Sometimes you know you only have a short amount of time with someone. You feel like it’s your one window of opportunity to speak about Jesus with that particular person. So you worry about letting the moment pass you by.
Even in a situation like this, I still believe we need — in most cases — to take the long-term view. How can I move the dial, even just a little, on what this person thinks about Jesus and the people who follow Jesus? Even if the person is not my neighbor, there might be another Christian in this person’s life now or in the near future.
So how can I sow seeds that another Christian might see the fruit of after I’m out of the picture? Feeling like you have one shot, possibly a buzzer-beater, can cause us to compromise on the relationship.
What if I miss my opportunity?
Halfway through writing this post I went for a haircut. I recently found a barbershop run by a local Muslim gentleman. This was my second visit to his shop. On my first visit we had enjoyed a good conversation about his business and about my work.
This time it was different. As I sat down in the chair to have my hair cut, he was watching a heated debate between a Christian and a Muslim on his smartphone. Both of the men involved were trying desperately to disprove the claims of the other.
“What’s this you’re watching?” I asked him.
“It’s really interesting,” he said. “It’s about how Jesus never said in the Bible that he was the Son of God.”
ALERT — ALERT — YOU ARE IN A MOMENT!
I felt like I was inside my own blog post, if you will. The pressure of needing to decide whether to explain why I disagreed, or to find out why he thought that about Jesus, lay heavily on me.
I chose the latter. I had asked him a question, he had not asked me one yet.
For the next 45 minutes he proceeded to preach to me the story of the Bible, as he understood it. He played me videos of passages of Scripture, narrated with a Muslim commentary. All this happened while another customer sat awkwardly checking his phone in the corner, awaiting his haircut.
In my mind I was running to keep up. I’m not an expert on his religion, or how to counter the points he was making. So I chose a different approach.
Five steps of faith to take when you’re in the moment
Here’s what I did, and maybe this will work for you if you’re ever in a similar situation:
- I focused on listening well. This involved asking him questions that demonstrated I was listening and showed him respect.
- I gave myself permission not to be an expert. Someone else can counter every incorrect statement he made about Jesus in the course of that haircut.
- I prayed. This had the effect of slowing the situation down in my head and reminding me of God’s love for this man.
- I told him what I thought Christians believed, but not all of it. So I did not tell him he was wrong. I spoke where I saw opportunities, like when he paused for breath or to change scissors. And I focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus rather than on the details of his birth or status as a prophet, for example.
- I thanked him. At the end of our conversation I asked him his name, and I thanked him for taking the time to explain his beliefs to me. Then I said I’d be back to hear more.
And I will go back. Maybe I’ll create a step of faith in MissionHub to remind me to get my hair cut.
Moments into our conversation I had realized that I walk past this guy’s shop every week. If I just get my hair cut regularly, I’m likely to talk with him more consistently than with most people I live beside.
This is the beginning of a relationship of some kind. That needs to be treated with the proper respect.
Yes, I came away wondering if I had failed because I let him make so many claims about Jesus and the Bible that I know are not true. But the alternative would have meant interrupting him in the flow of his explanations. It would have required contradicting a guy I barely know, a dozen or more times.
And he was holding the scissors.
It’s not just what you say — it’s the way you say it
Maybe you’re the kind of person who takes the initiative all the time, and has a plan for sharing your faith with everyone around you. If you’re only going to know someone for a short period of time, it’s obviously good to look for opportunities to tell that person about Jesus.
But I would also caution you to think carefully about how you’re affecting the way others see Christians.
Do you leave a bad taste in people’s mouths because they sense you’re only willing to have a relationship with them if they listen to everything you have to say about God?
In a culture that’s increasingly defensive toward what Christians believe, we must commit to loving people who are not ready to listen to us yet. We trust God to open their hearts, their minds and their ears.
What if trusting a Christian is a step of faith?
A few years ago I read an excellent book called “I Once Was Lost.” It’s about the journey many people go through on their way to becoming a Christian.
The book breaks it down into five thresholds people usually cross along the way. Authors Don Everts and Doug Schaupp suggest that the first stage of that process for most people is not hearing the gospel message.
The first stage in someone’s journey toward following Christ usually involves beginning to trust a Christian.
People cannot come to know Jesus unless they hear about him. Everyone needs to understand why he died, why God raised him from death, and what that means for each of us. You cannot accept an invitation you do not know you’ve been given.
But so many people in our culture have built up high walls — conscious or subconscious — against Christianity. Christians are prejudiced. They are judgmental. Christians do not vote the way I do.
All these ideas can act like plugs in the ears of someone you’re talking to. So how do we gently remove the plugs? Trust. Relationship. Time.
Establishing trust might happen over years of living or working alongside someone. Or it might happen in one deep conversation. For that conversation to happen you’ll need to turn off your inner stopwatch. You’ll need to trust God. And you’ll need to focus on making the other person feel understood, valued and respected.
So as you think about the steps of faith you’re creating after you download the MissionHub app, think about the long game.
As you think about how to be a great neighbor this year, think about the next step in a relationship you care about.
And maybe it’s time to get a haircut.
Remember to check out Part 1 of this post for more tips on when to speak about Jesus and when to wait.
Photo by A L L E F . V I N I C I U S Δ