One of the biggest trends I’ve seen in the Christian sub-culture of this country is meeting for prayer, Bible, and fellowship in public spaces. This might be a deep conversation over lunch or a full-out small group Bible study in a coffee shop. Whatever form it takes, it’s a good trend for it projects an obvious witness that could easily lead to gospel conversations with lost people looking on.
But what happens when obvious becomes obnoxious? This was my experience not long. I have a usual coffee shop I go to once a week to caffeinate while I work. One morning I was encouraged by talking to one of the baristas who was about to head to Turkey for missions work. This was his last day and it was great to pledge my prayer for him and his wife. But I was also discouraged by a group of Christians who came in for a Bible study. Sadly, I don’t think anyone was drawn to Christ by their time in the shop.
So, how to be make the best use of our time in public space? Here’s a couple of things to remember when you gather in public as God’s people. Sadly, some things this group didn’t remember that morning.
1. Remember Your Reputation
The most basic thing to think about when discussing the Bible in a public venue is the reputation you will create–a reputation for yourself and for Christ and his Church. Paul says the Thessalonians created an incredibly reputation, not only among the churches but the society itself (1 Thess 1:2-10). The one thing we should not want to happen is for unbelievers to think less of Christ because how we carry ourselves in public.
2. Remember Your Volume
This Bible study group talked loudly and laughed even louder. A couple people there to work was obviously irritated. It was no secret they were there to discuss the Bible and whatever witness they might have otherwise had was hindered. The truth is, thinking about volume is just good manners in our culture. You don’t need to be so quiet that no one knows you’re there. Just be aware of what’s acceptable around you. Those sitting next to you will undoubtedly catch some of what you’re talking about. But for the most part, no one wants to hear your conversation when they’re sitting on the other side of the room.
3. Remember Your Staff
The morning this group that came in for their Bible study, they were demanding towards the staff. They ordered several special-order drinks then acted put out when all the drinks didn’t come out together and took a while to be finished. In case we forgot, patience is a virtue (Gal 5:22). More than that, if you’re ordering handmade drinks, they are just that: handmade. It’s going to take some time. Before they met, this group re-arranged a few tables so they could sit together. No problem there. But when they were done, they didn’t bother to move them back and left all of their garbage and cups on the tables when the trash was less than ten feet away. One of the workers had to come and clear the table and put them back in order. My advice is this: when you can, leave things looking better than you found them. Maybe that’s just the Boy Scout in me, but I think this is especially true if you’re having a Bible study. Sometimes you can’t do this, like in a table-service restaurant. But it’s pretty easy in a coffee shop. ‘But wait,’ you might think, ‘Aren’t we the patrons? Isn’t their job to wait on us?’ Yes, but sometimes you can show a lot by serving the host, just like Jesus did (John 13:12-16). Finally, if you’re at a sit-down restaurant, offer to pray for your server. It’s a simple way to show concern and open a door for the gospel.
4. Remember Your Tip
The tip is a still an expected part of our culture. As Christians we should embrace that practice with a twist–don’t follow the rules. Tips are usually based on a percentage of the bill and the quality of service you get. Instead of following those standard rules, try basing your tips on grace. If you leave a good tip, even if you get not-so-good service, it communicates to the person waiting on you. They know when they’re being lazy and your grace will not be missed. If you get great service, your tip should reflect your appreciation. The key is this: be generous. God was generous, why shouldn’t imitate him (2 Cor 9:8-9)?
5. Remember Your Listeners
Lastly, think about those sitting around you. They are probably only to going to hear part of what you’re saying. So, think about what they might hear. That doesn’t mean we should deny our convictions or compromise God’s truth, but be sensitive. Bashing a specific sin or denomination in public is not good practice. Emphasize the saving grace of Christ and lower your voice if your study leads into some subjects that unbelievers might be put-off by without the proper context. Again, this doesn’t mean we are denying sin. It’s simple a reminder that confronting sin is best done in the context of a relationship where it’s obvious you care about the person (cf. Matt 18:15-20).