What They Think Of Us

For a while there, if you wanted to sell books to Christians you just needed to write one that explains what non-Christian people think about church people. In UnChristian, Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons break the news to evangelicals that Christians are seen as too political and being anti-homosexual. Jim and Casper Go to Church is an atheist’s commentary as he visits some of America’s more influential churches. They Like Jesus But Not The Church is the result of Dan Kimball’s interviews of several people from his community about what the Church looks like from the outside. I’m not against these books. In fact, their content has provided many of us with more authoritative data in support of our warnings to those who are entrenched in the traditional structures.A few years ago, I wrote a post about how non-Christians don’t hate us, they nothing us; and that’s actually worse.

Nevertheless, someone else’s stories will only get us so far. We cannot depend on Jim, Casper, Dan, Dave, or Gabe as our only insight into the mind of unbelievers around us. It’s our job to know what they’re thinking. To be self-aware enough to know how we come across to them. This is the work of the missionary- to effortfully know the people in our communities well enough to know what they think about Jesus, and then to do what we can to challenge their wrong assumptions and walk them through the offense of the gospel.

But rather than see ourselves as Calebs and Joshuas, we’re content to pay strangers to be our spies. Rather than exposing ourselves to what shapes peoples’ thinking, we build our apologetics around what others tell us that non-Christians think. Like a grade-school cheating ring, we’re content to let Mark Driscoll read The Shack for us, and for some other guy to Break the DaVinci Code on our behalf. And don’t even get me started on those of us who depend on daily indoctrination by talk radio propaganda to tell us what “they” think about “us.” Allow someone else to do your homework for you for long enough, and you lose the skills you were meant to learn in the first place.

Without access to real connection to faithful Christians, outsiders are left to outsource their “research” of Christianity. In our absence, they learn what they think they know about us from the haters, celebrities, clowns, and extremists who speak on our behalf.

The only way to truly know the people in our communities is to spend time with them. To move beyond the stereotypes and caricatures and into real interaction that allows dialog and love. If you really want to know what “they” think of “us,” you have to ask (and listen).

5 thoughts on “What They Think Of Us

  1. I recently heard a young philosopher say we need preachers/pastors to believe for us and in that way so demand absolute certainty so as to allow the average person to doubt. We have been paying professional missionaries todisciple the nations for us, pastors to believe for us, and deacons to serve in our behalf. You describe just one more aspect of our aggressive outsourcing of belief. Sounds like quite the deal to me.

  2. I completely agree with you…the best thing about making the leap from hearing what the experts say (at least for me) is that the people around change from being a statistic to actual being actual people whom I dearly love. I used to talk about people as a collective whole, but now I am thankful that I can actually know people.

    The second bit to what you wrote about is also sadly true. I wonder how many of my believing friends could search the scriptures for themselves and figure out what to believe and practice without someone ‘more qualified’ telling them what to think and do. I do think that it’s good to learn from other people, but taking what others say as fact without personal reflection or study is like being a 30 year old man still ok with his mom picking out his clothes.

    Thanks for the post…

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  4. Ernest,

    I’ve thought on this post a day or so and you are so right. Let me tell you a story of my own experience.

    The past two or more years, I’ve been hanging out in coffee houses, cafes, etc in a 30-45 minute radius from my house. I’ve just been listening. Quietly, not talking to a lot of people per se, but just trying to see where people in my culture are in places where I can hang out and listen.

    what I found and am still finding has made me re-think so much. I am hearing people talking about God, Jesus, and church in a positive way. People talk of going to church. They talk loving about God in context of church. The has a positive predisposition towards Jesus. I have had people sit next to me and we will talk about our faith. I have people who inquire why I moved from Alabama to Delaware and we talk about Jesus and faith. I met a man last week in Starbucks to talk about financial planning (our first meeting) and he asked me about about my dissertation and he listened intently as I basically told him the gospel and we had a conversation about it.

    So I have been torn.

    I’m not naive enough to think that all these people who talk about going to church are, in fact, Christians. There is likely a cultural Christianity that exists even in Delaware, arising from the catholicism in the area, but also the influence of Methodism in Delaware at a place called Barrett’s Chapel. Barratt’s Chapel is the oldest surviving church building in the United States built by and for Methodists. But it earns its title as the “Cradle of Methodism” because of what happened here in Delaware in 1784. (http://www.barrattschapel.org/story.html)

    At the same time, I’ve not experienced much of what the “experts” have told us. I think many of us make the particular general. Before I started my listening tour, I would have told you we needed to plant churches all over the place. Today, there is a place for church planting, but not the type that our tribe finds successful.

    And yet I will only speak locally, particularly. This is not the case north of us throughout New England. It is not necessarily the case west of us even in Baltimore. They need churches. Again, however, it needs to be different than what our tribe determines as successful.

    I will admit to a predisposition of outsourcing the missiology and research to others until I was able to listen to what the people were saying. And I wonder if many of the experts are actually doing that, regardless what the phone surveys are telling them.

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