Gentleness and Respect
Just as Jesus was on this earth for a short while to make the truth of Himself known, His followers are on this earth for a short while for the same reason. For me personally, this doesn’t mean preaching on Sunday mornings or standing on the sidewalk with a bullhorn. It just means living life as a believer around anybody and everybody.
Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 to “set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The last part of that verse is crucial. We as the church have done a lot of harm by not being gentle with people or respectful of who they are or where they’re coming from.
I believe that an equal exchange is the bare minimum. Three years ago, after reading I Sold My Soul on eBay by the friendly atheist Hemant Mehta, I was motivated to host an interfaith conversation in the shop I then owned.
My friend Tim (a Bible scholar) and I invited people from the local Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Free Thinker communities to engage in a conversation. The idea was to present a topic—in this case “Creation and the Environment”—and invite people to share what they believe about how we got here and what our responsibility is to care for the creation based on our spiritual beliefs.
The result was an amazing conversation that was not argumentative or hostile from any viewpoint. We just talked.
That night I made friends with local atheists, Hindus and Muslims whom I otherwise would have never befriended. Since that time we have tried to maintain those relationships and have seen some visit different gatherings of the church—one of which was the most determined atheist I have ever known. He hasn’t accepted Jesus, but he’s a lot friendlier to the idea of Christ than before.
People are people, and when you treat them the way you would like to be treated, it’s amazing the opportunities you have to share your life and faith. The Great Commission is a command to make disciples, not converts. Making disciples requires time and relationship, and relationships consist of two-way interactions.
I would encourage you to engage someone in conversation to learn about them and what they believe and why. If we lay aside an agenda, we have an opportunity to love people (1 John 3:18), and when we love people, they want to know who we are and where that love comes from. That is our witness.