Caroline, Jade, Dorian, Sam, Jorge, Debra, Sheila, Amanda, Joanne, Steve, Brian, Lindsay, Stephanie, and Ana. These are baristas from my local Starbucks. I know their names.1 They know mine.
After many months of seeing them just a few minutes every week as I picked up my drink on the way to my church office, I decided to move in. Every morning, after carpooling a bunch of kids to school, I go to the same coffee2 shop, greet my baristas, ask for the same drink, sit at the same table, open my iPad, and start my work day. The table I sit at is right by the pickup counter where the beverages are served to the costumers. It’s the closest table to the baristas and allows for a lot of interaction throughout my stay.
I have become a regular. I believe the baristas when they greet me with a bright “G’morning sunshine!” Starbucks teaches its employees to be friendly, and they know how to create a welcoming atmosphere. Yet, behind these well-trained employees, I’ve come to discover good, honest, real people. Although they are the ones who sell me a cup of Peach Tranquility (my favorite herbal tea) every morning, I don’t see them as baristas. They are my friends. Each of them has a unique story.
Except for the church board, I schedule almost all of my meetings and pastoral visits at the same Starbucks location, and I introduce my church friends3 to the baristas every single time.
It is all intentional. But not the way you may think.
I intentionally want to get to know them better. I am genuinely interested in their stories and well-being. Most of them are in college, and I have a special room in my heart for people that age. But I do not have an Adventist agenda at the coffee shop. I am not secretly waiting for the perfect opportunity, whether spontaneous or premeditated, to jump at them and offer them Bible studies. As a matter of fact, I don’t even plan to invite them to the church I pastor!
Let me explain.
Having been raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and having been a member and/or a pastor in Europe, Canada, and the United States, I have identified a common thread across our denomination that pains my spiritual heart and turns my stomach.
We tend to see people as objects. Objects of salvation — but objects nonetheless. Numbers. We want more baptisms and a higher church service attendance. It doesn’t matter if people are already faithful Christians active in their own denomination. They are not Adventist, therefore, we assume they are lost. We arrogantly see people as pre-Adventist. We treat them as mere recipients of the truth that we alone possess. We have seen non-Adventists as targets for such a long time that we almost dehumanize them. No wonder we had to introduce “friendship evangelism.”
Think about it. Do we really need to be trained how to be friendly enough for people to lower their defenses, so we can drop a gospel bomb and hope for the better? Then, we come to in-house gatherings and “humbly boast” about the amazing results of befriending someone.
Let’s not be naive, though. Our neighbors and co-workers can smell fake attitudes. They can smell hidden agendas, bait links, and manipulation tactics, even if all those are intended to lead to the most amazing truth!
New converts are reduced to trophy status. We highlight them and welcome them to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Yet, these trophies have legs, and they use them to walk out — often unnoticed. This has become such a serious problem that we have developed discipleship programs to retain these new church members. But the solution is neither discipleship (trying to retain new converts who aren’t even friends!) nor friendship evangelism (friends with an agenda).
Tired of scouting the horizons for pre-Adventists and spending an increasing amount of energy crafting new ways of keeping my congregations occupied, I decided to take a radical turn. I purposely looked for people to love without strings attached.
Enter my Starbucks baristas squad. I truly love this wonderful group of young adults. They are so full of life! Many of them study full-time. I know when their papers are due and when they have finals. I know when they are having a bad day, even when they try to hide it behind a polite smile.
My wife and daughters bake yummy cookies for them and write them cards when they are sick. I spend an average of three to four hours every day with them, so we have plenty of time to chat about everything. Sometimes they sit at my table during their breaks. I play pranks on them, and they surely get back at me. We have an Instagram group where we chat outside of business hours. They pray for me and send me good vibes, thoughts, and karma when I’m sick.
They love me, and I love them.
My barista friends know that I am a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and they are totally fine with that. They don’t feel threatened or judged by a preacher. As a matter of fact, a couple of the questions featured in the TeenTalk column came from our conversations!4
You see, everybody’s got a story that can change your heart. They share their stories with me because we are friends. And guess what? It just so happens that my story’s main character is Jesus. My Starbucks squad knows very well that I am in love with Jesus, because they follow my social media feeds. They know what a Christian family looks like because oftentimes I bring my daughters for our weekly Papa Day; and my wife, Jelena, and I have some “us time” at the same location.
