There is a particular piece of advice I have given many Christian officers over the years. The same advice, dealing with the church, can and should be applied to evangelists.
Fighting the Hardening of the Heart
“It seems like I’m angry all the time. I don’t trust anyone. If you don’t wear a badge, you’re one of them. I assume a person is lying to me because their lips are moving. Even when I’m off-duty, I just don’t want to be around people. No one understands what it’s like being a cop, and I’m tired of trying to explain it to people. I don’t even want to tell people what I do for a living. When I do, I either get an uncomfortable or suspicious look, or the person wants to tell me about the last ticket they got, or that they believe their neighbor is up to no good.”
As a deputy sheriff and as a department chaplain, I heard these sentiments (and others) often from Christian brothers and sisters behind the badge.
I’ve been retired for 13 years. The job is much harder, now. It has become exponentially more difficult to be a law enforcement professional in the just last couple of months. The world isn’t changing. It has changed.
Over the years, even recently, I’ve been contacted by Christian brethren who are considering a career in law enforcement. I ask the same questions of each one. Here are a few:
- Have you settled in your mind, both theologically and philosophically, the use of deadly force?
- If you’re married, is your spouse on board with you entering a career in law enforcement?
- If you have children, are you ready to see them far less and to miss important events in their lives?
- Are you ready to see the worst man can do to his fellow man, every day?
- Are you ready for many of your friendships to change, forever?
- Are you ready for the daily fight against cynicism, the hardening of your heart toward people and the world around you?
There are many more questions I ask, but this gives you a general idea of how the conversations often go.
My Advice to Christian Cops
Whether a veteran officer or a prospective recruit, there’s one piece of advice I give them all.
Stay close to your local church.
A key to battling the hardening of the heart that all-too-often comes with a career in law enforcement is to spend time with Christians who aren’t cops. Plumbers, teachers, office workers, stay-at-home moms, doctors and nurses, salesmen, retirees–people, just regular people: officers need not only attend Sunday services with regular folk; they also need to be involved in the lives of regular folk, with those same people being involved in their lives, too.
The last group of people with whom officers should spend much of their off-duty time is other officers. Of course, time away from the job will be spent with other officers. Unlike many other professions, a career in law enforcement brings you into not only a unique subcultural but a family. It’s a very tight-knit, dysfunctional family–a family with whom an officer could spend more time than with his or her biological family. But misery loves company. Gripe sessions about people on both sides of the badge, war stories, and cynical pontificating only add to the hardening of an officer’s heart.
Again, for the sake of both his heart and mind, the Christian officer needs to spend as much time as possible with his church family. The Christian officer needs the ministry of, as well as opportunities to minister to, his local assembly. He needs the shepherding of pastors who, while maybe never walking a mile in his dirty boots, walk miles every day shepherding the flock to which God has assigned them. He needs these men who live in the Bible, bruising their knees in prayer, all-the-while loving the sheep even when they bite.
The Christian officer needs his brothers and sisters in Christ who may not walk where he walks but knows how to dress spiritual wounds with love and compassion.
Christian officers need the local church.
In One Way, Evangelists are Like Cops
The street evangelism community, which includes open-air preachers, is a cynical lot. I should know. Not long after I started engaging in street evangelism (2004) and open-air preaching (2005), I joined the street evangelism fraternity and quickly earned a Ph.D. in cynicism. With the advent of social media, I discovered I could vomit my dissertation titled “Let Me Tell You What’s Wrong with Christians and the Church” across the Internet.
Before long, I was spending most of my time (either in person or online) with other street evangelists. And guess what we spent a considerable amount of time doing: gripe sessions about people on both sides of salvation, war stories, and cynical pontificating. Sound familiar?
Don’t get me wrong (although you might, even though I ask you not to); I have 16 years of cherished memories from my time on the streets, on college campuses, and outside abortuaries with my brothers and sister behind the evangelism badge. Some of my dearest friendships to this day are with other street evangelists. And while the context might be different than it once was, I look forward to future and continued shoulder-to-shoulder evangelistic work with my beloved brethren on the streets.
But let’s face it, as is the case with the law enforcement family, the street evangelism community is dysfunctional, too. Part of the reason for the dysfunction is that while most street evangelists would claim membership in a local church, for many that membership is superficial at best. A reason: the evangelist’s church may not understand or entirely support the evangelist’s efforts on the street. Or the evangelist’s church does understand and support the evangelist’s efforts on the street, but may not share in their zeal for public evangelism.
“We’re glad you’re out there. Let us know if you need anything. And try to stay out of trouble.”
Many street evangelists want more from their local assemblies–more participation, more support, and more attention. What street evangelists want from their local assemblies aren’t bad things. On the flip-side, they also want to be left alone–left alone to do their own thing where they want, when they want, and how they want.
In some cases, maybe many, the conflict might not be with the church’s interaction with the street evangelist, but rather the street evangelist’s interaction with the local church. The street evangelist while wanting to enjoy some of the perks of nomadism might, at the same time, also want to enjoy the benefits of the close accountability that ought to come with an all-in membership in a local church. That is until the shepherding gets a little too close for comfort and starts to infringe on the perceived freedom partial nomadism brings.
Evangelist, You Need the Church
The street evangelist needs the local church. He needs to be rooted and grounded in real and tangible ways in a local assembly of believers.
Evangelist: even if the church doesn’t “get you,” even if the church is not as evangelistic as you are, even if some of the people wince when they see you on the streets because they could never see themselves walking a mile in your evangelistic shoes, even if the pastors’ greatest hope is that you don’t get arrested and thus draw unwanted attention from the community on the church, you still need the church.
Remember, evangelist, you are a hand or a foot, you are not the whole body. There is more to the function of a local church than public evangelism.
Evangelist, you need the church. You need the local church more than you need the “evangelism community.” You need the accountability of your pastors and fellow members. Furthermore, you need fellowship with saints who, although maybe not as evangelistically minded as you are or might be wired to engage in evangelism differently than you, are the other hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, and/or ears of the Body of Christ. You need the blessed input in your life of other Christians who do not look, sound, think, or serve in the same way you do. You need their friendship, fellowship, and the opportunity to serve them and be served by them.
Evangelist, if you spend all of your time with other evangelists, if you eat, drink, and sleep evangelism (and all this can apply to abortuary ministry, too) and if you find the most encouragement from other members of “club frustration” (a term describing a common bond among evangelists who are frustrated with the local church; a pejorative), then you run the risk of hardening your heart toward the local church–your local church. Such hardening is sinful, my friend.
Cops shouldn’t only hang out with cops, and evangelists shouldn’t only hang out with evangelists.
Let this be an encouragement to you to love your local church and realize how much you need to be rooted in her.