The young woman who sat down next to me on the Southwest Airlines flight volunteered that she was a student at a certain Baptist university, where I also had attended 30 years earlier. Intrigued, I asked more about what she was studying (how to “lead worship” was her answer) and where she had gone to high school (a private Christian school affiliated with an extremely conservative Baptist church). It turns out she actually wasn’t yet a student at the university but would be in the fall. All that was fine and good.
Then she asked me what kind of work I did. I explained that I am a minister at a Baptist church in Dallas and that I was on this flight because I had been to a Baptist conference and was headed to rejoin our church’s youth choir on their summer mission choir tour.
With barely a moment’s lapse, she looked me straight in the eye and asked sincerely: “Have you ever accepted Jesus Christ as your savior?”
I was too dumbfounded, I guess, to ask her what she had not understood about everything I had just said about myself, so I simply replied “yes” and smiled politely. The woman in the window seat, overhearing all this, suddenly appeared to be sleeping.
But as I processed this encounter at 10,000 feet, it all became perfectly clear to me. I just had forgotten that evangelical churches like this still exist. Yes, I grew up in the midst of this very culture and should have known it well. The previous pastor of this young woman’s church was notorious for preaching revivals in which pastors and deacons and longtime church members came to believe they never had been truly “saved” and thus needed to be baptized again.
When I rejoined my own church’s youth group that night, I couldn’t wait to tell this story, because I knew it would be intriguing. What I did not anticipate is how the devout Christian youth from our church could not comprehend that such an encounter ever would take place. They had no basis in experience for a culture in which an 18-year-old aspiring “worship leader” would question the salvation of a Baptist pastor old enough to be her father, on an airplane, after just meeting, and without provocation.
The next morning over breakfast, a couple of the girls in our group puzzled over this. Finally, one of them said: “I don’t understand why anyone would think that’s a good approach. Isn’t it better to go out and help people, to be kind to them, and let them see what kind of person you are? Doesn’t that give them reason to ask you why you’re doing what you’re doing and what beliefs motivate you?”
“Yes,” I responded. “I’m glad you’ve figured that out. That’s exactly what you’ve been doing this week on mission choir tour.”
Back on the plane, the young evangelist, hemmed in by a Baptist pastor on one hand and a woman feigning sleep on the other, was not yet done. As the plane landed, she reached in her purse, pulled out three evangelistic tracts and stuffed them in the seat pocket magazine pouches directly in front of us.
You should have heard me try to explain to my youth group what an evangelistic tract is, much less why you would leave one lying around for someone to stumble upon.