When I get a notification that someone has liked a post or has decided to follow The Unexpected Pastor (which you can do with the “Follow” button on the right, by the way), I usually check out their blog. The other day, someone known on WordPress as “hessianwithteeth” became a follower of this blog. Hessianwithteeth appears to be atheist or agnostic. (It is awesome that folks of many different beliefs – and unbeliefs – read The Unexpected Pastor!)
Among the intriguing posts I read on hessianwithteeth’s blog was one called “Should We Attempt to Convert Others?” I found it a balanced piece that was fair to both Christians and unChristians.
The post struck a nerve with folks; there were the seventy-some comments from all kinds of perspectives. Of course I had to add my own (slightly modified here) . . .
I believe what happens when we try to “convert” other people is that they become commodities, simply objects of our perceived will and overestimated powers of persuasion. Whether Christian or Atheist, entering into communication with someone simply to convert them is the antithesis of relationship.
Rather than trying to convert people with other beliefs (or non-belief), how about if we try to get to know them? Try practicing empathy rather than beating them over the head with our right-thinking. Perhaps in the context of relationship they’ll come around to the way of thinking we believe is right, perhaps not. But in the context of relationship we might just learn something about how other people think and feel and believe (or not), and even about ourselves.
I don’t believe I can convert anyone, anyway. I don’t have that power over other folks. Once I remove that fallacy from my interactions with others, especially unChristians, then I can have actual relationships with them. I trust that the Holy Spirit will take care of the converting (or not).
One of the reasons I was an unChristian for so long before I embraced Christianity was the in-your-face “Christians” who seemed to be only interested in me as a trophy for their wall of conversion (metaphorically). I didn’t want to be a part of all that . . . and I certainly didn’t want to encourage it by letting it succeed. Since I’ve been a Christian, I have met atheists with the same unproductive zeal.
Let me be clear here on my own blog – I am not saying that Christians should not practice evangelism. Evangelism means sharing the Good News, specifically the Good News about Jesus. Sharing the Gospel – hopefully not just, or even primarily, in what we say but especially in how we treat (love) others, especially those who are “other” (different in any way than ourselves) – is not the same as interacting with someone with the sole agenda of somehow converting them.
We Christians believe that conversion is the Holy Spirit’s work, not ours. So let’s relax and do our job – treating everyone (yes, everyone) with the grace and love we believe we have received from God.
So, Christians, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, whoever – I know you’re out there – what do you think about hessianwithteeth’s question? Should we attempt to convert others?
Many non-believers try to make the case that all Christians are either trying to convert them or condeming them to Hell, neither is true.
Christians are asked to spread the good word of salvation through Christ but we all know that the Holy Spirit doeas the work.
When spreading the word is reduced to “trying to convert” non-believers push back and the conversation becomes a battle of will and more about who has the best argument, who is smarter, and who has facts and evidence on their side.
It’s important for Chrisians to know that the Gospel message will not always be recieved and, to know when to shake off the dust and move on.
Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes – a “battle of will” is what results from trying to convert.
I am cool with what you write until the very end – the “shake off the dust” part. That bit does imply that the only reason to enter into a relationship with an unChristian is to get them into the fold; if it doesn’t “work” then we’ll shake off the dust and move on.
I have lots of friends who are unChristians, who I value as important people in my life. I learn from them and plenty live lives of more integrity than many Christians I know. Sure, I hope they realize at some point how much God loves them and what Jesus did for them. They are missing out on the greatest news ever.
But that’s not why I’m friends with them. To “shake off the dust and move on” would be a loss for me as well as for them.
That’s probably stretching what you meant, but I want to be clear where I’m coming from.
By shake off the dust, I certainly did not mean relationships should be severed, I am good friends with many non-believers myself.
What I meant was that we should realize that many will never believe regardless of our effort.
For me this applies mostly to people I interact with online. In person, being what you believe in often leads the most hardened to Christ more so than what we say.
Words are words but acting as though Christ has made a difference in our lives says more than we ever could.
Good stuff – thanks for taking the time to clarify.
Like that oft-quoted saying of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always. When necesssary, use words.”
Love that quote, It’s what I meant to say but better.
ps. You have a good blog, I pray you will be successful with your internet ministry.
I thiink the only person I can count as “converting” in any way was my college friend Clarissa, who asked me when she was feeling low what brought me happiness. I told her writing in my diary, going for walks, and going to mass. She later told me that she remembered that when she went home and started attending Quaker meetings with her family. Sadly she died when she was 23 of a brain tumor. I’m glad I was able to bring her back to her faith tradition in some small way before she died and I hope it brought her a lot of comfort.
I’m pretty shy about sharing my faith because I don’t want to be a bible thumper, but I think that if you have joy in the gospel, people are going to want to know why, and we shouldn’t keep it a secret.
Sorry for the loss of your friend.
You are justified in your fear of being labeled a “Bible thumper”, the Bible confirms this when it says, “you will be hated because of me.”
That being the case, many people are not called to jump into the fray as I often do to spread the word amongst non-believers.
If your gift is witnessing to people by letting your light show before men, this is a great and important thing that very often does what words cannot.
Megan, thanks for highlighting JOY! We Christians can be the most dour, negative, judgmental people and then wonder why folks don’t want to be like us. We should definitely live with joy and then when folks ask “Why?” we need to be ready with an answer for the hope we have (I Peter 3:15).
Living out our joy isn’t a “conversion tactic,” though . . . it’s our calling and it’s just plain more fun than the alternative.
Good blog as always. In my life, I just try to treat others as I want to be treated. 😊