How NOT To Chase Away an Atheist

In Monday’s post, “How To Chase Away an Atheist,” I listed “Ten Ways To Repel Non-Christians.”  It was by far the biggest day the blog’s had so far.  Which is great; maybe Christians will be less repellent when dealing with unChristians.  Apparently some atheist/agnostic folks read it, too.  Which is also great, because I hope this blog can be a dialogue involving all sorts of viewpoints.

But The Blog’s Big Day created some pressure – I got asked when (not if) I was going to post a companion list, the yin to the first list’s yang.  So here it is . . .  but keep in mind that I am speaking from my personal experience when I wasn’t a Christian; your mileage may vary:

10 1 WAYS NOT TO REPEL NON-CHRISTIANS

1. Relationship

In the sage words of Tony Kornheiser, “That’s it!  That’s the list.”

Christians, we’re not recruiting people up for Amway.  I remember when I was growing up my parents had some good friends who joined or pledged or whatever you do to hook up with the multi-level marketing giant that is Amway.  Every time they saw my parents, those people were pressuring them to start selling soap and vitamins and whatever else Amway distributes.  After a while, we didn’t see too much of that couple.  My parents never said anything (they were too politely southern to let anything negative surface overtly), but I’m pretty sure they got tired of the constant arm-twisting.

If non-Christian folks think we only see them as marks for our Jesus Salesmanship Techniques, then they aren’t going to hang with us very long.

Certainly not long enough to find out what this Christianity-thing is all about.

Relax!  Get to know folks, regardless of their religion, or lack of it.  Everyone has experiences we can learn from, strengths we can emulate, opinions that can add to our understanding of the world whether we come to accept them or reject them (important – the antecedent for “them” is the opinions, not the people).

Relax!  Wdon’t, we won’t, we haven’t, we can’t convert anyone.  We don’t “bring people to Christ.”  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  To think if we just press hard enough or say the right thing or push the right buttons then someone will “come to Christ” isn’t just ineffective, it’s bad theology (see I Corinthians 3:6-7).

Relax!  Trust the Truth enough to believe that it is powerful enough to “work” without our shoving it down folks’ souls.  

Sure, we lay what we believe out there, mostly by the way we live, especially by the way we treat other folks.  But we don’t have to sell it.  What we’re hopefully about is dialogue. We listen as much as we talk.  Not as a technique, but because we’re called to love folks.

There were plenty of Christians who locked me in the vise of the hard-sell during my time away from the church.  But there were others who I remember as seed-planters (to use Paul’s analogy in the I Corinthians verses).  I knew where they stood spiritually, and they knew – and cared – where I was coming from.  My relationships with them opened up dialogue, and even though it was in most cases years later before I realized I was a Christian, I can look back and could see how God used those seed-sowers.

Listen to the wise words of my college friend Michael Rich.  Mike was studying to be a pastor, but he wasn’t afraid to have a good time .  . . even with an unChristian.  Mike and I were part of a group who published an underground newspaper ( I’ll blog about that sometime) and it was also with him I had a disastrous experience trying to do comedy at a bar’s open mike night (I won’t be blogging about that – it’s still too painful).  Anyway, this what Mike posted in a discussion on Facebook after Monday’s blog entry:

I have always been one to break stereotypes…I think that many church folks think that faith should come instantly to everybody–say a prayer, get it done. What I’ve discovered is that many folks need someone to walk alongside them for years, offering companionship and an authentic life.*

1. Relationship.

I ultimately ended up in church through a potential relationship I wanted to have – Karen told me that to date her I had to go to church with her.  But she never nagged me about faith; she realized that wasn’t up to her.  She trusted the Holy Spirit.  The people who really walked with me, planting seeds both before and after I set foot in a church were crucial to my eventual realization of faith.

Now I know there are atheists/agnostics and other unChristians reading this who will say, “It won’t work with me.”  But you see, that’s the cool part.  It’s not about what “works.”  It’s about relationship – about getting to know folks, learning from them, enjoying their company, even loving them.  Finding out who they are and sharing who we are.  Kind of like what Jesus did.

I’ll have more to say about this on Friday, but that’s enough for now.

* Hopefully it’s okay with Michael that I quoted him.  Here’s a link to his excellent blog: In-formatio

About pastordavesimpson

I'm an unexpected pastor. Why unexpected? Because no one is more surprised than me that I'm a pastor. See the "About" page on my blog for more info.
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4 Responses to How NOT To Chase Away an Atheist

  1. timberwraith says:

    Um, this whole monologue is a bit odd. To my non-believer’s eye’s, it reads like this: “The goal is relationship rather than conversion, but we’ll do a better job of converting people if we focus on relationship.”

    I’m sorry, but that still turns this non-believer off. If I sense someone is trying to convert me to their religion, even if subtle, that’s a very quick way to damage their relationship with me.

    Here’s my approach to believers:
    1) I don’t care what you’re religion is. If you don’t use it to hurt others or promulgate bigotry against various minorities, your beliefs are none of my business.
    2) I want to be your friend because I like you as a person. Converting you to something else beyond your current faith is completely off my radar screen. My friends don’t have to be cardboard cutouts of me. I don’t want to undermine your faith, because I know it is deeply important to you (as is my own non-belief). Vive la différence.
    3) Relationship is built upon understanding/respecting each other’s boundaries and embracing mutual support and caring (which is why #2 is so darned important).
    4) Let’s do something fun together.
    5) Be nice.

    That’s it.

    • I don’t think we’re that far apart (except of course for the God-stuff). My friendships with atheist/agnostic and other non-Christian folks are not built around trying to sell them on Christianity. Am I clear about what I believe? Definitely, but not without hearing what they believe (or don’t). Do I hope (even pray) they will become Christians? Sure, but converting someone else is not in my power. Am I friends with them only because I want to “bring them to Christ?” No, they are my friends because I enjoy doing stuff with them and spending time with them.

      Thanks for taking the time to participate in the conversation.

      • timberwraith says:

        Here’s the funny thing. I *don’t* hope that my religious friends become atheists. Rather, I hope that they find peace and support in their beliefs and their communities of belief. I recognize that their beliefs are a part of who they are and that those beliefs are of great emotional importance to them. If they come to a place of non-belief or shift to another form of religion, that’s fine. I bid them well. If they remain where they are, that’s fine, too.

        My take on the universe is solely mine. My understanding of deities is solely mine. I do not claim to have all of the answers. If both believers and non-believers took a similar approach, I suspect there might be a little less animosity in the world.

  2. Pingback: Talking to Americans | The Friendly Neighbourhood Progressive Christian

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