other Christians when I explain how I spend my time sometimes can be. The need to get up and out when I’m knackered and would rather just stick Netflix on sometimes can be. Because I follow a Saviour who was willing to be called a glutton and a drunkard, so that his people might meet him and know his grace.
Your context might be different. But, be certain, there is some area where, in order to reach people for Jesus, you’re going to have deny yourself, take up your cross, and sacrifice the good opinion of other Christians. Do you love the people around you enough to get on and do that?
Next time, I want to think through what following Jesus in the second half of that first century insult looks like in our context. Let me tell you about my friend, the racist…