When someone finds out you are a Christian, how do they respond?
As Wendy and I talk with people in our neighborhood, at the store, or down at the park, it often seems that the discussion comes back around to “religion.” Maybe someone asks what brought us to Oregon, and when they find out I am a chaplain, the subject moves to religion. Or maybe they find out that I used to be a pastor. Or maybe one of our girls is singing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of her voice.
Anyway, however it comes up, Wendy and I have noticed that there are four basic responses.
A very small percentage of people get somewhat antagonistic and imply that we are crazy for believing in God and the Bible.
Wendy and I are not offended or put off by this kind of response, and we are generally able to have great conversations with these people. The conversations are not always about Jesus or the Gospel, but that’s okay. We’re not trying to cram Jesus or the Bible down anybody’s throat.
Usually we find that the criticisms and concerns these people have with Christianity (and religion in general) are the exact same criticisms and concerns we have. Acknowledging and agreeing with their concerns often leads to a great conversation about Jesus.
About half of the people who hear the words “Jesus,” “seminary,” “pastor,” or “church” just want to avoid talking about religion, and quickly change the subject. That’s understandable, especially in light of many of the common “evangelistic” techniques that are popular today.
If they don’t want to talk about such things, neither do we. We aren’t one of those “Christians” who have to turn every conversation around to Jesus (e.g. “Oh, it’s your daughter’s birthday? Cool! You know who has a birthday on December 25th?”).
We always allow the other person to determine how much or how little they want to talk about spiritual matters. If someone simply doesn’t want to talk about God, Scripture, or Jesus, then neither do we.
Around 25% of the people respond positively by telling us how involved they are in church.
Generally, when they hear that we are followers of Jesus, they tell us what church they go to, how faithfully they attend, and how involved they are. I call this a religious response because they seem to want to emphasize to me that they are performing their religious duty.
Frankly, I have the hardest time connecting with these people, because once they know I have been a “religious” leader, it seems that all they want to do is talk about devoted and dedicated they are. I find that I am often the one trying to change the subject to sports or the weather, but they keep bringing it back to their own religious efforts (e.g. “Yes, it is hot, and I’m so glad, because I prayed for good weather today.”)
Quite often, these people quickly get around to asking where we attend church. I have struggled with how to answer this question for many years, because while we do not officially “attend church,” we feel that we are more involved with the Church than ever before, and are following Jesus in a more relational way than we ever did as regular church attenders or church leaders.
So now we simply say that we are trying to follow Jesus in a deeply relational way and that right now, we are taking a break from attending church so that we can allow God to lead us into what He wants for us. This is not only the truth, but it also avoids any sort of heated discussion about “forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.”
Usually, of course, when the person hears that we do not currently “attend church,” they immediately invite us to attend theirs. We never turn them down or say no, but thank them for the invitation, and tell them we will keep it in mind.
Again, the goal is not to convince them to leave their church or understand what we are doing and why. Since nobody persuaded or convinced us to follow Jesus the way we do now, I am pretty sure I can not persuade or convince others to do the same. Hopefully, the conversation I had with this person will lead to future conversations as well.
One of the responses I enjoy the most comes from people who seem to have a relationship with God, but who may or may not attend a church. In fact, with these people, church rarely comes up.
I find that they are not too concerned about telling me all that they are doing for God in church. They are not focused on their own performance. Instead, they focus on how God is at work in their life, what He is teaching them, and where He has shown up in miraculous ways.
Sometimes they are apologetic about not “attending church” and I am able to affirm and encourage them that I don’t “attend church” either, but am able to follow Jesus in a more relational way just as they are.
Since some of these people have never heard a former pastor and seminary student praise them for “leaving the church,” this often launches us into a conversation about Jesus and religion.
Not all Conversations are “Religious” … but all are Spiritual
Do not misunderstand. The vast majority of my conversations with other people during my week have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus, God, church, or the Bible. We talk about sports, work, family, politics, current events, or whatever.
I sometimes think that Christian writers and speakers give the wrong impression with stories like the ones I have shared above. People who read such articles think that if they are truly following Jesus, they need to be having spiritual conversations every day with people.
That is not true.
Well … actually … it is true.
You ARE having spiritual conversations with people every day, even if you don’t talk about Jesus, God, Scripture, or church.
When you begin to understand what life and church really looks like as a follower of Jesus outside of the framework of religion, you begin to see that everything is spiritual, every act is devotion, and every conversation is full of God.
Look at it this way: God is a relational being, and He created us for relationship, and so if you are building a relationship with somebody through a conversation you are having with them, or a way you are encouraging them to show them that you love them, then you ARE being spiritual.
Things get “religious” when we feel that we have to introduce God, Jesus, the Bible, or the church into every conversation.
When it comes to people who claim a connection with God, there are religious people and relational people.
Religious people focus on what they are doing for God and how they can force God into every conversation and relationship.
Relational people, on the other hand, focus on what God has done for them, and know that God is already in every conversation and relationship (even if He is not mentioned), so they can just love and enjoy the person standing in front of them right now.
The most spiritual conversations you will have are never planned or prepared. They don’t take place in a circle where everyone has a Bible in their lap. No, they take place at the grocery store, down at the park, with your neighbor over the back fence.
You do not need to go out looking for spiritual conversations with others. Instead, just recognize that the conversations you are already having ARE spiritual.
Check out this quote from David Bosch’s book Transforming Mission:
Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy, and truth. Church people think about how to get more people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world (p. 378. He is quoting Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church ).
That is similar to what I am trying to present here.
What are your experiences with having conversations with others about God and church? Do the four categories I present above pretty much fit your experience as well? What about this idea of not having to force God into every conversation? Does it make sense to realize that He is already in every conversation? What might you add to this description?