10 Kingdom Lessons From A Cigar Shop

Christian leaders and pastors often struggle with feeling disconnected from their communities. They are in meetings with Christians, counseling Christians, preparing messages, developing leaders, and before long find that they have very little interactions with people outside of the church.

Outside of the church, to whom do we testify that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life? It’s a question I’ve asked myself regularly. Christians too often isolate themselves in their communities by only interacting with and investing in other Christians.  And, the isolation is even more intense with men.

I believe we may see greater fruit in our churches and the work God has called us to if more would be active in the communities where we live. It’s not enough to just be out there, we need to intentionally connect with other people, build friendships, and share both our lives and the good news of the Gospel.  Sadly, what seems to be more common is for Christians to post up in a coffee shop having their heads buried in a book or a laptop, or primarily interacting with other believers.

There comes a time to push ourselves outside of our comfortable bubbles . . . and it’s more than going to an impoverished country once or twice a year.  It’s going to different places in your communities where we can begin to be salt and light in relational ways.  Too often, we spend energy shining out light to other light bearers, instead of to those who are in darkness.  We have become comfortable with reassuring the redeemed instead of rescuing the perishing.  We comfort the delivered over those who are spiritually dying.

It’s finding those “third places” where people gather socially.  In his influential book, The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. In building community, the third place is the social surrounding that is separate from the two usual social environments of home (first place) and the workplace (second place). These are the easiest places for us to become a part of a group outside the walls of the church.

A “third place” can be a barber shop, bowling league, coffee shop, comic book store, local diner, gym, travel sports leagues . . . or, as it happened to be in my case, a cigar shop.

My wife has been involved in a mentoring role with women’s ministry over the past 20 years.  Each week, hundreds of women gather to meet around small tables or in small groups and share, study and encourage each other.  We have had long discussions as to why men don’t have the same type of small groups.  Candidly, I didn’t have a good answer . . . I knew men wanted to be authentic, open and real.  Yet, often they feel as if they don’t measure up and won’t fit in our churches.

In 2009, I took a bold step and pushed the envelope in our community . . . I opened a Kingdom focused cigar shop and lounge as a business.

We trained employees in Kingdom principles . . . some knew Christ, and some did not.  We implemented Kingdom concepts.  Respect, honor and integrity were part of the IMG_0940culture.  Our televisions only played sports or news . . . nothing else.  And, we had a weekly men’s study, teaching Scripture and life principles every Tuesday night with attendance of 40 to 50 men, multi-generational, from different walks of life and various Christian backgrounds.  A motorcycle 1%er would sit next to a district attorney.  Military vets would talk with young college students trying to figure out life.  Successful and retired business men would interact with young entrepreneurs.

Men began to know Jesus, lives were changed, accountability partners established and friendships . . . every day and eternal . . . were forged.

As a team, we were functionally reaching our goals and fulfilling our mission.

  • There was little staff stress, tension or frustration.
  • Turnover was almost non-existent.
  • The focus on Kingdom priorities was not diluted, diminished or dysfunctional.
  • Our team made the most of every opportunity, maximized their time and used their talents.
  • Our team had fun, fulfilled the mission and accomplished some pretty amazing things.

So, here are some lessons I’ve learned from a Kingdom focused cigar shop:

  1. I’ve learned to be incarnational and intentional, not isolated. It is easy to be “present” without participating in a given community. Take out your earbuds, stop thinking of a third place as your second office, and start thinking of it as a living room. It’s a shared space. Join conversations. Start them! Invite people into your life where you are. You’ll be surprised at their response.
  2. I focused on building friendships, not finding followers. People can tell if your only agenda is to see them come to church. I know that’s not how we would say it, but that’s how others see it. The believer’s greatest desire to see people come to Jesus. We are called to love our neighbors and this includes befriending others.  If we truly love them, we will share the Gospel by our words and our actions.  Regardless of how they respond we will invest in them as people worth knowing and loving.
  3. I was challenged to listen and learn. Christians have something to say. Some Christians have too much to say. It would do all of us well to build relationships and bear witness to the truth of the Gospel by listening first and speaking second. This is not a call to timidity, but an encouragement to seek to know and understand the people to which God has called us to speak.  I have to focus on what others are saying and not on what I want to tell them.  Be sensitive to the Spirit’s moving . . . not your own message.  Remember . . . two ears, one mouth  . . . listen twice as much as you speak.
  4. I worked at maintaining a confident, consistent and convicting testimony. No matter how patient we are and how friendly we want to be with those outside of the Kingdom of God, we still must tell them the truth of Jesus Christ and maintain a public faith without embarrassment. To hide your faith, and to hold back the claims and invitation of Jesus is to do harm to your neighbor.  It’s more than just going to church . . . it’s about your relationship with your wife, being a dad to your kids, being an impacting grandfather and being a contributing member in the community.  Be assured . . . you will mess up and fail.  And, when you do . . . admit, apologize and accept responsibility.
  5. Our cigar shops provided a forum. Paul had his Mar’s Hill. Where else can people of all races, economic status, and educational backgrounds gather peacefully to relax, escape and converse like adults? A cigar shop is one of them!  Men are drawn into actual conversation and the sharing of ideas. It’s not limited to “likes” or “retweets”.  There are backstories, emotion and perspective. You’re able to look people in the eye and because there is a mutual respect.
  6. My “missional” found its meaning. I can’t explain the clear focus that is achieved when you know that you’re going to embark on a mission.  Every day, whether working with employees, customers, cigar reps or cigar brand owners, the message of Christ is demonstrated.
  7. I found it necessary to re-define “the world”. My fear is that we become too comfortable with using terms like “the world”.  We are told to not love the world, or the things that are in the world. (I John 2).  All that is in the world . . . the lust of the flesh, eyes and pride of life . . . I like to say a preoccupation with pleasure, possessions and position . . . is not of the Father.  Yet, too often, the “world” is still in IMG_2023the “church”.  Over the years of our “Kingdom Cigar Shop”, some churches and friends who are pastors had a challenging time accepting, affirming or appreciating an “outside-the-box” and “outside-the-church” type of ministry. Those patrons who came into our shop were not “the world” . . . they were and are souls who need Jesus and need to be loved.
  8. All men are battered, broken, bruises and busted.  Everyone can be redeemed, restored, resurrected and rebuilt.  Sometimes they just need someone to set aside time, listen to them and love on them.
  9. A Kingdom culture is accepting, comfortable and welcoming.  The “why” of what you do will always shape the “how”.  Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos says, “Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like developing great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen on its own.”
  10. It was a place of “we” and not “me”. I quickly learned that I could not do all of this myself.  To reach a “brotherhood”, we had to be a brotherhood.  Developing a mission and motivation in a team was far more effective than being the main player.  Lance Witt, in High Impact Teams, writes, “Doing focuses on performance; developing focuses on people.”

God allowed us to connect with our community of men.  Two years ago, I found it necessary to step away from the day-to-day management.  But, the seeds planted continue to yield a great harvest.

The ongoing ministry through relationships is multiplying.

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