Mark Vander Pol recently pointed us to a wiki page titled, “How to Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations About Religion.” This page is useful on a variety of levels. On the most common level, some people are pests and it offers some good advice for dealing with irritating people generally. The wiki page wasn’t written generally, however. It was written to help people who feel beset by religious zealots learn how to deal with them tactfully.
So the page is useful on a more important level. It it a clear testimony not only to the basic hostility that folk have to the gospel but it also testifies to the fact that well-meaning religious people have often been pests about the faith and their faith.
The truth is, religious people have often adopted sub-Christian ways of trying to communicate the faith to others. Sometimes this is done out of the best motives, the glory of God and the well being of others, but sometimes it is done out of sense of shame or guilt or worse, a need to control others.
I recall a fellow who used the following technique:
Christian: “Do you know how to get to Disneyland?”
Christian: “Great, but do you know how to get to heaven?”
There are other, more polished forms of manipulation and dishonesty but, at root, they are all the same.
The reason the wiki page resonates with me is because I understand why it exists. I’ve been that pest.
I haven’t searched, but I doubt there is a wiki page on how to get rid of real friends. This is because folk don’t want to dispense with genuine friends. A friend is someone who loves another selflessly and sincerely with the best interests in mind, the needs, the concerns, and the joys of another person in mind. A friend doesn’t want to know, “what can I get from this person?” A friend doesn’t wonder, “I wonder if I can close the deal before the ball game?” A salesman thinks that way and that’s okay for him, but a salesman, as such, isn’t your friend.
If we as Christians actually make friends, not for the sake of winning them to Christ or getting them to walk the aisle or pray the prayer, but simply to befriend them and to love them, our friends will know it. They will realize that we are Christians and perhaps they will ask us about our faith.
That’s a real conversation. Then, in the providence and grace of God, your friend might be ready to listen, but we can’t get directly “there” from here. The route to talking about Christ with folks is indirect. It’s through friendship and grace and love and time.
Making friends for the purpose of evangelism is just another form of manipulation. Folk will sense it. Their radar is on high all the time now. The first suspicion that folk have today is, “What do you want from me?”
We must love folk because they are image-bearers. Ordinarily, we must learn to relate to them on a creational level before we can talk to them about grace. And we must wait and pray and trust. The kingdom is Christ’s. Let us be Christians and let Jesus be the Christ.
[This post first appeared on the HB in 2007]