The world is filled with so many amazing people. They are all so unique and interesting. None of us are the same but all of us are equally created by our magnificent creator. I am certain that in your journey of life you will interact with thousands of people and guess what? Most of them won’t be just like you. They may not believe what you believe. They may not know Jesus and they may not even believe God exists.
Yet, as a believer you want everyone to have a relationship with God because it is the most amazing thing any of us could ever experience. So, what do you do when you meet an amazing human who doesn’t know Jesus? How do you interact with them? If you're anything like me, part of you probably wants to jump out of your skin and start sharing the gospel but the other part of you gets nervous because you don’t know how you should go about doing that.
I totally get it. I work with some of the most awesome people in my company, Sunday Morning Marketing, and I meet so many new people every single day, and it's so hard to figure out how to approach the subject. That initial feeling can be a bit of a tug of war in your spirit, that leaves you confused and frazzled. But I am going to share with you some of the best tips I have for interacting with an atheist or anyone who doesn’t yet know God.
Hopefully what I share can give you courage, peace, and a sense of direction as you engage with the world around you.
Genuinely Love Them
The first thing I have to share is simply this…Love them. I am not talking about the type of love that is acted out of a sense of duty but a love that is real and authentic. Care about their heart and what they have to say. Value them and rejoice in their unique design. If you struggle with loving people who are different than you, ask God to give you the same heart that he has for them. Ask Him to help you see their value, dignity, and worth. We should strive to have a full heart and deep love, not only for people who are closest to us, but for everyone we come into contact with. We should strive to see them through God’s eyes and love them unconditionally with patients and kindness.
As Christians, God showers on us a love that is unlike any other type of love we could ever experience. It is His Love that draws us to Him and leads us to trust Him and it is His love with which we engage those around us. When you love like Jesus loves, unconditionally and without judgment or reservation, people notice. They see and feel a difference in their interactions with you. Loving well can be one of the most effective ways you can share the gospel, because every soul longs for the type of love that God gives so freely to us.
Invest Your Time
Too often we walk into a conversation with an atheist or a nonbeliever and go straight into sharing what we believe instead of taking an interest in who they are. Even if this is done with the best intentions, it is a very ineffective way of pursuing the relationship. Instead, we should walk in expecting to listen twice as much as we speak.
This can be hard, which is probably why we are often tempted to take 30 minutes talking at someone rather than having a conversation with someone about the gospel. We want to share all of the things and it can be easy to leave a conversation having just showered the other person with a fire hose of information without ever really letting them speak.
But here is the thing: All of us desire to be understood and known. People don’t need to hear more about all of the qualifications you have or all the things you know. They need to feel like what they have to say has been heard. No one will pay attention to what you say until they feel like you have taken the time to understand them first.
Often times, it is impatience and fear that keep us from doing this well. Our impatience is due to our desire for them to know Jesus. We want to get straight into the meat of it all, but this may not always be the wisest first step. This is such a real struggle for me. I used to be so on fire, that I would burn people around me- and not in a good way. I hurt unbelievers because I so desperately wanted them to know the good news, that I totally forgot about loving them. If you feel yourself rushing in, pause, take a breathe and remember to listen.
On the other hand, our sense of fear can often come from this assumption that listening equals agreement, which is simply not the case. You can intently listen to what someone has to say without agreeing with their worldview. By being interested in who they are and listening to their thoughts, and opinions, you are showing them that you are engaged and in pursuit of getting to know them, not just trying to accomplish a religious agenda.
I think it is safe to say that no one loves admitting they are wrong. Rather, everyone likes the feeling of being right. It often feels like a blow to the ego when you are certain of what you believe in only to find out you were basing your beliefs on a false foundation. I know I have experienced this deflating feeling more times than I would care to admit.
Yet, so often we walk into evangelistic conversations hoping to “prove our point”. We want people to see that our perspective is right and theirs is wrong…but how polarizing is that? I mean if someone were to walk up to you and try to change your belief system by saying that that everything you believe in is a lie, how would you respond? I am guessing not well, and I doubt you would want to stay in that conversation very long.
We must learn to love people more than we love to be right. It is not about making someone realize that their worldview is wrong, it is about inviting them into a story and encouraging them to discover the truth for themselves.
I think the reason we try to present our faith in such a black and white manner is because
we put pressure on ourselves to “bring that person to Jesus”. That somehow it is our responsibility to save them. But the reality is that we do not have the power to change someone’s heart…only God can do that. It is not about seeing a decision made or being the one to “convert” someone.
It is about giving that person the opportunity to know Jesus and being there to support them in their journey. More often than not, when we engage in a relationship with a non believer they do not instantly ask Jesus into their lives (Sometimes this does happen but its not the norm). I mean think about your journey, was your walk towards Jesus instantaneous?
Or was it a long journey?
It is important to walk into the conversation knowing that it is not your responsibility to get them to the point of salvation. Once you realize this, it will take off the pressure and allow you to just be present in the moment with that person, rather than pushing for a specific outcome.
Don’t walk in assuming you know who the other person is and what they believe. In the first few seconds of meeting someone we assume things about who they are. Without even realizing it we base our future interactions with them, off of preconceived opinions.
So how do we fight against this tendency to assume we know someone? The answer is to get curious and ask questions. This may sound simple, but so often we forget this step.
Questions are not only a way to ward off misunderstandings but it is also one of the key ways in which we can navigate conversations around our beliefs. You can use questions to draw the other person out and create an atmosphere of discussion rather than debate.
Often times people avoid questions that they feel uncomfortable answering. However, when you are the one asking the question to them, well then they have to really consider what their answer would be. Asking questions is an effective way to guide people into self discovery.
Getting curious about the other person’s journey is a great way to know what they believe and why they believe it. It can reveal the areas in their life that have lead them to disbelief. Knowing this can help us to have compassion on them and meet them where they are.
When thinking about topics to bring up, consider asking about their life, their past, why they believe what they believe, and what has influenced their worldview. You may find that you are asking questions that no one has ever presented to them before or they may have already thought through all of these questions and will have some great answers for you. Either way, asking deep meaningful questions affirms that you care, gives the other person a chance to speak, and allows you to have a better understanding of where they are coming from.
Don’t Wait Until You Have All Of The Answers
None of us feel fully equipped to answer all the litany of possible questions someone could ask us about our faith. It can be a little intimidating not knowing if you will have a satisfactory response for the doubts they express. You may feel as if you need to be a top theologian and provide all of the “proof” that backs up your faith.
When this fear shows its nasty little head, I want to remind you of two things…
Number one: It is okay to admit that you don’t know. Yes, I am serious…it is totally okay! Instead of getting freaked out and defensive when someone asks a question you don’t know the answer to, understand that you are not their book of evidence, you do not have to know all of the things, and it is okay to tell them that. Simply saying “I am actually not sure about that, I will research it and get back to you” is a perfect way to let them know you don’t have an answer for them but that you are happy to help in their search to find the answer.
Number two: God did not draw people in with his knowledge of the ancient text and his scientific understanding of the universe. No, he drew them in with love. It all goes back to the first tip... genuinely love them. They may be skeptical and you may not be able to answer all of their questions, but their salvation doesn’t hang on your ability to have the perfect answers. Love them well and the Holy spirit will do the rest from there.
Interacting with people who believe differently than you does not have to be intimidating. When you realize that it isn’t about you, the pressure comes off. It is easy to carry the burden of having to represent Christ perfectly and needing to know all of the answers. But the truth is, that is a load that isn’t yours to bear. Don’t carry more than you were meant to. Simply show up, be willing to be used in whatever way God asks of you, and allow the Holy spirit to take the lead.