Many in evangelical circles have thin skin. That is, they react unloving to others who do not hold to their view of God, faith, or truth. This must change if we are going to have a voice with the next generation. I have good friends who are atheist, homosexual or agnostic. And yet, we have very respectful and insightful discussions. Sure, we kick things around from different world views and philosophies of life, but we do not view our conversations as competitions or wrestling matches. Instead, we see the conversations as investigations of life and a pursuit of honest reflections.
Until those of us who claim to belong to Christ actually demonstrate a heart felt love for those who see things differently, we will continue to lose our voice in the marketplace of ideas and remain irrelevant to those who may be on a journey to faith. We must hear the questions of the heart from those who are our unbelieving friends before we will understand the questions they are seeking answers to.
What is a good litmus test for us? Here are some questions that I suggest we need to ask ourselves as pastors and as Christians.
- How would we respond in word and attitude to our best friend about faith if he were an atheist, agnostic or homosexual?
- Would our response drive them away or cause them to inquire further?
- Would our response be free from the high pressure ‘you must decide now’ manipulation?
- Would the gentleness of our words encourage them to open up about their questions concerning God, truth or meaning?
- Would we be patient as they contemplate and investigate our position?
- Would they desire to investigate our position because of the character they see in us toward them?
- Do they feel welcome and comfortable to be among us as they investigate the claims of the gospel?
- Do our communications about those ‘outside’ the Christian faith degrade them as humans or honor them as our equals?
…what would you add?
Do you have any friends that feel they can open up about their unbelief and questions concerning God without being in fear of condescending responses, one line zingers, patented answers, or being made to feel like a second class citizens from us or our church?
The Christian faith is robust, and it proves to be intellectually fulfilling, evidentially sufficient, and existentially relevant to those who give themselves to rigorous study of the Gospel. However, that robustness must never be used as a club to bully people. Instead, it should be a platform of coherent truth to make sense of a world dying in confusion and ignorance.
If we pray and give our responses and discussions in a manner that shows respect and humility to friends who are listening that hold a different lifestyle or worldview, then we will learn the power of persuasion. Pastors, next time you hit the topic of atheism or homosexuality from the pulpit, imagine that your full audience consists of those from that worldview. That focus will encourage and convict us to depend upon the Holy Spirit for the necessary gentleness and broken boldness to communicate the life changing message of Christ crucified and resurrected. Gentleness doesn’t keep us from speaking truth and it doesn’t soften the weight of truth in the face of lies and deceit. However, it does demonstrate genuine care and love for the person before us. We don’t need more talking points…we need more broken hearts.
“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21)