Painting Ourselves Out of a Corner

I’ve mentioned before that our approach to ministry is essentially relational. The firmly established social structure where we live, however, has made it difficult for us to meet people and make friends. We tried walking up to strangers, consistently hanging out in the same cafes, and joining a local gym. None of these have opened any relational doors for us.

We’ve known for a long time now that people don’t like to feel like targets. We’re not to comfortable with targeting people anyway. So here’s a counter intuitive lesson we’ve learned: if you want to meet people, stop trying to meet people.

Just like the hard-to-love loners in high school that were nice enough, but so annoying no one could stand them for very long, we were trying too hard. Our focus on wanting to befriend the people around us was freaking them out. It wasn’t until we stopped trying that God brought us some significant relationships.

Of course, it isn’t enough to stop trying; we had to focus our efforts and energies somewhere else. We were a team of fairly creative and semi-artistic people anyway, so we poured ourselves into our art. Painting, writing, and photography are usually pretty solitary endeavors; but they don’t have to be. We started visiting galleries and studios, just as we had done before, but now as mostly-serious artists, not as outsiders trolling for “contacts.” We started taking art classes to improve our technique, not to try to find a captive audience to evangelize. We joined clubs and creative groups, we made arrangements to show our art and publish our work.

Guess what happened? We started meeting people. We’re making friends.

We’re moving beyond, “This is my friend from the fish stand at the market” to something more real. We’re beginning to move in circles with people with whom we have a lot in common, and our work is opening doors for spiritual conversations and open presentation of Good News. We’re being invited in to creative groups whose existence until now we only suspected. Art both shapes and reflects the culture. It’s exciting to come into contact with the people involved, and for them to welcome our participation.

Who would have guessed that the best way to meet people would be to stop trying to meet people?

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.