A full English breakfast is always a cause for rejoicing. Especially early on a Monday morning. What made today’s more memorable than most was the attentive nature of the cafe’s staff, and the lesson they taught me about concern for the customer.
Amici’s Cafe Ristorante (http://amiciscafe.co.uk) is a tidy little cafe in Croxley Green. I am up here today to work on some classes for the School of Missions weekend. Fewer distractions than at home. As a wheat-intolerant person, cafe breakfasts pose a problem. Most come with toast and sausages – stuffed with wheat. Explaining my predicament to Amici’s staff brought a response that caused me to reflect on how we treat ‘customers’ who come to church. Here are three things to think about:
- Connection. The first thing the proprietor did was to tell me his mother is celiac. While that is not the exact same situation as myself, nonetheless I instantly knew he understood the significance of my requirements. The Apostle Paul is a good example of this in Athens. Before teaching them the details of the gospel he takes the time to notice the local conditions, “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16 NIV11-GK). This led to a very different sermon compared to most of his others. The lesson for us? Before telling people what we think they need to hear, first find out what their needs are. Where are they coming from? Believer in God, or non-believer? Coming to church out or curiosity, or at the insistence of a friend?
- Flexibility. In the discussion as to what I could not eat as part of the breakfast the staff member suggested various non-wheat ingredients as alternatives (extra eggs and bacon instead of sausage and toast etc.). Again, Paul displays admirable flexibility in Acts 17. We can imagine that his address to the Jews and God-fearers was probably standard stuff similar to other synagogue-based visits (v17). However, once people with a different belief system came on the scene (Epicurean and Stoic philosophers) he adopted a different approach (v18). Paul begins with creation, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” (Acts 17:24 NIV11-GK), and gradually works up to the resurrection (v31). The lesson for us? When people visit church and ask us about our faith we must learn to tell our story differently to people from different spiritual or non-spiritual backgrounds. How flexible are you in the way you share your ‘testimony’?
- Detail. After delivering my breakfast the waiter came back to my table a minute later with some tomato sauce. He told me he had checked it had no wheat. The chances of tomato ketchup containing wheat must be small, but he took the time to check. I felt safe and special. Once again, Paul demonstrates this principle. He did not rush in to his address, but took time to examine the circumstances. He said, “as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” (Acts 17:23 NIV11-GK). His audience gave him greater attention because he had earned greater credibility by attention to detail. Do we listen carefully enough to the people who visit church? Are we patient if they do not fit our preferred model? A general guideline should be that we listen more than we talk when someone comes to our meetings.