By James Moon … As a people awaiting the return of Christ, it is all too easy to be Armchair Adventists who prefer profession over practice, and find ourselves channel surfing between 3ABN, Loma Linda Broadcasting Network, or the Hope Channel. Other Armchair Adventists engage in online debates via forums like Facebook, Twitter, Spectrum, AdVindicate, or Fulcrum 7.

Sabbath afternoon has been one of my favorite times to sit back and surf. What’s the latest controversy or theological debate? How can I satisfy my sense of biblical superiority by seeing what the “right” or “left” side of the church is saying? I might not pray “thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector,” (Luke 18:11), but I have certainly thought while sitting in my armchair, “thank God I’m not like other Adventists. Thank God I’m balanced!”

On a personal level, the armchair is a dangerous place for my spiritual well-being. The armchair is also a significant risk to our missional health as the corporate body of Christ. It is all too easy to tweet, post, or reply from our Lazy Boys instead of engaging seekers or unbelievers in authentic, face-to-face conversations. In exchange for personal ministry moments with the potential to experience the saving grace of Jesus with unbelievers, we tend to choose pontificating about “spiritual matters” that mean nothing in the scope of eternity. So, what is the answer for our armchair apathy?

For me, one “getting out of the armchair” experience involved a moment of reflection on the steps of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Capulin, Colorado. It was the late spring of 2015, and while a Catholic Church is probably the last place you would expect an Adventist pastor to learn about moving from profession to practice, sometimes Jesus takes us to unexpected places to teach unexpected lessons. Kind of like His journey with the disciples through Samaria and subsequent conversation with the woman at Jacob’s well (see John 4:1-42). While Christ’s disciples were not expecting to learn anything in this God-forsaken Gentile land, Jesus wanted to give them a taste of food they knew nothing about (John 4:32).

I got a taste of what Jesus was talking about on that spring day in Capulin when I looked up from my journal to see two young men and a young woman making their way to the boarded up high school directory across the street from St. Joseph’s. They were passing a beer bottle between them and talking about old times.

In that moment, the Holy Spirit encouraged me to get up from my armchair, cross the street, and engage the three strangers in conversation. My heart was nervous. “Lord I don’t know what to say. I have nothing in common with them. They’ll probably think, ‘who does this guy think he is? Some holier than thou Christian?’” All the negative scenarios played out in my mind. Fear was holding me hostage.

But Jesus didn’t give up. “Just go over and engage them in conversation. What do you have to lose? I will be with you. I can help you.”

So, leaving my armchair of insecurity, I made my way across the street. This is an excerpt from my prayer journal account of that day in Capulin:

May 25, 2015: I had a missional prayer encounter with Tommy, his friend Alex, and Alex’s girlfriend Kayla. I saw them talking by the Capulin Youth Center. I went over and said hi. Tommy lost his parents five years ago when his dad shot his mom and then shot himself. Tommy said, ‘You live and then you die bro. That’s all there is to it. You live and then you die.’

Tommy’s sense of hopelessness was palpable: “You live and then you die bro.” Nothing more, nothing less. Just life, and then death. Nothing to look forward to. Only the sorrows of a past in which his father killed his mother and then took his own life. Listening to the stories of Tommy and his friends, I felt so powerless. My heart hurt for and with them. There was no quick fix.

Not knowing what to say in response, I asked if I could pray with them. My prayer was specific, simple, and brief. I asked Jesus to comfort Tommy in his grief, give Kayla wisdom about her future, and to be with Alex when he returned to jail. At the end of the prayer Tommy said, “Bro, you know, I don’t have a lot of people pray for me.”

My heart longs for Adventists to be known as the people who pray with people. Oh, that we might get out of our armchairs and get on our knees in intercession for the Tommy’s of this world. While we argue and debate over fine points of doctrine, they are in desperate need of a doctor. It is time to leave our armchairs and lift our arms to heaven on behalf of those longing for purpose, hope, and salvation.

Mission isn’t a debate. It is a decision to listen. Before the world will hear what, we have to say, we must give them the opportunity to say what we need to hear. We need to hear their story by listening to their sorrows, hurts, hopes, and dreams. Because imbedded in the stories of people all around us is a bridge to good news of God’s love. In Tommy’s case that bridge was having someone pray with him about his grief and loss.

Who is the Tommy God is calling you to bless? Let your witnessing begin with listening. Because as you and I choose to get out of our armchairs, open our eyes, and notice the people God puts in front of us, we will find a world longing to be heard. As Jesus said, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35, NIV).

I’ll be the first to admit, it can be a struggle to leave my armchair and cross the street to engage in a missional moment of listening. Whether it is the fear of rejection, my own insecurities, or just the desire to digitally disengage. But when I have chosen to engage with the Tommys that Jesus puts in my circle of influence, I have felt most alive and most fulfilled missionally.

In my journey of witnessing through listening, the Lord has given me a simple strategy for discipling through listening and prayer. Spelling the word HELP, this strategy involves four steps: heeding, engaging, listening, and prayer. The first step is to heed the person God shows you. Step two is to engage them in conversation through a question or observational statement. Step three is to listen to their story. And step four is to minister in prayer. Based on the conversation, the Holy Spirit will impress you as to whether you should simply pray for the person privately, or whether you should extend an invitation to pray together in the moment.

As I continue seeking to get out of my armchair and engage in the HELP practices, I have found them to be an effective discipleship catalyst. Because as we pray specific, simple, and brief prayers with the people we have listened to, they feel heard and loved. They also gain a confidence to talk to Jesus themselves.

This is what happened with my wife’s friend Susan.* Susan was someone who didn’t go to church on a regular basis. She had experienced trauma at the hand of religious people. But after Ingrid constantly listened to Susan and prayed with her in the context of an organic friendship, Susan offered to pray for Ingrid during a stressful time. Ingrid’s commitment to listen and pray with Susan resulted in Susan learning to listen and pray.

May I challenge you to try heeding the people God shows you, engaging them in conversation, listening to their story, and ministering to them in prayer. Because I believe these simple practices can HELP all of us get out of our armchairs and into the mission of making disciples. Give it a try. If you would like to share your experience, I would love to hear it. Simply, send your story to: [email protected]

–James Moon is pastor for worship at Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Collegedale, Tennessee. Email him at: [email protected]