I have the luxury of working in the Bible belt, where everybody is Christian yet few people are following Jesus. Which leads to an interesting dilemma when you observe that someone might not be living out their faith. You can’t exactly say, “I’m going to tell you about Jesus because I believe your understanding of him is completely wrong” without coming across as a little rude.
In cultures that are predominantly Christian, gospel presentations may not fit perfectly into a conversation. From my experiences, I will share what I've learned from having spiritual conversations and relating to people who know Christ, but might not follow him.
LIVE OUT YOUR FAITH WITH YOUR FRIENDS
You may have heard a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Speak the gospel always, but rarely use words.” This quote does not give permission to stop testifying about Jesus; it does just the opposite. Our lives should always testify to the freedom we have in Christ and we should follow up our radical lifestyle with the gospel as the explanation. When we follow Jesus authentically, our friends will notice.
During my junior year of college, I lived in an apartment with four other women. I shared a room with a non-Christian sorority sister, who taught me how to live authentically every day, because she noticed! Around Thanksgiving, I told her that I was taking food to South Atlanta and she wanted to come with me, and asked why I didn't do things like this more often. When our friends needed places to stay, she would join me in being hospitable, and noticed when I gave freely and when I gave begrudgingly. She appreciated when I didn't judge her for decisions she made, and noticed when I did. When I lived out my faith she noticed and asked questions, when I chose not to live authentically, she also noticed.
THEIRS MAY BE A DIFFERENT JOURNEY
There have been countless times where a woman who I know is following Jesus has cried to me because somebody in another ministry said she was not a Christian. Accusing someone of not being a Christian is offensive, hurtful, and honestly not helpful at all. You don’t know where a person is with Jesus until you ask. But sometimes we share our judgment with a person, and other times we make a quiet decision that they need additional help from the Lord.
My husband and I had been praying for a youth from our church, whom we had not seen at church for several months. One day I had brunch with this girl, and without prompting from me, she told me about her relationship with Jesus and how she was serving the poor in amazing ways. This woman had a stronger understanding of God’s call to serve the poor than I did, but I assumed something about her faith because it didn't meet the expectations that I had defined. As Christians we can start to think that following Christ has to look a certain way, but doing that discounts the very person that could teach us how to follow Christ.
CONTINUE INVITING PEOPLE TO FOLLOW
From the outside, it can often look like being a Christian means attending Church and Bible study and not having fun. Not only is this unappealing, since being a Christian is about following Christ, not only talking about him. However, we seem to only invite people to church and Bibles studies and forget that Christians are actually called to imitate Christ.
I brought a woman on a mission trip. After the mission trip she got involved in the ministry and became an active member of a local church. I asked her what inspired this change and she said, “I want to do more stuff like what we did on the trip, so this is how I follow Jesus right?” She chose to follow because she was invited.
RESPECT THEIR ORIGINAL EXPERIENCES
I didn't start following Jesus till my freshmen year of college, but all the years of Church, Sunday School, Christian Camp and Bible study had given me a foundation. I learned about God and Jesus and I loved God, even though I didn't know how to follow him. When I started meeting with my staff worker in college, she did not discount any of those experiences, because they were all important steps for my conversion. When she invited me to take steps of faith, she allowed me to respect the decisions I made before.
A journey to follow Jesus is a series of decisions. For those of us who live in areas or are part of cultures where it is predominantly Christian, it’s easy to get frustrated because we are meeting people at different points in their journey. However, everything from watching Veggie Tales to Confirmation can have an impact on somebody’s life. When we take that away from our friends, we are taking away the grains of truth they learned.
Instead, invite your brothers and sisters to take new steps towards following God and ask them about their journey before you met them. Give them opportunities to broaden their view of God, without asking them to say a prayer they have already said twelve times. Just because somebody isn't following God does not mean that made an intentional choice to not follow God. Respect where they came from while showing them a Jesus they can’t help but run after!