Are we only interested in people who are interested in God?

BY: J.B. Tanwell

Are We Only Interested in People Who Are Interested in God_

Everyone we know is on a spiritual journey of one kind or another. Some appear to be moving steadily toward God, while others rush away from him. But there are also people who seem to be going nowhere in terms of spiritual growth.

They give the outward impression of being completely uninterested in spiritual things. Perhaps you know someone like this. They appear to be interested in knowing you, just not the God you worship.

So how should we relate to people like this? If we’re trying to live in a truly missional way, should we focus our energy only, or even mostly, on people demonstrating spiritual curiosity?

When you join the MissionHub community we ask you to identify the stage you are in on your spiritual journey. Then we invite you to do the same for some of the people in your life. I recently added a new friend to the MissionHub app on my phone. Let’s call him Tyler.

Tyler came to my church at a low point in his life. Someone he cared about had died unexpectedly and he said, “I did not know where else to go.”

I’m glad to say he’s returned several times. He told me he was impressed by the kindness of people who did not even know him. But he also said, “I’m relieved no one tried to push any religion on me.”

The day he turned up at my church, Tyler and I went for a coffee and a long chat. He told me was a praying man. But he was not sure he could sign up for all the stuff Christians believe. As we talked, I felt like his previous experiences of Christians were not very positive.

How do we handle someone’s negative history with Christians?

Tyler told me he believes in God, or a “higher power” as he described it. But I still need to ask Tyler more about what that looks like for him.

Because he felt safe to return to my church several times, I marked him as “curious” rather than “uninterested” in the MissionHub app. He sits through the worship songs, listens to teaching on ideas like sin and forgiveness, and comes back for more. He usually sends me a message if he’s planning to come to church, possibly checking that I’ll be there too.

But to tell the truth, I do not know if Tyler is truly spiritually curious. What if sitting through a church service is just meeting his need to be in a safe place right now as he comes to terms with his friend’s death? What if he just appreciates people being kind?

I’ve been asking myself how I will build our relationship if he shuts down when we start discussing “the God stuff.”

I want to be sensitive to where he is on his spiritual journey. But I also want to be sure I do not miss opportunities to tell him where I find my hope and purpose. I want to share those things with him.

How do you know who to invest time in?

Let me confess something I’m not proud of. Having spent over a decade in full-time evangelistic ministry, there are times when I find myself calculating how much I should invest in someone who shows no curiosity about the gospel.

There, I said it.

After spending years sowing seeds by sharing the gospel and asking people questions about their beliefs, with little apparent return, I find myself calculating how interested people seem in Jesus. If I’m not careful, this can lead to calculating how much time and energy I’m willing to invest in them.

Am I the only Christian who does this? Probably not. But that does not make me feel any better.

I remember hearing other people in ministry tell me I had to be discerning about who God was calling me to invest my time in. They said I needed to learn to discern who was genuinely open to God, and be careful not to spend all my time and energy with people who had no hunger to grow spiritually.

Perhaps the people saying this had a vast quantity of relationships with people who were hungry for their time but not necessarily hungry for more of God. That’s not the case for me, and it might not be for you.

My full-time job used to frequently involve starting conversations about Jesus with people I did not know personally. For many of us outside that kind of ministry, we tend to see mostly the same people each week. We see our neighbors, classmates, colleagues, other parents at the school gate, and maybe a few other people beyond that. We live busy lives and do not spend every day thinking about initiating new relationships. And that’s okay.

So for most of us the question of who to invest your time in is probably a lot simpler. Who has God placed in your path right now? Who is available and open to spending time with you? Are they prepared to talk about more than sports, work or the weather?

I walked into church one Sunday and Tyler was sitting there, distraught and in need of an arm around his shoulder. But I am basically an introvert and cautious of talking to people I do not know. I still needed another member of the church to say, “Hey, would you be willing to sit with this guy and see what’s going on?”

Where Tyler sits on the scale between “uninterested” to “curious” or “growing” to “guide” will become clear over time. For now, all I need to know is that he’s open to talking with me about his life, and in particular about the source of his present pain. That’s significant.

If I can be patient about how and when we talk about what Jesus has done for him, we can build a relationship based on mutual trust. I need to focus on making Tyler feel safe and understood.

Every person matters, every step of faith counts

Who has God placed in your path recently? Maybe it’s someone you already wanted to know better, and maybe it’s not. Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone looks like taking the risk to form a friendship with a person you do not think you have a lot in common with.

The truth is you often will not see what your common ground is until you’ve taken the risk of initiating friendship. It might be something that a series of brief chats never would have revealed. That’s been the case with Tyler.

When I first met him I was nervous. What if his present troubles were more than I could cope with? What if he expected too much from me?

I’ve apologized to God for thinking that way. If I want God to use me to demonstrate what he is like, I cannot be this selective about who I’m willing to list as a friend in an app like MissionHub. Jesus would not be.

Every person matters to God. Every step I take toward someone else matters to God, because God is taking that step with me.

When you mark in MissionHub where you think someone is at spiritually, you are not judging that person.

The stages in MissionHub are simply a way to begin tracking the journey you hope to go on with him or her.

You’re saying, “Here’s where I think that person and I are starting from.” Then you can celebrate where God takes you both in the days ahead.

Identifying which stage of a spiritual journey someone has reached also allows MissionHub to suggest appropriate steps of faith you can take.

Simple steps you can take this week:

  • Commit to praying this prayer over the next seven days: “Loving God, show me who you are placing in my path, whether that person seems interested in you or not.”
  • If someone comes to mind, put that person’s name in MissionHub right now. Then pick a step of faith you can take with him or her.

Do you want to learn more about helping people find faith in Jesus? Try reading “How do I know when it’s time to speak about Jesus?

Photo by Julian Howard on Unsplash

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J.B. Tanwell lives in Europe where he confuses the locals with words he picked up while living in the southern states of the USA. He’s passionate about helping Christians talk honestly about what’s involved in truly following Jesus.