Growing up, I’d been given a lot of advice on how to tell others about my faith beliefs. What I’d been told was only a drop in the bucket of all the advice that’s out there. Practitioners of Christianity are often asked, told, and demanded to get out there and make the sales pitch of salvation to others. At times, it gets disguised as a dialogue on faith, or someone wanting to ask a few questions, or even trolls for Jesus. Because of all of this, it makes it hard for me to talk about faith with people.
I still remember that pressure to get more people in the doors.
I can’t count the times I was indirectly shamed because I didn’t bring a friend with me to church, or lost an opportunity to guide a discussion towards religion. That pressure still exists (here’s just one example). In the linked article, several examples of college students are given as case studies to show how a person of faith is supposed to control things around them to engage in ministry.
There’s a word for a lost opportunity to evangelize a target: failure. A person fails to say something to others which gets them excited to learn more. It implies a duty or minimum standard that somehow isn’t met. Don’t mind the impossible gray standards of knowing when to say something. If you had an idea of how to steer the conversation towards Jesus and didn’t jump on it, that’s a failure.
How can I have a conversation with someone knowing that they’re under such distress? I can’t even be sure if someone is really agreeing with me, or is just trying to buddy up as a persuasive technique. It’s hard to build trust with people who are taught to develop trust just to sell something.
Now that I’m no longer in that faith, I’m noticing what isn’t said, too.
Take this bit of advice. It sounds reasonable: think before you speak. But what is the article asking people to think about? Barriers to acceptance. Don’t alienate the target audience. Find the gray area where your audience isn’t sure about what’s right or wrong. Affirm what you think is good in your audience, but offer something better.
At no point in any of the advice that I’ve linked is the simple advice: ask someone if they want what you’re trying to tell them. There’s often no permission involved in ministry. It doesn’t matter if someone has already tried Jesus and found the experience wasn’t what was advertised. Instead, it’s just the admonishment to keep looking for the excuse to persuade.
Also notice the hidden assumption that what’s being offered is better than what a person already knows, believes, or understands. Everyone else must be missing something, or lost, or looking. Nobody except the people in church are allowed to have that kind of assurance.
I can’t forget any of this, or turn off my empathy for people in duress.
I know what it’s like to have people make fun of what I believe. I also know what it’s like to be held to account and belittled for not trying hard enough to save souls. This shared perspective is like walking on a blister. It’s there, I can’t ignore it, and it won’t go away.
On a basic level, I want to tell people of faith that I know where they’re coming from, and that I don’t want them to hurt themselves for not trying to sell their beliefs to me. Yes, I know what they feel is at stake. I’ve made peace with it. And despite understanding all the implications, I’m not going back.
Where I want to go from here.
I don’t want to keep having these problems. I’m tired of the mistrust, the second-guessing, the wondering if I’m meeting kind people or just someone who wants to get me to go to church with them. I’m tired of feeling on edge, agonizing over whether I stand up for myself or just close my ears and hope everything goes away.
It’s tough because this is a situation where I think I’m justified for paranoia, but I’m also aware that the paranoia isn’t healthy. It keeps me from looking for the best in people. It puts another wall between me and others who might actually be decent friends.