Considering “Unchristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity ...An Why It Matters” Groundbreaking research from the Barna Group by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
My training as a Christian focused on my ability to be able to declare the truth, not to become the Holy Spirit in the life of those to whom I witness. My mother carried a bookmark in her Bible that had a Native American saying on it: “Never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.” I am grateful for both of these influences and that I was not taught an economy-sized Bible or flame-thrower approach to sharing the Gospel. (My dear Jewish friend calls such people "God's Squad.") That does not mean that I compromise the message, but I do not focus on doing the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. That's God's job. Sharing my faith has never been a matter of putting on a sales presentation, nor has it been about closing a sale. It's about speaking the truth so that the Holy Spirit can make use of what comes through me as a vessel of communication.
The authors of “unChristian” tell us that 87% those who are outside of Christianity believe that “Christians are trying, consciously or not, to justify feelings of moral and spiritual superiority” (pg 182). So most of the witnessing that Christians do concerns the person delivering the message and not the message or the focus of the message. Sharing Christ becomes a means of marginalizing the person that one presumably seeks to help. Our self-righteous “doing good” has more to do with feeding our own inner needs through self-righteous comparison, and in the process of sharing the love of Jesus, we make it all about our need to look better than everyone else. We demean those to whom we seek to help. The Gospel message becomes more about our persona than about Jesus and His work on the Cross because we are so over focused on other people's faults.
Here is a vital piece of information that applies to all of us, and Christian parents of Christian teens can learn much from this. The things that appealed to an older generation do not work for this new generation, teens in particular. We would all be wise to take interest in this information for both our own attempts to share our Christian faith, but also in our communications with young people in general.
From page 183:
And judgmental attitudes are primarily difficult for Mosaics and Busters to swallow for two reasons. First, they are insightful about people's motives. They have been the target of endless lectures, sermons, marketing and advertisement. If you bring up unsolicited advice, they mistrust your motives. They wonder what's in it for you when you offer your opinion.I believe that those within the patriarchy and patriocentric movements can benefit greatly from this understanding. We are called to give an answer for the hope within us with both meekness and patience. No one suggests altering the Gospel message or downplaying our human fallen nature or sin. But the focus of our message should be that of love and not of condemnation. In order to foster that within a new generation of young people, we must give attention do developing the concept of mutual respect.
Second, the new generations are increasingly resistant to simplistic, black-and-white views of the world. We do not have to like this element of their generational coding, but it is a feature of the way they process life – nothing is simple. They esteem context, ambiguity and tension. Often judgmental attitudes come across as overly simplified, old-fashioned and out of step with their diverse world. With young people, how we communicate is as important as what we communicate.
This list of suggestions came from the comments that “outsiders” shared with the authors as general guidelines for building trust in the messenger and thus the message – guidelines for facilitating mutual esteem, but they could well be taken into consideration when talking with teens. For those in patriarchy, substitute “other Christians” into the language in exchange for "young people." For Christian families, substitute “getting them into church” with “getting them to do what I want them to do when that might not be what God wants or expects of them.” The dynamics are the same, though the target behavior differs: they all involve respect and consideration.
Grossly condensed from pages 194 – 5:
- Listen to me
- Don't label me. Young people often say “We're all just people. Let's stop making neat little categories for each other.”
- Don't be so smart. Don't pretend to have all the answers.
- Put yourself in my place. Christians seem to be concerned only with what people do or don't do... They believe Christians should learn to appreciate them and better understand their choices.
- Be genuine. One thing that undermines outsiders' trust is when Christians try to wedge a little spirituality into every opportunity. They feel that it disrespects their intelligence. “Don't you think I am smart enough to notice what you're trying to do?”
- Be my friend with no other motives. Outsiders say they sometimes get the feeling that Christians have befriended them with the ulterior motive of getting them into church.
"The writer, Phillip Yancey [in “What's So Amazing About Grace”], offers a great insight about judgmental attitudes, pointing out that the opposite of sin is not virtue, it's grace. We need to move beyond expecting people to behave according to our expectations, and instead try to help connect them to God's purposes" (pg 195).
by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007