I have done some crazy things to win a hearing for the truth. A couple years ago I was preparing to speak at camp. Standing in the front of the chapel the camp pastor was talking about the previous speakers who used some pretty zany attention-getting antics. My friend said; “One guy rode a skateboard down the aisle and jumped the altar when I introduced him.”
Standing next to my friend his son said, “Yea, do you remember that guy with the explosives? That was awesome.”
I thought of how plain my approach would be compared to that and was tempted to put my bags back in my trunk. Would I be able to win their attention with my simple stories?
Years ago when taking an intense three-week summer training course in youth evangelism I was impressed with some of the youth speakers and how sharp they dressed and styled their hair. I decided that I would get a permanent. Since I was away from my resident good-sense expert I made this decision on my own. As I see it what happened was my wife’s fault. She should have known better than to let me out on my own for so long.
When she saw me again I looked a little sillier than Bozo the clown. I have to give her credit, though for suppressing laughter for a few minutes. The new hair do did not have the desired effect. People didn’t think I was cool, they thought I was funny. I have tried to destroy all the pictures from that phase of my life. But my intentions were good. I just wanted to win the hearts of teens so I could communicate the world’s most important story to them. One of the elderly ladies in the church burst into laughter when she shook my hand at the door and said. “I’m sorry, pastor, I just won’t be able to take you seriously until your hair grows out.”
When I was a youth pastor years ago, a concerned mother asked me to visit her son. The boy had a dirt bike he rode around the vacant lot next to his house.. I longed to win his admiration and attention so I could be an influence on him for good.
“Mind if I take a spin?” I calmly asked as if I had ever been on a dirt bike before. “Sure, he said,” hopping off. I jumped on, quickly got the hang of it and on my third pass decided to really impress the young man by bravely hitting his jump. I hung on, twisted the throttle and rocketed toward his ramp. Quickly I glanced over again and I could see a look of admiration in his face. Maybe it was a look of amusement, but I was going to fast to tell for sure. Just as I hit the ramp I lost my nerve and let off the throttle a little. That was a really bad idea. The front of the bike pitched forward and I came within a whisker shooting over the handlebars. I’m not sure the boy ever took me seriously again. The secret of respect and admiration still alluded me.
Years have passed and I still search for effective ways to communicate life-changing, eternity-altering truth, but I do think I’ve learned some important things. In a quiet moment a few months ago I was remembering some of the retreats where I have preached without the cool hair, high fashion, riveting “I used to be a teen-age mobster testimony,” explosives, or skateboard and at the end dozens of kids responded weeping. I went back to my room that night and got down on my knees to thank God and ask him, “What made that work?” One secret is the time spent on my knees pleading with God for their hearts, the other is the sincere love I have for them.
According to the Apostle Paul in the First letter to the Church at Corinth, Love never fails. If I could do skateboards, illusions, or explosives to get the attention of kids to tell them about Jesus, I would do it. But love is more powerful than any gimmick. Love never fails. And if I am eloquent but do not love, I am just making irritating noises. It always works, even for people who are a danger to themselves on skateboards or motorcycles.