In 2013 too many Christians and conservatives have asserted their views with well-meaning but hostile, combative rhetoric. I've engaged in some myself as I observe my Christian heritage slipping away. But I'm praying that in 2014 new Christian voices will be characterized by a more respectful, compelling style that invites engagement, even when we disagree. Will a different communication style woo desperate people to Christ in the long run?
I believe it will. I'm not advocating that we abandon our principles. In fact, I believe we need to stop trying to be so relevant and begin living a lifestyle that looks radically different from our neighbors. But that lifestyle doesn't include separating ourselves from people who are different from us or taking up a "culture warrior" stance. Jesus didn't do that. Those tactics have backfired, leaving us even more isolated from people who desperately need Jesus but don't know anyone who actually reflects what He's like.
I like the approach taken by Luis Palau and his son Kevin in one of the most anti-Christian cities in the US, Portland, Oregon. They went to Sam Adams, the first openly gay mayor of a large American city, and asked," How can we serve for the good of the city--no strings attached?" The mayor identified five areas: homelessness, hunger and poverty, health and wellness, public schools, and the environment. Portland's Christian community united and formed an organization called Season of Service. In the first year, 450 church members and 28,000 others enlisted in the cause. They established free medical clinics, created a mentoring program for homeless families, and adopted public schools. Church leaders are now included in serious discussions concerning the future of the city.
The national media has noticed and written about this unusual partnership. An editorial in USA Today praised the project as a "stereotype-busting sub-plot...the most intriguing of all being the way the Season of Service has thrust the area's Evangelicals into partnership with the city's most liberal leaders." The people of Portland are seeing another side of Christians--not the typical caricatures presented in films and newscasts. Which personifications have ultimately resulted in more people opening their minds and hearts to the idea that God might be real and Jesus might be the Savior they are looking for?
I need to learn more about how to communicate well with people who don't share my faith. That's my new year's resolution. What about you? If you'd like to join me, here are a few ways to get started.
• Read The Next Christians, Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons.
• Then gather a group of folk to listen to the accompanying videos and discuss what you hear. You probably won't agree with everything but that will give you an opportunity to practice respectful compelling rhetoric. (You're also welcome to join a similar discussion in our Journey Class at Irving Bible Church, The Alcove, 10:45 am, beginning on January 5.)
• Like the Compelling Love Documentary page, listen to the trailer, and learn from others. I heard about this resource from Dr. Gary Barnes, DTS professor and my colleague. This Non-Profit Organization states that their purpose is to help us learn to connect with others even when their beliefs, values, and practices deeply differ, distress, and even offend us.
Jesus' final words before He went to the cross were these: My prayer is not for them alone (His prayer for His first disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message (That's us), that they may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21). Let's stop bickering among ourselves and with non-Christians and retrain our tongues to speak with respectful, compelling words accompanied by powerful acts of service, both more likely to woo the world to Christ.