When I was sixteen and pregnant, I continued to attend my youth group every Wednesday night at 6 despite the whole pregnancy thing. It was quite an
awkward interesting experience to be the only pregnant person at youth group who was actually still young enough to be a member, let me tell you. The youth pastor was very kind, and would talk to me, ask me how I was doing, and so did many of the youth leaders. But some parents (some within the church, others outside) decided that their children couldn’t hang out with me because I was a bad influence. I don’t know which was worse, though. The “you’re going to contaminate my child with your preggo-germs” reaction, or the other one. Because there were some people who had the opposite reaction, where they seemed inevitably drawn to me, and wanted nothing more than to turn me into a good, upstanding, clean Christian girl who could quote the Bible backwards and had accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior and attended church every single week without fail. Essentially, “Let’s go save the harlot!”
Both of these reactions made me feel judged. Both made me feel unwanted and unaccepted as I was (the way I’d been told I could come and be welcomed). Both made me not want to attend church. And both made me feel dehumanized, made into a two-dimensional stereotypical “sinner” who had no personal story, no personality, no likes or dislikes, no ideas, and was not in need of a friend but in need of Bible memory verses. I was either going to spread my sickness to their children, or I was a goal they were trying to reach. A number, a “soul.” Great, because everyone wants to be seen as some disembodied mystical thing that’s anything but human, am I right?
This was my first and, for a long time, only experience with Christians attempting to build relationships with me before I was a Christian. It made me skeptical of the value that the church claimed to put on community. It made me skeptical that Jesus could actually want me just as I was, right then and there, pregnant, unmarried, not even a legal adult, and seriously reconsidering whether or not He was even there, whether or not He was present in any of the people around me.
How Christians treat non-Christians matters. It matters so much, but quite often, people who grow up in church, or grow into the church, are not taught this. They are taught how to evangelize, not how to be a friend of sinners. They are taught how to tell their testimony in under sixty seconds, or to hand out tracts without being afraid of strangers. They are taught arguments and counter-arguments and they go over apologetics and scientific evidence for God, so that they can show their atheist acquaintances, coworkers, and classmates how logical and scientific the God of the Bible really is. (“No, really, if you just saw it logically…“)
But they are not shown how to be there when that same atheist friend loses a loved one, or loses their job, or when they break up with someone that they truly loved, or when their children just will not behave and their oldest is beginning to distance himself from his parents. These Christians are not shown how to just sit and have a conversation, how to just be a friend, and how to listen just to listen instead of to present a counter-argument or a Bible verse, or how to show Jesus to the people around them without explicitly mentioning His name in every sentence, without ceaselessly talking about church and fellowship and church groups and Sunday school. Which, by the way, only serves to alienate someone who doesn’t go to church and/or doesn’t believe in the Christian God (maybe even in any God).
And I think that the Christian community needs way more community with people outside of the church’s four walls. But instead, we’re busy showing kids how to share their testimony in sixty seconds to total strangers. And we miss the importance of relationships.
You begin to see people as projects, and not as extremely complex humans beings who have their own hang-ups and questions that maybe aren’t so easy to answer. Someone that I know wonders why they were abused throughout their childhood. Someone else asks why their father left them at a young age. Another person wonders how God can allow evil in the world, and yet another can’t get over the fact that so many Christians are hypocrites, while yet another sees no logical reason to believe in a loving Creator God. These are not easily answerable questions that should be immediately followed with a cookie-cutter answer about “well, the Bible says that –” And maybe these questions don’t even need to be answered by you. At least not right away. Maybe this person just needs you to hear them, and not condemn them, not dismiss their beliefs because you clearly have your own. Not tell them that their concerns are silly, because all of the answers are in your Book, and if they’d just accept Jesus, then everything would be hunky-dory.
You cannot save anybody.
Just be a friend. Be there when they need you. Go above and beyond to show them how much you love them. Take them out for coffee, or dinner, or go hang out. Talk about life and love and family. Talk about work. Do it all in a God-glorifying way, of course. And maybe you will be the catalyst that God uses to work in their life. Maybe. But in the end, it’s all on Him. But I guarantee you it will be because you built a solid relationship with that person, not because a six-year-old spouted off his death-to-life testimony to them once in a grocery store (in 59 seconds, of course) and gave them a tract.