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The Power of Presence – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Feb 282007

Chuck Warnock has a wonderful post about the time he made a pastoral call to a strip club because the owner’s wife and children went to his church, but Freddie never got closer than the parking lot in dropping them off and picking them up. The day I went to the stip club is an excellent post, and I encourage you to go read it. It made me think about a short essay I wrote about meeting people where they are at.

“The Power of Presence”

I had read yet another well-meaning, although very narrow-minded, diatribe of how Christians should only frequent and hang out in places that are Christian owned and/or operated, and whose clientele are other Christians.

When I read or hear this line of thought, I always think: didn’t Jesus say something about His followers being salt and light to a dark world that needs some seasoning? Didn’t Jesus say He would make us fishers of people? Wasn’t Jesus the one who commissioned us to go into the world and make disciples? So how are we supposed to make disciples if we spend all of our time in the great, almighty evangelical bubble? Just with each other for “edifying” company?

At the time I worked within the “evangelical bubble.” I spent my whole day with other Christians, so I made it a point, when I went out, to frequent places where I knew lost people were. It was the only way I ever met people I could be salt and light to. If I took this person’s advice I would have never seen a person who wasn’t a Christian. Not only then, but now, how in the world can I be like Christ if I’m never around the people he hung out with–the tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes–people who needed God?

But I don’t want to be like those people who only talk about being saved and shoving tracks down the poor, lost person’s throat either. This is where my thoughts on the power of presence come in. I wonder if Christians underestimate the power our presence simply has somewhere? As a Christian I represent Christ. That means where I am, so is Christ. I have noticed that when I hang out in a place for a long enough time the people who work there and other regulars start noticing that I’m different. If I hang around one place long enough the questions start coming. Then I have the opportunity to talk about God, and I am always ready to give “an accounting for the hope that is in in” me (1 Peter 3:15, NRSV). But I don’t necessarily go looking for opportunities to evangelize. I don’t want to be a person that the only time I ever talk to lost people is so I can “save” them. I have this belief that even if I never get an opportunity to talk to them, that my presence, Christ’s presence, still has an impact on them. So even if I don’t get a chance to give an accounting of my hope, I still believe that I have had a positive influence on the place I was in simply because I brought Jesus with me.

In The Message Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14 this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” If Christians aren’t willing to “move” into the neighborhoods and hang-outs of the lost, why should they take us seriously or listen to anything we have to say? (Personally, I don’t trust anyone who won’t hang out with me on “my turf,” and I am a Christian!) If Jesus was willing to meet and hang out with people right where they’re at, should we do any less?

So when I lived in Kansas City, I would still go to Westport and hang out in all of my favorite coffee shops where I was surrounded by people who were atheists, agnostics, New Age gurus, Gaia high priestesses, Buddhists, and a smorgasbord of other religions, spiritualities, and beliefs. No…wait….Jesus and I still hung out these places. One of the things I’ve noticed is that when you get to know people, then you can’t take a whole group of people (say the Wiccans) and demonize them as those evil, evil people. You find out they’re a lot like you. You find common ground. I think we need to be concerned with getting to know people and loving them and leave the convicting and saving to the Spirit (that’s the Spirit’s job anyway).

Now I live in Chicago things still haven’t changed; although, I don’t think I have met a Gaia high priestess yet…but I will.

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  2 Responses to “The Power of Presence”

  1. Shawna, great thoughts on being the presence of Christ. I agree with you that we need to meet people where they are both literally and spiritually. Paul’s presence with those who worshipped the “unknown” god became the opportunity for him to tell them about the God they were looking for.

    If we could see all people as God’s creation, made in his image, and on a journey toward God, we’d have more of Jesus’ compassion and love. Of course, some are closer to God than others, but that’s where we come in. If others can see the Presence in our presence, that light draws them, that salt saves them. Thanks for your thoughtfulness. — Chuck

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. I think we really underestimate the power of God’s grace and love. It is something I’m trying to correct in my own life.

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