Bad Experiences and Inadequate Models.
Last time we heard from Scripture that the Lord wants us all to be ready to speak to others about Christ. Some are specially gifted to do this and so will do it really well and often. Although I haven’t seen this in Scripture, I have observed that some people also seem to be better with initial conversations or invitations while others seem to be better at actually communicating the good news. We also noted that there are a variety of ways to support the mission in addition to speaking. We need to work together with the Lord and each other in whatever way we have been gifted. Still, all of us need to be ready to give the reason for our hope.
Yet many of us find it very difficult to even think about talking to someone else about Christ, and I understand that personally. I’m one who feels much more at home actually communicating the message to non-Christians than finding the opportunities to do so. I’m better about both of these aspects than I used to be, but it has been a process of growth over a long period of time, and even now I don’t always think I do what I ought. I hope you will recognize that speaking to others about Christ is a struggle for most all of us, or was at one time. And I hope open, non-threatening conversations about it will strengthen and encourage us to grow to please the Lord more in this way.
In addition to not being convinced the Lord wants us all to speak (see previous post), another barrier is the bad experiences we have had and the bad models we have seen. I’m going to combine these into one because often our bad experiences are due to following bad models. One exception is that, if people hear and reject the good news, that may be a bad experience for us but one that cannot be avoided altogether. We’ll discuss that experience later. Today I’m thinking about those times when we or others approach and treat people in disrespectful or inappropriate ways. This may lead to rejection as well, but most often it is not the gospel they are rejecting. Usually we don’t get far enough for them to hear and reject the gospel. Rather, they are rejecting the disrespectful ways the Christians are treating them.
Incidentally, most of us had some bad experiences during puberty when first tried to speak to the opposite gender, and often this was due to our using bad lines or approaches we had heard from others. But we didn’t let that stop us from speaking to the opposite gender. We persevered and found a better way! That’s what I hope we will discover in the posts in this series.
I also realize the Lord can and sometimes does work through questionable approaches of sincere people (Philippians 1:15-18), just as a questionable or awkward approach to the opposite gender sometimes leads to marriage (ask my wife sometime!). But some approaches to speaking about Christ are so unnatural, forced and awkward that both the believer and the other are uncomfortable and the result is bad. I’ll mention three of these approaches, prefaced by the disclaimer just stated and also that these are my opinions only. I believe there are much better ways of approaching people, and we certainly should not limit our thinking about talking to others to these stereotyped, well-worn approaches.
- Knocking on people’s doors to try to tell them about Jesus.
For many years, this was a favored and sometimes effective approach to talking to others about Christ. I believe, however, those days are gone. People seem to have more of a fortress or castle mentality about their homes now than previously. Someone noted that we used to have front porches, but we now have security gates and privacy fences. Our homes are a safe haven from the danger and hassles in the world, including solicitors. Though we may not see ourselves as solicitors, others most certainly do.
A person interrupting us at home is strike one. Consider how you have felt when an aluminum siding salesman has come to your door. When the person interrupting us is a stranger, that is strike two. They don’t know us or our intentions, so naturally they view us with mistrust and suspicion. When we are there to talk about something as personal, confrontational, and volatile as “religion” (as they see it), that is strike three. Consider how you feel when the Jehovah’s Witnesses come by to recruit you. Due to these factors, the encounter is not likely to go well. In addition, people’s perception that Christians are bothering them may actually do harm and set the person further back from considering God.
Having said that, I do think there are times when it may be okay to knock on people’s doors for other reasons. But it is not when our purpose or expectation is to convert them. For example, fairly early during Covid, I went around to all the twenty something houses on my longer-than-most cul-de-sac one Saturday afternoon and knocked on every door. I then stood back about ten feet and waited. About half answered. I said words to this effect, “Hi, I’m Marvin, your neighbor. We live right over there (and I pointed). I’m just checking on everyone to see how you’re holding up during Covid.” All but one received me gladly, and that one was not put off but simply a bit guarded. After visiting a few minutes, if and only if it seemed appropriate, I would also say something like, “Is there anything you’d like me to pray about for you or your family?” Most responded pretty well to this also, and in some cases people disclosed more personal information than I expected. Between houses I made a note in my phone of their name and request, and I made certain to actually pray for them several times. My question wasn’t a line; it was a sincere offer.
