So there is this thing that’s been on my mind; I’ve been thinking about how sometimes when we try to ‘witness’ or talk about Jesus with non-Christians, we end up having a more negative impact than a positive one. Not always of course, but often. No group is this more true with than non-Christians who used to be Christians.
So I want to throw out some ideas, some unsolicited suggestions, for how to have better conversation, how to be better friends, and ultimately how we can exercise love.
Stop trying so hard. It is alienating when you feel hounded, right? Like say your aunt can’t stop critiquing your parenting or your step brother can’t stop telling you about how you’d really be more successful in your career if you would just take his advice… You begin to feel badgered, right? You begin to expect that this is going to keep coming up and it makes you dread talking to that person. Don’t be that guy when it comes to trying to get your formerly Christian loved one to come back to Jesus. It really isn’t likely to help when the only thing you care to relate with them about is how they need to change.
Exercise Empathy. Take a few minutes to mentally step into their shoes. Imagine: you were a devout Christian for many years. You are surrounded by Christian friends and family. Upon examining your faith, you come to the realization that you just don’t believe this any more. You come out with this reality to your friends and family. This information radically alters all your relationships. You wish people could see more than the fact that you don’t believe when they look at you, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. This is very painful.
Please sit with that for a bit.
Also sit with the very real fact that while you’ve probably never been in their non-believing shoes, they have already been in the Christian shoes. They may well know more of what it feels like to be you than you know what it’s like to be them. We need to exercise a good deal of humility there.
Next, Exercise Appreciation. Now sit with the fact that we ALL want to be cared about as we are… not be disappointed in for who we aren’t. Think about this the next time you are with your non-Christian friend. Care about him for who he is. Enjoy her company. Appreciate their many good qualities- their honesty, their intelligence, their humor, their kindness. There is something wonderful about being able to appreciate people as they are, no strings attached. Be at peace in that gift.
Leave the Bible verses in your head. While it can be so tempting for us Christians to slip a Bible verse or other reference to God or Christianity into conversation, please know that your formerly Christian family member won’t forget what Christianity teaches just because you stop bringing it up. I promise, if they were a devout Christian in the past, they know the verses and all the Christian things. The Bible isn’t a book of magical incantations that, if injected into conversation, is bound to have positive effects. In fact, it is probably doing the opposite at this point.
By all means pray for for them but leave that in your head too. If they know you are a Christian and that you care for them, they likely assume you pray for them… But telling them about it when you know that they adamantly don’t believe can border strongly on being passive-aggressive. We should do it, but let’s listen to Jesus and keep it quiet.
It’s ok to ask genuine questions. Maybe I’m going out on a limb a bit, but I don’t think most people mind an honest question. This comes with two big caveats though. One is HONEST. Honest question. As in, we are asking because you desire to understand better, not because we are looking to start a conversation where we launch into a monologue about how they are wrong and need to come back to Jesus. The other caveat is that sometimes people want to talk about other things. Sometimes it’s ok to just talk about things that we have more in common.
Answer honest questions. If there is good dialogue happening, they may ask you questions or otherwise give you an opening to share your heart and thoughts. Do so not with a canned speech, but from a place of authenticity and openness, free from defensiveness or pressure to make something happen.
An important tag on to that is that boundaries are to be respected. Maybe it would be a good idea, when we want to broach the heavy topic of faith, that we ask if it’s ok. Like “hey, friend, I’ve had a something on my mind I’ve been wanting to ask you about regarding faith, would that be ok?” If they say yes, proceed. If they say no, don’t. No good will come of pushing through.
Don’t try to use guilt. Don’t talk about how sad Granny is because her grand baby isn’t a believer and she is worried for them. Don’t remind them that their parents are disappointed and wondering where they went wrong. Don’t tell them about how their kids are praying for them to come back to church. Not. Help.ing. Really, do we want someone’s motivation for coming back to Jesus to be that they were guilted? No way.
Lastly, be at peace. As Christians, we believe in the ultimate goodness of God, right? There is no fear in love, right? Then relax and trust the whole thing to Him. Everyone in our lives, including our non-believing loved ones, will benefit from us being at peace. It is not on us to save them. It is on us to love them. Lean on love and be at peace.