I recently led a discipleship conference for which my title was assigned. It was: "Connecting Naturally and Spiritually with Those You Care about Without Being Weird." Yes, it's probably the weirdest - and longest - conference title I'd ever been given, but it's also a great topic for 21st century discipleship.
Most of us have friends or family members with whom we'd love to have meaningful conversation about spiritual things. Our heart aches for the coworker who seems burdened by life's load, yet remains dispassionately detached from the very One who makes life worth living. Or we would give anything to convince our stubborn niece that Jesus has the answers for the struggles she continues to face. We care deeply for these folks. So why on earth would they ever think we're "weird?" There might be lots of reasons.
At least among non-believing young adults - I'd guess among many older ones, too - Christians are perceived as hypocritical, insincere/out to convert, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental (Kinnaman and Lyons, unChristian, 2007). I know, I know, we aren't really all that horrible. But in this case, perception is their reality, and denying that only adds to our "weirdness." I'm sure they (and we) could come up with some other weird things about us, but let's assume we've found enough examples already. So how can we overcome the weird factor in order to have meaningful spiritual conversations with those we care about? I did my own research.
Since I have a couple of Millennials in my family, I thought I'd interview them. We'll call them Nathan and Nick (since those are their names). I asked Nathan and Nick how Christians could have meaningful dialogue about spiritual things with people they care about without being weird. And brother (no pun intended), did they have answers.
- Connect on their terms: know them and how they relate best to you
- Connect in their terms: lose the church words, phrases, AND tone
- Be conversational: don't use canned speech that you and God thought up beforehand
- Listen: it can be more powerful than talking
- Don't compartmentalize spirituality/faith: it's not separate from real life
- No Bible thumping: "your truth" may mean nothing to them yet
- Relationship is foundational: cultivate it first and always; be authentic
I was proud of their list. Aren't those the kinds of things Jesus did?
But lest we too hastily congratulate ourselves on no longer being weird, you might be asking, "Aren't Christians supposed to be different? Why should we tippy-toe around, all worried what other people think? Isn't our job to just proclaim God's truth and let the chips fall where they may?" After all, didn't Jesus say, 'Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me'?" He sure did. Right after that part on being poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers (Matt. 5).
The truth is, we will be seen as weird, but it should be because we are so different from a loud, abusive, imposing and impersonal culture that those we care about take notice. Then when opportunities to talk with them about spiritual things come along, it really won't seem all that…strange.