Embedded in our World?
Is there a fundamental problem in the way we seek to engage with people who aren’t Christians?
Adrian Reynolds’s article Gap Theory v2.0 got me thinking.
Many Christians can identify with the need to be simple and clear in the speech we use so that the hearer understands. After all, we have the best news in the universe, so we want to be understood by others as we share how good it is to know God through Jesus.
We do well to work at this. For example, if we went to be missionaries in France, we would learn French: it would be hard, but worth it, so we could communicate the gospel more effectively (humanly speaking).
So I’m going to venture something which risks being misunderstood, but I'll go for it.
Perhaps the reason there is such a gap between what we say and how we are understood is because we Christians are so embedded in our own world, our own culture, that we’ve lost the ability to speak into ‘the world.’ We’ve gone to France but we’ve not learned French.
Time and again I find that Christians have lost the ability to build and nurture genuine friendships – for the sake of friendship – with those outside of the church.
When we lose the ability to relate with others, to walk with them, to laugh and cry with them, we lose the ability to speak their language – because we don’t hear it.
This takes time. We celebrate biblical scholarship to understand God’s word better. That takes serious effort. But do we give similar effort to understanding the world we seek to speak into? I’m not just talking about reading widely (useful as it may be). I’m talking about people – those Jesus came to save. Do we invest sufficiently in those relationships?
I know there is a place for evangelising those we don’t know. And I know God can give understanding of the gospel in spite of our weaknesses. But here’s the challenge: where are the pastors saying to their churches: “spend more time in the world”?
For that matter, where are the churches saying that to the pastors? Like, seriously spend more time in the world. Well done to every church that ensures their pastor has regular time with non-Christians, in a way which helps them mature as human beings.
A worked example
I once served in a church where we ensured that our contracts with staff and apprentices always required us to have a non-Christian ‘activity,’ where we would deliberately seek to meet non-Christians. I would view it as a failure if staff didn't pursue that; as much as not taking a day off or missing out on a training course. And I would expect them to hold me to the same.
I might put this another way: when was the last time a church criticised its (sound Bible-teaching) minister for having “too many” non-Christian friends? When was the last time a minister encouraged a church to spend less time with Christians, if it is at the expense of any time with non-Christians?
I once knew someone who chose to drop their fourth church meeting of the week because they wanted to join a photography class so they could meet non-Christians: others said she should have been more committed to their group!
We have the amazing privilege of showing the world what true love is, yet so often we hide it under a bushel by not relating closely with those who don’t know Jesus.
Well, the gospel, of course! Which, applied to this scenario, means asking where we fall short, repenting of it, knowing we are forgiven sinners, and then resolving – with the help and encouragement of other forgiven sinners around us (our church) – to take concrete steps to live differently.
If we look at our lives and realise we don’t have any non-Christian friends whom we can be real human beings with – the kind we can walk and talk and laugh and cry with – then we must stop and say “I need to change.” When we recognise this, we say sorry to God for our failings, and we resolve to do something about it.
Can we consciously look to make the most of every opportunity in a wise way? Join a running club rather than run on our own and say yes when there’s a social gathering (or whatever your thing is).
Men tend to find this harder than women, so will have to work harder at it. And husbands and wives would do well to talk this through, to ensure that all the family responsibilities are met. A regular evening ‘out with the boys’ cannot be a wanton indulgence – it is an investment in eternity.