it’s just a conversation

Why are most Christians so afraid to talk to people who do not believe or live the same way they do? Is it that they do not know what to say or how to behave? What trips them up from initiating a conversation or continuing a relationship?

To be fair, this characteristic is not only represented in the Christian fold. It is also observed in the behavior of people in other religions and outside of religious belief altogether. But since I am Christian, I address the question to people within Christendom.

Any ideas?

I have one. Many of us were taught through formal training and informal examples that it is our job to expose and refute incorrect doctrine, and then to teach correct doctrine with the hope of persuading others to convert to our way of thinking and living. So we studied the contrary views of our peers and learned ways to argue against them. We listened to their reasoning only with a view toward refuting it, missing altogether the opportunity to love them, genuinely befriend them, and do life with them.

Years ago in college something happened to me on the way toward refining my apologetics skills. I recoiled from the notion of starting debates or behaving like a door-to-door salesperson peddling my wares with no thought to relationship development. So I stopped.

Instead, I greeted strangers new to campus, like the homeless man from Hollywood, California whose brother attended the school. Listened to him for two hours. His brother, a senior student, spoke of the rough life and poor choices his brother had made despite growing up in a believing home. He thanked me and it made an impression on the posture I should take moving forward. I will be honest: In my heart, I was pretty proud of myself.

A few years later, while watering my lawn, a neighbor tried to proseletyze me concerning some heretical beliefs he held. For two hours I listened to him and prayed. At the end, I asked, “So what you are saying is that the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not historically accurate nor sufficient to atone for our sins?”

“That’s right,” he declared, a smile in his eyes.

“Thanks for your time,” I replied. “It is time for me to go back inside now.” Tears welled up in his eyes as he shook my hand.

I never saw him again. Those eyes staring back remained with me for years to come.

Weeks later he was found dead. I soon discovered he was a reportedly wealthy man who owned multiple properties in the city and caused frequent problems with city officials. Yet, he lived on the streets, picking food out of dumpsters due to mental illness. I did not know those facts at the time of our conversation. I was just proud of myself for how well I listened, and the way I subtly put him in his place by zeroing in on his chief heresy and then shutting the door on any future conversation via my, “Goodbye.”

What was I worried about? It was just a conversation. Yes, he was preaching his heresy all over the neighborhood. But what harm would have come from nurturing some form of friendship with him in what would be his last days?

In the years since then, I’ve become far more interested in relationships which inspire honest dialogue, than developing skills of argumentation designed to put people in their theological place. Maybe in a sense, God brought that man into my life to start the process of seeing people in a new way.

I’m still a work in progress; I have not attained. But, at least I am not afraid anymore of conversations with people who are very different from me.

What about you? Does this resonate in your heart? Don’t hesitate to share….


an open letter to disenchanted evangelicals

It hurts when people walk away from fellowship with a local church (or house church, or circle of friends) without saying anything. Or worse, when they plant seeds of falsehood in the minds of a few so as to sow doubt based on innuendo. Either way, one day they are present; the next day they fade away. Bewilderment abounds. Yet, who knows the reasoning of the human heart? Who knows, but God?

Maybe they think it is easier this way. But is it really? Do they think they are that unloved and forgotten? Or is it that they wish to be chased, like Lassie who would run back and forth until someone followed him? Indeed, who knows the reasoning of a heart colored with false beliefs or selfish motives? The belief that God is out to get them, or doesn’t even care if they exist. The belief that the church should help justify sinful behavior, rather than recognize that grace and truth operate hand-in-hand to deliver from the bondage to sin. Sometimes it is simply the belief that there is something (anything) else out there better able to meet their needs, not taking into account that God is the only one who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. Wherever we are.

The exodus of disenchanted evangelicals from local expressions of the church is well-documented in the Western hemisphere. Maybe you are one of those who has given up on the “institutional” church. Or maybe you are thinking about it long and hard. I understand the frustration with some of the things that can happen in a church family, which I would hasten to add are no different than what could happen in a house church, a blood-related family, a multi-site church, or some other form of missional church. We are human. Humans sin because of the first sin of Adam. If you find the perfect expression of fellowship or church, don’t go. It’s an illusion. Your presence will burst the bubble. So will mine. With you and others like me present, it is flawed due to our sinfulness, so long as that is the basis of our evaluation.

I implore us all to remember our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He is the Head of the church. He is the Great High Priest. In him there is no sin. In him we are made righteous. We are saints. Not some quaint notion of do-gooders who follow long lists of culturally expedient rules, but saints whose righteousness is imputed to them based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Indeed, we are saints who are called to live as God originally intended for us before the foundation of the world. Together, not apart. Whole, not broken. Reconciled, not estranged. Authentically pure, not secretively sinful and outwardly self-righteous.

I know. Church stuff can hurt. And sometimes God does move people out of one situation and into others. I get that. But it will remain an endless cycle until we all commit to this ministry of reconciliation with God and each other through Jesus Christ. Hard stuff. Heart stuff. But necessary if we are really to grow up and become mature disciples of Jesus.