How to Talk About Jesus (Without Being a Jerk)
This article is a follow-up to “Why Christians Are Arrogant (When Discussing Religion)“. That article showed why it is that Christians are perceived as arrogant. The problem is the way they witness! This article is an attempt at real solutions.
American Christians are taught to spread the gospel like jerks. Check out this guy’s method for evangelism: it’s very common in Evangelical circles. The socially blind desperation obvious in this evangelistic method is a symptom of the pressure among Evangelicals to spread the gospel. There is pressure to convert people to Christianity because:
a) Jesus (sort of) said to.
b) Religion which focuses mostly on right belief (as Evangelicalism learned to do from Fundamentalism) doesn’t have much to do with its spare time other than make sure everyone believes the right thing. Rinse, cycle, repeat.
c) Oh, then there’s the whole Christian authority in Western society issue I talked about last week. There are other complicating factors, but they’re complicated and probably just distractions..
As I explained in my last post, starting a conversation with someone to try and convert them is both rude and stupid. It is rude because society decides what is rude, and it decided that trying to change someone’s mind about something they have not given you authority to try to change is rude. It is stupid because trying to change someone’s mind rudely is not likely to get you very far. Further, rudeness is perceived, to put it in Christian terms, as a mild sin. In being rude for this purpose, Americans hear “I think that I can be a little bit evil for God’s benefit.” Unfortunately, this is the default model!
At this point, someone who supports these modes of evangelism is likely to bring up someone they know, or heard about, who became a Christian through something like this. One of the following is true of that story: a) it happened to someone born before 1980, b) the conversation went more like what I’ll suggest below, or c) it didn’t actually go down the way the speaker thinks it did.
If you want to tell people about Jesus (and you should, He’s pretty swell), then try the following method (also known as a conversation):
1) Wait for religion to come up in conversation. It will, particularly if you aren’t a jackass. People want to hear what you have to say. You can’t bring it up, because you’re a Christian, and people are sick and tired of Christians arrogantly telling them what to think. If you bring up Christianity out of the blue, no one will hear anything you say.
2) When it comes up at first, treat it like any other topic, not like you’re trying to convince that cheerleader to go out with you. Treat it the same way society demands you discuss religion: as a personal option. It’s what Paul did, so hear me out. For example, it’s likely that the topic might come up because a co-worker finds out you go to church. Maybe they say “oh, you go to church?” or, “Oh, so you’re a Christian?” You could respond “Yeah, it’s really working for me,” or “yeah, I get a lot of meaning out of it.” This communicates that it’s important to you, and it might be something of value. However, it’s not pushy, and it’s not threatening.
3) Don’t bring it up again. Eventually, if and when they get curious, they will ask you something about your faith. At this point, they knew what they were getting into, so it’s OK to be a little wordier, but be careful not to railroad them. Answer their question, try and engage them. You know, like you do in every other normal conversation. Be very, very sensitive to them. When their curiosity ends, so does the conversation. You don’t want to be re-labeled the arrogant Christian! Kiss of death, folks.
4) Over time, as this repeats a couple of times, it will become clear your co-worker is interested enough in your faith that you can share with them quite openly. It is at this point that the knowledge you gain in evangelism classes might become useful.
Many of your co-workers will never become very interested. That’s fine: it’s not your problem. It’s not your problem to generate interest in God, it is God’s job (John 6:44). It is God’s job to change hearts, and it is your job to be an available tool, on the off-chance God needs one. Most of the time, the most you can hope for is to not give God another mess to clean up, to not throw more stones on slowly softening soil. Occasionally, when you are invited to discuss your faith, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and don’t forget the world you actually live in.