It helped that there was some connection. Many of the people had seen me on the street or exercising in my garage, and I had also chatted with some of them previously. It helped that there was some relevant reason for me to be there (Covid). It wasn’t something that sounded strange to them. It helped that I was genuinely interested in them and their wellbeing, and they could tell. I had no secret agenda or expectation. It probably also helped that it was suburban San Antonio, Texas. The atmosphere will be different in other cities and parts of the country. Yet in my situation, I believe this was a good, compassionate, Christ-like thing to do.
It may be okay to knock on people’s doors in some other situations as well. In some cities and neighborhoods, it may be okay to knock on a door, tell them who you are with a “Hi I’m Marvin from a couple blocks over,” and ask them a quick question like, “Would you have any interest in a seminar on effective parenting?” and prehaps even, “I’m trying to connect with people who may be looking for a church home.” If they express some interest, a conversation might ensue. In all cases, however, if the person is not interested in whatever you are there for, you immediately say, “Ok thanks; have a nice day” and leave. Pushiness is not permitted. This comes under the principle of respect that Peter gives us (1 Peter 3:16).
So, it seems to me that some door knocking may be okay in some circumstances, but if it is with purpose of telling people about Jesus then and there, it isn’t. A stranger interrupting and intruding on the personal space of someone with the predetermined purpose of telling them about something they may not want to hear is a recipe for confrontation that is usually going to end badly. Regardless, my main point is that our responsibility to speak about Christ does not mean we have to knock on people’s doors and should not be equated with that approach. There are other ways of talking to people about Christ that are more appropriate and meaningful.
2. Accosting strangers in public.
To accost someone is to approach them and address them boldly and aggressively. Most people do not respond well to such treatment, regardless of the topic. When a subject as personal and controversial as religion is coupled with a bold and aggressive approach, however, it creates an adversarial situation. Although we do need to learn to be bold enough to speak truth in spite of possible opposition, telling others about Christ is supposed to be telling good news. Using an approach that creates an adversarial situation contradicts the message of good news. As you’ve probably heard, when our tone of voice or body language contradicts the content of our words, people are much more likely to react to our tone and body language than our content. When you are accosting someone, whatever you tell them isn’t going to sound like good news to them.
“Using a line” on people often goes hand in hand with accosting them, although each can be done separately as well. Do you really believe Jesus wants us to use “spiritual pick-up” lines on people? Is that the way he treated people? Is that what he equipped his followers to do? In my opinion accosting people and using lines on them are both unworthy of the gospel.
I do try to be nice and personable to the people I encounter in public. I even pray beforehand that God may give me an opportunity to have a conversation with someone about spiritual matters. And sometimes, especially when I think there may be an opportunity, I gently probe people’s spiritual interest. But I do not methodically use lines on people, hoping to “create a sale.” I speak sincerely in ways that are appropriate to the situation, and I say things to connect with people, probe their spiritual interest, and see if God wants to do something. Again, however, my main point is that speaking about Christ does not require accosting people or using lines on them. There are other, meaningful and appropriate ways.
3. Anything that involves any kind of deception.
The deception might be a claim that “we are taking a survey, and were wondering …” when in fact we are actually just making that up an excuse, hoping we’ll get to talk about Jesus. Or it might be an invitation to some sort of ambiguously defined gathering “just for fun” or “to meet some people” or “have a meal,” when it fact we are planning to spring on them a speech about Jesus. Many years ago a neighbor invited me over “to meet some people and visit.” When I realized it was an Amway party (a pyramid sales scheme), the deception turned me off even more toward Amway than I already was because of their aggressive approach. Paul says clearly, “our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive” (1 Thessalonians 2:3). If you can’t stand the thought of using a deceptive approach to try to talk to others about Christ, you are in good company. Such approaches are not worthy of the gospel.
You may have seen or experienced other bad approaches to trying to reach out to people in the name of Christ that have turned you away from doing so, but these are some of the most common. My main point today is simply that you do not have to take any of these bad approaches, and speaking to others about Christ should not be equated with them.
My purpose in this post is to clear away debris, not to describe appropriate ways of speaking. But if you’re wondering, a few quick examples that seem more fitting to me are praying earnestly and watching closely for opportunities God may give us, probing people’s spiritual interest with simple, sincere questions or statements at appropriate places in regular conversations, showing genuine interest in people and having compassion for them, and responding honestly and respectfully when someone comments on a positive trait or behavior they see in us. These seem much more in keeping with Paul’s instructions for letting our speech “always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6) and Peter’s exhortation for us to speak to others with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
God does want us to be ready to speak to others about Christ. But set your heart at ease. This does not mean you have to knock on doors, accost strangers or do anything deceptive.