A rabbi, a protestant, a Catholic reverend, an atheist, and a Norse pagan walk into a cigar shop, smoke together for about two hours, and have an edifying conversation about religion and life. Yes, this is a true story and it happened regularly while I was earning my master’s degree and managing a cigar shop. Needless to say, my graduate school experience was considerably different from most people’s, and it taught me more about loving and leading people through my work than I could have possibly imagined.
But some Christians, those who tend to be more legalistic, might ask, “how it is that you can smoke cigars as a Christian? Doesn’t that bother your conscience or set a poor example?” To this query, I would love to provide an answer that I believe supports the contrary.
The Prince of Preachers and His Love for Cigars[blockquote]“…my experience working in a cigar lounge gave me more opportunities to minister and be ministered to than I could have ever expected.”[/blockquote]
I am not the first Christian to smoke cigars on a regular basis. The “Prince of Preachers” himself, Charles H. Spurgeon, was well known for the habit as well. Spurgeon once penned a letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph after he was criticized for saying to his congregation, “I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed tonight.” In his letter Spurgeon explains, “When I have found intense pain relieved, a weary brain soothed, and calm, refreshing sleep obtained by a cigar, I have felt grateful to God, and have blessed His name.”
Spurgeon’s position on cigar smoking may not be as emphatic as Mark Twain’s infamous alleged quote, “if smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go,” but his stance on the matter is clear—cigar smoking can be done to the glory of God. Although the habit is still taboo in many Christian circles, my experience working in a cigar lounge gave me more opportunities to minister and be ministered to than I could have ever expected.
Ministry in a Cigar Shop[blockquote]“…we were told regularly by people who found churches too judgmental or intimidating that we provided a community they had never experienced.”[/blockquote]
Once you light a cigar beside someone, you’ve dedicated the next hour and a half to being in the same place and enjoying the same relaxing habit. The environment of our cigar lounge was one saturated with conversation and people curious and open to talking with anyone who walked through the door.
This type of “instant fraternity,” as we called it, had incredible effects on me as well as my employees and clientele. The simultaneously intimidating and liberating nature of an environment like this is that conversations are frequently deep, and people are not shy about challenging your ideas or views. As a result, there is trust, candor, and confidentiality.
Because of this “fraternity”—by this I mean in the classical sense, brotherhood—my employees and customers were not merely employees and customers, they were (and still are) close friends. Spending a few hours together every day for years made us more than lawyers, college students, veterans, businessmen, and bankers; it made us equals, mentors/mentees, and friends. Once you walk into the shop, you’re immediately able to vent, ask for advice, or simply enjoy the company of people that respect you and one another. This is the environment we used as staff members to love and lead people toward Jesus, and we were told regularly by people who found churches too judgmental or intimidating that we provided a community they had never experienced.
In fact, we held a men’s Bible study every week that typically saw anywhere from 10-30 people in attendance—half college students and the other half professionals in the area. Our ages and professions were wide ranging, but our pleasures in life were what brought us together—Jesus and cigars.
In these weekly studies, we discussed how to be men after Jesus’ heart by following his example of honoring God in our relationships and vocations. For younger guys, it was an opportunity to hear from men one to two generations older, hear about their struggles through life, and what they learned along the way through leading families and running businesses. For older guys, it was an opportunity to hear from men their sons’ and grandsons’ ages about their struggles with family, school, figuring out the future, and what God’s will for their lives may be. These relationships gave all of us opportunities to glean wisdom from men in all walks of life and to be transparent and trusting with men who started as acquaintances but who became brothers.[blockquote]“We know that our community is not as much about the leaf we love as it is about Christ.”[/blockquote]
Walking through life together in this way, we have been there for each other’s graduations, marriages, pregnancies, first children, first jobs, break-ups, heartbreaks, job losses, divorces, miscarriages, lost family members, and even the funeral of a brother in Christ. If anything happens to anyone in this community, we pray, celebrate, and mourn together. We know that our community is not as much about the leaf we love as it is about Christ. He bonds us together—he just happens to do so through cigars.
Even when the cigar shop was dangerously close to closing, there was profound support. Owners, managers, and employees all knew about our finances and what moves we were making to rectify the situation. Our customers knew the situation as well, and they continued coming for the community. I was told many times by customers, “I can smoke anywhere I want, but the community is what brings me here.” Before, during, and now after this season, the owners made it clear the reason we are so passionate about the shop is not because we love cigars, but because we love ministry. Our cigar shop is not centered on cigars, it’s centered on Christ. That is why we work; to glorify him with our work and to lead others toward him through it. No matter our work, our job is to proclaim Christ through it.
I now live near Washington D.C., as do three other men who were part of that cigar shop community, and by God’s grace, we have continued our Bible study every week, over cigars.