Once, at a community breakfast our church hosted, a friend walked up to me to make a confession. It is one I am certain he walked away regretting.

He approached me with urgency on his face and said, “Sarah, I need to tell you something. I got dressed up today for church. I mean, we were planning on coming to the service. But something has come up. And now we have to leave. And I have not seen your husband. But I want you to tell him you saw me so I can get credit.”

This poor guy, this dear friend, had accidentally hit one of my buttons.

And so, in all of my demurely Christian charism, I turned to him and said in one breath:

“I could give a sh*t whether or not you showed up at church this morning. All the credit you need happened on the cross 2000 years ago. We believe in grace at this church.”

Folks, I’ll let myself out. This has been a great 6-year run in professional ministry.

*bows*

Needless to say, I doubt I’ll be invited to speak at any evangelism conferences. But I do want to say a word about evangelism and the way we talk about our churches, as bad at it as I may be.

We do not come to church because we get a gold star. We come to church because we have tried everything else and it turns out we continue to be exhausted by the world and our lives. Church is a last-ditch effort for many of us. It is what happens before we start drinking more or isolating more or doing whatever it is that harangues us, more.

Inviting people to church has to be done with very little control, at least for me. I do not have a script or a quota. And I am not a very good cheerleader for Jesus. I can only invite people to church who seem to understand how much they need and want to be there. And there is really no need to go looking for these people. Jesus always makes sure I run into them.

I seem to have a charism for inviting people to church at the most awkward moments.

I have invited people to church in women’s bathrooms, in the check-out line at the grocery store, and just as the glow of too much beer has set in at suburban parties. Once, while I was literally having a pelvic exam, I invited an OBGYN to church. She seemed tired and unsure of where she could show up to worship in all of her exhausted glory. And so just as she was poking around my internal organs, I blurted out, “You should try our church.”

We all hold so much rage, so much unwillingness to forgive ourselves, and an outright refusal to forgive other people. We are quick to yell, to judge, and to reject. Because at some point in our lives, those things happened to us. And our coping mechanism was born. We self-medicated or chastised ourselves into numbness. The idea of mercy or grace in light of who we truly are is often too good for people to believe.

Which is why we have to talk about it so much. And why we have to talk about why we show up at the doors of an old building topped with a cross to hear the words of mercy and absolution, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

As a professional Christian I should be desperate to have more people in the pews. But I am only a desperate person who sees desperate people and desperately wants to point them to the one thing that has helped me. For better or worse, that’s my qualifier for telling people about Jesus: Do they seem desperate?

I write all of this because there was an obituary last week for a guy who exuded winning desperation. He is the saint of the desperate. He is/was my people. He was an average-looking, writerly, soft-in-the-middle dad. And he was also an addict. The way he wrote about himself and about his relationship with Jesus and the church is the only kind of evangelism that makes sense to me. And so, I want to leave you with St. Ken’s description of himself. He could have used his obituary as a moment to tout his successes and glory. But instead, he offered us true evangelical Christian testimony. May we all hope to meet heaven’s threshold with such humor, honestly, and sheer need of Jesus:

“In 2011, Ken accepted a job in the marketing department at Simpson College, where he remained until 2018. He enjoyed it very much, but once again forgot an important lesson: Always have a Plan B. He was diagnosed with liver disease at the beginning of 2019, which is pretty ironic given how little he drank. Eat your fruits and vegetables, kids. He is survived by his sons, Jesse and Max, and his stepson, Jared Reese, who all brought Ken unsurpassed joy. He hopes they will forgive him for not making the point more often. He loved his boys and was (and is) extraordinarily proud to be their father. For most of his life, Ken suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction that nearly destroyed him. But his church friends, and the loving people at Gamblers Anonymous, never gave up on him. Ken last placed a bet on Sept. 5, 2009. He died clean. He hopes that anyone who needs help will seek it, which is hard, and accept it, which is even harder. Miracles abound. Ken’s pastor says God can work miracles for you and through you. Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything. For many years Ken was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Indianola and sang in the choir, which was a neat trick considering he couldn’t read a note of music. The choir members will never know how much they helped him. He then joined Lutheran Church of Hope. If you want to know what God’s love feels like, just walk in those doors. Seriously, right now. We’ll wait. Ken’s not going anywhere. Ken had many character flaws – if he still owes you money, he’s sorry, sincerely – but he liked to think that he had a good sense of humor and a deep compassion for others. He prided himself on letting other drivers cut in line. He would give you the shirt off his back, even with the ever-present food stain. Thank goodness nobody asked. It wouldn’t have been pretty…In lieu of flowers, Ken asked that everyone wear black armbands and wail in public during a one-year grieving period. If that doesn’t work, how about donating a book to the public libraries in Granger or Indianola? Yes, this obituary is probably too long. Ken always wrote too long. God is good. Embrace every moment, even the bad ones. See you in heaven. Ken promises to let you cut in line.”