Dear readers, see your neighbors, classmates, and co-workers as humans to love, not as pre-Christians and certainly not as pre-Adventists. We have all experienced situations in which the person we are having a conversation with doesn’t seem to be listening to what we are saying. It’s as if they are waiting for us to stop talking so they can speak. They are not interested in our story; they have an agenda. Well, the same way we notice such behavior and react negatively to it (even if we don’t express our discomfort), our acquaintances will notice if we have an agenda and will silently react against it.
Jesus didn’t manipulate people to have them follow him. He loved — no strings attached. He saw the future, and still chose to act in the present. He consciously “wasted” precious time and miracles on people who would ultimately reject him. Did he know that Judas was going to betray him? You bet. But Jesus loved him so much that he couldn’t keep his eyes off him. Jesus loved Judas until the very moment Judas hanged himself after the betrayal. And then he mourned his death. Was Jesus a loser because his disciple rejected him and chose eternal death? No. Jesus was a winner because he loved to the end.
Love always wins. But make no mistake, winning is not adding a person to our church membership. It’s not even converting a person to Christianism. Winning is loving. We win when we love, because God is love. Take a minute to meditate on what you have just read. Close the magazine or your device and think about it. It’s so simple and yet so profound. It’s beautiful and liberating. You don’t have to evangelize.5 You don’t have to bring people to church. Only love. Just love. But love to the end.
Ultimately, Jesus’ love affair with humanity led him to the cross. Are you ready to die for your neighbor? Are you honestly willing to literally die for the guest that crosses the doors of your local church? Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question. I’m truly asking you. Are you? Because, you see, salespeople don’t die for their customers. Love-soaked individuals die for other people!
Let me challenge the church I love. Are we gospel salespersons? Is that all we are? Do we truly care? Do we go beyond depositing some money in the offering plate to pay for someone else to talk about the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to complete strangers who have come to the meetings via a pamphlet? Or do we go out of our way to love the person next to us?
Again, everybody’s got a story that can change your heart. Learn their stories — not to identify the best way to lead them to your church, but because you are genuinely interested in them. Love them! Laugh with them! Cry with them! Eat with them! Go places with them! Read with them! Watch TV with them! Go camping with them! Listen to music with them! Walk with them!
Do you want to be like Jesus? Know the people outside your local church. Do you want to be like Jesus? Associate with people. Do you want to be like Jesus? Associate with coffee drinkers. Associate with marijuana consumers. Associate with gay, lesbian, and transgender people. Associate with atheists and with non-Adventist Christians. Do you want to be like Jesus? Love people before you have a chance to label them. Leave the safety of the church walls and the well-established traditions, and mingle with people.
Know them. Love them.
1. Names changed for privacy.
2. If the word coffee turned you off, bear with me and continue reading. You’ll see that this article is not about caffeine, but about love. Thank you for your patience!
3. Henderson Hwy, the church where I serve as Associate Pastor, is well aquatinted with my Starbucks office and is fully supportive. They even provide a budget for it, which I use to pay for my tea and to treat those who join me. One Sabbath, I brought seven reusable Starbucks cups to church with the name of seven baristas written on them with permanent marker. For a year now, seven church members pray for the person on their cup every single time that they drink from it! Also, church members have anonymously contributed hundreds of dollars to help one of the baristas pay for her studies. I’m so proud of my church friends, so willing to love without strings attached!
4. Permission to publish is always asked and granted.
5. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, evangel in the sense of gospel, comes from Old French evangile, via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek euangelion good news. The good news is that Jesus so LOVED the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Caps are mine.
Pastor Josué Sánchez (josuesanchez.com) believes that everybody's got a story that can change your heart. You can usually find him writing and meeting new people at his local Starbucks. He lives in Winnipeg, MB with the most beautiful woman in the world, two princesses and a few Cichlids.
This essay originally appeared in The Canadian Messenger and was the September 2018 cover article. It is reprinted here with permission.
Photos courtesy of Pastor Josué Sánchez.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.