I am in the process of reading, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church. It begins with a conversation the author had at a gym with a 23-year old instructor there. The conversation was going well until he revealed he was a pastor. She couldn’t believe it because as she put it, “pastors are creepy.” She went on to explain her view that they are all out “to try to proselytize people to become right-wing Republicans” and “they hate homosexuals.” She had the view that according to the author, Dan Kimball, many in the emerging generation have. Their view is that the church is narrow, bigoted, critical and fundamentalist. He had done a lot of research personally; interviewing many, and basically they don’t have a problem with Jesus, its Christians, or the church, they don’t like.
Not unlike the early Christians, we are easily misunderstood. Remember the pagans of the first century thought Christians were cannibals because communion was eating flesh and drinking blood, incestuous because they called each other brother and sister and atheists because they had no statues to represent their gods.
We are living in an increasingly post-Christian time, so it is sad but understandable. Fewer and fewer are growing up in the church, so naturally they don’t understand. All they know is from the media all around them. So we shouldn’t attack them, but instead try to more adequately communicate with them. They won’t come to us, so we need to go to them.
The Apostle Paul relayed his strategy in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may be able to save some.” Does this mean I have to totally change who I am to bring the gospel to someone? Do I have to become a democrat? Do I have to love hard rock music? No, I don’t think Paul had that in mind. But perhaps we can go to the gym or a cafe to meet folks like Kimball does. Or we can listen to some different music just to be able to engage in conversation. At least being conversant with sports might not be too far a stretch for us.
It just means being mindful of the ways we can connect with people, and then we can build some commonality from there. I call it “building bridges,” deliberately finding ways to reach out to someone where there is a huge chasm of different understanding between us. For Paul, there were huge differences between the Jews ‘under the law’ and the Gentiles ‘without the law’. Paul, a Jew, who had become a Roman citizen, therefore had immense flexibility to engage either group.
I remember when I was a chaplain at a retirement community; a couple of outspoken atheist seniors set up group called the Socrates Cafe’. It was designed for dialogue, but of course most of those who went were not evangelical to say the least. I met the two ladies who started it, and after some bridge-building casual conversation, they invited me to come. So I did and I interacted mostly by asking provocative questions and listening to really understand their views. I learned a lot and gained their respect as well as that of a number of other non-evangelical seniors there.