Don’t Bother Me

This is a guest post from my good friend, Chad Schuitema. A couple of years ago, Chad began intentionally building relationships with people who he crossed paths with on a regular basis, but who he otherwise ignored. Rather than ignoring them he began to get to know them. I am challenged by Chad’s intentional relationship building, and I hope you are as well. You can follow Chad on Twitter or check out his blog here.


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A guy I know has an incredibly powerful testimony of how Jesus saved his life.  For most people, this would be enough, but his testimony of what Jesus has done through him for broken and hurting people in the church may be even more powerful. What’s more, he’s honestly one of the most humble people I know.

This post is in no way meant to demean him.

But here’s the thing: outside his church, he’s a horrible witness for Christ.

I spend a good amount of time at a local Starbucks. I like Starbucks coffee andI love the people there. I started going there when I was pastoring a church as a way of forcing myself to sit quietly early in the more and spend some time devotionally reading the Bible and praying.  It was so much easier to just go to my office, start responding to emails and get caught up in the busyness of the job.  So Starbucks was great for me to get into a good habit.

But it turned into so much more than that.

I started to know the people working there and to be known by them. I really care about them and love them. They’re my friends.  We’re not best buddies to the point of hanging out a ton, but it’s more than just being friendly.  I’ve done this because I’m convinced Jesus wants us to love people – especially the people where we spend much of our time. It’s easy to say we love the people in our church, but what about the rest of the world? What about our actual neighbors?

One day I went to a Starbucks on a different side of town and there was the guy I was telling you about – the guy with the great testimony. He knows me and shook my hand and asked about my church with a warm smile on his face. After a little conversation he went and sat down and I saw him doing the same thing I did: read the Bible and pray. But I noticed when he got up for a refill he barely spoke more than a grunt to the barista. I thought maybe he was having a bad day.

A while later I was at my Starbucks sitting in the corner and this same guy walks in. He doesn’t see me this time though, but I watch him. He speaks minimally to the barista only enough to order his tall Pike Place. He goes into the corner and reads and prays and gets up a little while later and leaves. Since then, I’ve seen him do this multiple times.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Starbucks and other restaurants writing, reading, and eating.  And I’ve become painfully aware as I’ve listened and people-watched at how horrible people treat baristas, waiters, and others whose job it is to serve food. Have you ever noticed this?  Is it a superiority thing?  A too busy thing?  An I don’t care thing?

I’ve been told by my friends at Starbucks that the day they hate working most is Sunday because of the Christians who come in and leave them condemning notes about them going to hell because they are, among a whole host of other sins, working on Sunday!  Who would serve them their coffee?  I almost didn’t believe it, but sadly I saw one of these notes.

What is wrong with us when we aren’t even friendly to people we are called to love?

I used to start my Sunday by getting a venti americano at the crack of dawn on my way to prepare for worship. It was one of my favorite things to do because the same two people worked every Sunday and I always looked at it as a reminder to me of the real world – the world outside the church.   And if I’m honest, I often looked forward to going to Starbucks and having a real conversation for 15 minutes more so than I did going to church.  But for others, they stop in after church where they’ve sung songs about grace and heard the message of love your neighbor and five minutes later are in full-on judgement mode about piercings, tattoos, and hair color.

Seriously?

I’m not better than anyone else. I don’t write this to say, “Look at me, I’m such a friendly guy!” It’s the opposite. I’m not doing anything great, I’m just trying to have good relationships with people and love them.  I don’t have an ulterior motive; you don’t have to be like me.

But what I am wondering is that if you are a Christian and you don’t know the people in the places you frequent or aren’t in relationship with them or your neighbors, what does that say?  What does it say about what you believe about love and the commands of Jesus?

Do you know people at the gym, or do you avoid eye contact and try and get out of there as fast as possible?

When you go through a checkout line, do you ooze impatience and frustration or is there an actual person in front of you that is made in the image of God?

Are you trying to escape this world we live in or are you trying to be the best witness for Christ you can be in the places where you go?

Is that just a servant getting you your refill, or is there someone on the other side of that counter who may just need someone to sincerely ask how they are doing today?

Or are you letting them know you don’t want to be bothered?

Because in the end, what you do says a lot more than what you say.

photo credit: scottnj via photopin cc

  • Bonnie Wilcox

    I have told my church that I also have “church” at the bagel shop where I stop Sundays and Thursdays. After months of other conversation, they now ask about the message for the day, and ask me to pray for them, or to be their contact person for their funeral. We break bread in interesting ways. Great article, Chad.

  • http://mstublefield.com/ Matthew Stublefield

    As a hardcore introvert, his behaviour as you described didn’t seem that terrible to me. I usually try to be nice to the people at Starbucks, but I’m not looking to make friends there. I just want my coffee and to sit in peace or to leave. It doesn’t sound like this guy is insulting them or threatening them with hellfire and damnation… so why do you call him out and condemn him for being neutral to them?

    Sometimes we need a refuge. You said that he has a powerful testimony, which leads me to believe that he is ministering somewhere. Maybe Starbucks is his place to get away, like Jesus withdrew to the lake or the mountain. Calling him a horrible witness for Christ because of this seems wrong to me, especially through a public blog.

    First, I doubt he deserves that level of condemnation. Second, if he is truly in error, you should speak to him directly.

    Remember Wheaton’s Law. Or Jesus’s statement on the most important law(s). Or better yet, both.

