I recently unearthed my major difficulty in sharing my faith: I assumed that people who think differently about Jesus were dangerous. I felt afraid of them, and it showed.
At a book convention, I stood beside two Christian women as they responded to a secular book seller. He had just recommended a book that suggested all people go to heaven. I reacted inwardly much like the Christian women reacted outwardly.
“That’s not what the Bible teaches!” they retorted.
“The author makes some good points from the Bible . . .” the bookseller began.
“Well, if you read the Bible you’d know!” both were giving him a severe stare before they walked away.
When you hear someone distorting the gospel how do you feel? Do you ever think, “What can I say to this person in one minute-the only minute I have for them-that would convince them to repent and turn to Jesus?”
We burden ourselves with responsibility to convert someone or get out of there. We have no idea what it must be like to walk in their shoes, what help or solace their current beliefs give them. We only need to ask to find out, but maybe instead we’re just relieved that we brought God up in conversation. We call it spreading seed, but to our unbelieving friends our witnessing might feel more like the quick, cold-hearted work of a graffiti artist, “tagging” an area for dominance.
Tagging is a term I learned when I lived in Los Angeles. Gang members would spray-paint a wall of a building or underpass to claim their ownership. Friends I shared my faith with in high school later confessed to feeling cornered. They felt tagged as my projects.
When we moved to Colorado, my husband taught me another meaning of tagging. He purchased a hunting tag, which meant some elk had a death warrant on its head.
To those who don’t know Jesus our church culture can appear to be issuing hunting tags for their souls. We can even wield church sanctioned disciplines like apologetics or theology as weapons. In the process, we become more hunter and gang member than neighbor, failing to look into our neighbor’s eyes and notice they are people, not prey.
As a trained theologian and apologist, I find it too easy to judge people by their ideas before seeing the human that the Bible tells me is made in his image. But that has changed.
I’m learning to notice people’s eyes before I notice their words. I, like all of us, need to pause and ask myself better questions of those before me. What do they need? Are they friend or prey? How do I tell a friend about Jesus’ good news for them, with their pain, their needs, their questions?
In the process sharing our faith will look more like God’s unrushed, fearless love for this world and less like a hunter taking aim.
Adapted from Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (Zondervan 2010).