Joy Stevens shares three things to remember when sharing faith in our current culture.
Years ago, in the schoolyard, I got up the nerve to mention to my new friend that I was a Christian. It had taken me weeks of wrestling with my own fear and the Holy Spirit. As had been my mode, I dropped it into the conversation and then brushed past it quickly, allowing her to pick up on it or let it slide.
I was afraid because, like other Christians, I tended to believe that I would be met with hostility. On this occasion, she listened, and later mentioned that she and her family “aren’t religious”. No hostility. No rejection. Just indifference.
1. Hostility is Not the Problem, Indifference Is
Over the years, I’ve learned not to assume that because someone describes themselves as “not being religious”, that they have deeply ingrained reasons for their unbelief. Some have definitely taken the time to weigh the evidence and have concluded that atheism is more likely true than theism. But many, many others do not engage with religious concepts at all because they simply have no interest or concern with such concepts.
It is most likely that the people in your life – your friends, co-workers, and neighbours are not actively against God. It’s more likely that they can’t see how He could make their lives any better – so initially, hostility isn’t what you will need to overcome, but rather indifference and relevancy.
2. You May Be The Only Practicing Christian They Know
In follow-up conversations with my friend, I’ve discovered that her family is several generations removed from Christian faith. As far back as she can remember, she didn’t know anyone in her family that was a Christian. Increasingly, in Western, post-Christian cultures, people do not know any practicing Christians despite all the vestiges of our cathedrals and coronation services.
You may find, as I did, that when you mention you are a Christian you’re met more with amazement. I remember being at a dinner party where a new acquaintance discovered I was a Christian because I described being a leader in a Christian youth group. She exclaimed, “This is fascinating! I’ve met a practicing Muslim before, and I know a Hindu man at work, but I’ve never met a practicing Christian.”
This is significant because you will need to show people who are indifferent to spiritual things how following Christ makes a difference in your everyday life. You will need to talk about how your relationship with Christ helps you overcome anxiety, how it helps you have purpose in your work, how it helps you process pain and disappointment, how it helps you forgive in tricky situations. Your friend or family may need to see the usefulness of faith to shake them out of their first-world self-reliance.
3. Don’t Equate “I’m not religious” with “I’m not interested”
For years when a new friend would say, “I’m not religious”, I would shut down the conversation because I assumed that what they were really saying was “I’m not interested”. But lately, I’ve been taking a different approach. Instead of shutting the conversation down, I’ve decided to keep it going by gently asking, “I’m curious. Did you actively decide not to believe, or is this just where you find yourself currently?”. This question gives me an opportunity to determine their starting point. Do they have deeply held atheistic beliefs? Do they have any history with Christians or the Church? Do they believe in something they wouldn’t categorise as a religion? Are they angry at God? Or are they simply “not religious” because they come from a long line of people who aren’t religious?
When you can determine their starting point, you can then ask questions that will move the conversation forward instead of letting it die. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you may just find ways to stir up curiosity and awaken interest in how knowing Jesus brings full life.
Joy Stevens has spent the last 20 years ministering to young people in Oxfordshire. She is learning to talk about faith in ways that awakens curiosity in those she meets. Joy and her husband Darin have two teenage daughters and recently launched Start to Stir to help ordinary Christians share the gospel with people who would never step into a church.
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