    • Chad Schuitema

      Matthew, you are right. Sometimes we need a refuge. But the operative word there is “sometimes”. If we go into the same place frequently I think we should step above the “I need my space” mindset a bit and try and show love to the people we interact with regularly.

      Some are introverts – you’re right. But what I have found too often in the church are people using reasons like introversion or needing a refuge as excuses to not be witnesses in the communities in which they live, work, and play.

      And while my use of the word “horrible” in reference to his witness may seem harsh, the people he interacts with at Starbucks would have no inkling based on his behavior toward them that this man loved others like Jesus loved. So maybe I should have said he isn’t a witness at all.

      What about his behavior would cause anyone to ask him about his Savior?

  • Julie Whitworth

    I wonder how many Pharisees made similar comments about Jesus when he needed to separate himself from others to spend time communicating with God? Your post indicates this man regularly gives of himself to others in his church. Perhaps he is also ministering to his family, among his neighbors and at his job. It is easy to become overwhelmed with giving and our increasingly busy and crowded world makes it challenging to find places where we are completely alone. Is it so hard to imagine that he goes somewhere he isn’t known and doesn’t know others so he can take a respite from giving and simply receive from God? Unless he is being arrogant, rude or otherwise acting in an abusive manner then I see nothing un-Christian about this man’s actions. Do you build a relationship with every person you regularly interact with at the grocery store, gas station or bank and make yourself available to minister to them? I’m willing to bet not because no one can meet the needs of absolutely every person they encounter.

    In an age where Christians are increasingly the target of attacks and criticism from non-believers, I’d like to see less finger pointing in the family. Kudos to you for taking the time to build these relationships but please don’t pat your own back at the expense of stabbing someone else’s.

    • Chad Schuitema

      Julie – Thanks for your pushback. I apologize I have come across patting myself on my own back and stabbing the back of another. This blog post was not about this man. It was about how as Christians we are called to love people outside the church and inside the church. Many outside the church see people who they know are Christians or carry Bibles around who aren’t even friendly and are actually often rude and it is an immediate stumbling block to the witness of the Gospel. My goal was not to bash this man, but to tell my experience as an example. I truly believe the attacks from non-believers you speak of are because the witness of the church outside the building has suffered tremendously because of the lack of an incarnational witness by the people of God.

    • BrinaHarwood

      I understand what you are saying about attacks and criticism on the Church, but I heard it said once that the most effective constructive criticism comes from within and the most effective compliments come from without. If we cannot look at ourselves and be honest about where we need to make adjustments, then we are being prideful and utterly ineffective. The fact that in restaurants and coffee shops across America servers dread the “after church rush”, should be an indicator that there is a problem.
      I’m not sure that he intended the he was suggesting that we needed to have deep, meaningful, twenty minute conversations with everyone we come accross or even the ones we come accross regularly. My impression was that if we take the opportunity, within the confines of our interaction, to slowly build relationships with people that we see on reocurring occasions, we’re getting somewhere.
      I think we all desire to be acknowledged. I really don’t think that is asking too much of us, when we are called to love.

  • shevrae

    Hmm, I try hard to be nice and polite to people when I’m out, but unfortunately, as a homeschooling Mother, my going out usually involves taking 4 busy, noisy, must-touch-everything people with me. So honestly, most of my time is spent reminding kids to watch where they are going, moving them out of other people’s way, and asking/begging/threatening them to stop touching things. It really is an effort to be kind to others and teach my children good manners at the same time, but I’m afraid it often comes across as grouchy. To both the people I interact with and my kids. Frankly, as I read this, I’m trying hard not to be jealous of you guys with all your alone time at Starbucks. . . LOL

  • BrinaHarwood

    A few years ago, immediately following a period of spiritual upheaval in my life, I felt like God was saying that there was more to be done. I questioned Him because so much had already been done (as the years have passed, I realize that there is ALWAYS more to be done). As I was driving home from church, feeling really good about life and where I was, He answered. I wasn’t friendly. I wasn’t unfriendly or rude, but I didn’t make friends easily and struggle(d) with the daily small talk (still do). I informed God that that was how I was created, it was who I was. Then He reminded me that I should look increasingly like Jesus and less like myself. Then He dropped kind of a big question on me. “Did Jesus attract people on this earth or did they keep their distance?” Of course they were drawn to Him. He spoke of things their hearts yearned to hear, He healed them, but He also deeply cared for them and loved them.
    Long story short, despite who I thought I was, God had me make small adjustments (though they felt huge), like smile and greet every person you cross paths with. It doesn’t matter if they smile back or flip you the bird. Now it’s easier. It goes against the 36 years of buffering patterns I had created, the grooves in my heart that are easy to fall back into, but when I truly care about the people around me, smiling is genuine, my asking them how their day is is heart felt. It helps me and I hope that it is a blessing to others. I’m not patting myself on the back. I didn’t come up with the plan, I didn’t even want to do the plan, but God’s ways are best. With all of the grace and mercy God has showered on us, I believe we can be kinder, more gracious and certainly more merciful. That’s Jesus. If we just make the effort, that can be Jesus working through us in the most mundane moments of life.
    I guess you can say I really connect with your post. It opened my reaffirmed some stuff God’s been dealing with me on. There is always room to grow.

  • Darren Sterling

    Hey I’m an introvert, but this is a great reflection. I’m guilty of these actions in other circumstances or settings. But if nothing else, I always believe how we engage with people working in those jobs that society sees as “the least of these” says so much about people. Even a smile and pleasant comment seems to set you apart from the majority.
    And guess what – you will possibly get a smile, great service and conversation back