Have you ever found yourself as the only believer in a group of unbelievers? I have and have not known how to be an influence for God in that situation. Any ideas or experiences you’ve had that can help?
Hi Barbara: I have been in that situation. It’s uncomfortable, but I think in a good way. As it forces me to be creative and ask “How am I going to connect here with this group God has given me?”
I think listening first. Then finding what you have in common. Remembering the human experience is common to us all. Love, loss, hope for a better tomorrow.
Even a small item to connect on can be a starting point. I say nothing is too small for God to use.
I have gal I met on the plane to LA, she was a hard left atheist, gay, liberal, I a southern gal who believed in Jesus and was straight. We have now been friends on FB for several years now, and she is a cherished friend. I am always amazed at how much we have in common.
But that took a moment.
Thank you for your response Kim! That was helpful. I’m not really the creative type who can think of things easily, especially in a tense situation. But God is VERY CREATIVE, so remembering that He has me in that group should help.
I’m inspired by your plane to LA story!
@blschumann7 Great question. Both my work and my school settings are largely with unbelievers. There is a lot of cursing and other speech that I take no delight in whatsoever. Yet, they will occasionally ask me a question about God or try to engage with me on spiritual matters to see what they think of my views. They tend to do this in one on one or small group situations rather than in a large group, where they would likely be too socially inhibited by the opinions of their peers. Here is some general advice that I thought was helpful.
May the Lord grant you courage, wisdom and peace as you live out your faith in a difficult context!
Be a Living Letter
Paul talks about being a living letter - our lives our a letter from God other people can read. And I believe the below article makes some great points about being a living letter among unbelievers. We need to discern their attitude towards our faith, keep our expectations realistic and always lead by example. If they see us live out our lives consistently then at least they will know there are Christians who truly seek to live out their faith (even if we aren’t perfect).
2 Corinthians 3:2-3 - “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
- lead by example
- discern your battles
- discern their attitude (interested, benevolent, hostile)
- expect disappointment, but always hope
- share your experiences
Avoid Being Labeled a Warship
This article discusses the idea of submarines and warships. It compares unbelievers to submarines who may mentally submerge under the water and stop actively listening to us when they detect certain behaviors that act to them as red flags or warning signs. They mark us as a battleship to be avoided rather than someone to be engaged and embraced. The article essentially says to meet them where they are at and engage with them as a whole person and not simply as an unbeliever, but it gives many more details.
Hey @blschumann7!! Wow, that circumstance is pretty much my every day context. I’m a young, Black, Christian man…living in Brooklyn, New York City as an artist and full-time actor. I also serve as a youth minister at my local fellowship along with the occasional speaking engagement at various venues (secular and Christian) where I’m primarily asked to speak or give commentary on various social and religious issues, mainly from a Christocentric worldview. In my occupation, my colleagues range anywhere from being antagonistic toward Christianity - both passively AND aggressively, apathetic to spiritual things, gay and “Christian”, gay/straight and “spiritual” , culturally and/or socially opposed Christianity, nominally or culturally Christian and all places in between. So…I literally walk out of my door into a context that quite isolating, spiritually speaking.
However, in my experience, I’ve found that while knowing how to clearly articulate your faith claims and worldview are EXTREMELY important, LOVE is an underrated often superficialized tool for wooing people not just to the message of Christ (the gospel) but even to simple conversation about spiritual things. Now I should qualify this. Unfortunately – at least, in the west – “love” has been co-opted, abused, trivialized and mis-defined by many. When I say “love”, I do NOT mean the frilly, sentimental love-songy love that gets peddled in some of our favorite music. Not the inconsistent, emotional, superficial stuff that shows up in our movies, tv shows and other media that calls wrong right, right wrong and coddles sin. What I mean when I speak about “love” is the clear and sober choice to truly put someones needs before your own. Like in marriage, it is the promise not to always feel loving but rather to BE loving, faithful, tender, and compassionate no matter how we feel at the time. To love and consider someone before yourself regardless whether its reciprocated and especially if they haven’t done anything to earn it; they don’t deserve it. I’m referring to love that, like Christ, acknowledges the depravity yet looks beyond it for the purpose of bringing Truth and Life. To borrow from Matt Chandler: “to see the ugly parts of a person, and choose to stay.” THAT sort of Love is truly uncommon and is attracting in and of itself. It is rare in consistent practice and automatically stands out and sets you apart without you having to announce your position on anything. That love earns you an audience and the right to speak into their lives. I know it sounds incredibly corny and cliche, but…give love a chance.
Bless your heart that is longing to reach out to others. This article has been helpful in my own life because of its reminder to get to know the questioner fully, rather than simply the question. Psalm 40 is an encouragement to me when I feel overwhelmed amidst people who haven’t yet accepted the value of the Gospel. One area I struggle with is allowing nonbelievers to see my weaknesses. Past experience tells me it can end painfully, yet Psalm 40 suggests when done in a way that reflects glory to God’s redemption, it can cause nonbelievers to hunger (although even then not all will believe). Many small moments of defeat happen in the day, and they can be simple moments to put names to more neutral concepts like grace and forgiveness when discussing the going-ons of the day with nonbelievers.
If those conversations lead nonbelievers to ponder and question, it may be helpful to ask questions that draw out cause them to ponder their beliefs. Sometimes, simply asking the question, “If I told you a God existed that was loving, forgiving, and omnipotent, would you want it to exist?” can help you learn more about a person’s motives in their beliefs. (Wish I could remember where I read that a few weeks ago to share it here, :C.) If a person seems especially against Christianity, sometimes reframing the conversation can be helpful. I was in an online conversation, which is always touchy. The person mentioned their family was Christian, but they were atheist. I found it helpful to set common ground in that Christians also are called to pursue Truth with such devotion and that if I was in a position where I was called to forsake what I knew in this world for Truth, I prayed I would have the courage to. This showed I had seriously considered my beliefs and that I was meeting the person where they were on common ground, and a meaningful chat followed. Sometimes when folks are hurting amidst life struggles, simply describing their greater value of being made in the image of God can be helpful. Every conversation is different, though. Maybe these ideas will help your imagination churn to be ready for your own context.
Outside of being ready for conversation, though, how are you doing as a person? It can be discouraging to swim upstream. Do you have a strong group of believers cheering you on? Personally, I have found that here, and the more I read the more God opens my eyes for conversations. How can we be praying for you specifically?
Thank you Warner, for your very thoughtful response. I am thankful to know that you’re living for Christ in Brooklyn, NY and reaching out in love to those around you in order to bring them Truth and Life. I appreciate your helpful answer and the definition of the kind of love people really need.
WarnerMiller: Love Brooklyn Tabernacle. NYC is where I came to Christ! Love NYC!
Very interesting article, Brittany. Thank you for sending the link and thank you for your response.
My question is prompted by the possibility of being with some relatives, none of whom are believers. I have been in this situation before and just felt like an onlooker to their conversation. I asked them questions which they answered, but I couldn’t figure out how to bring the questions around to the ultimate issue of life. I think I do better in one on one conversations, but with a group, maybe I feel intimidated.
I am doing fine, Brittany. Thank you for your concern! I do have a strong group of believers cheering me on.
Thank you so much for your response, Sean! I may be visiting relatives soon and have been with a similar group of unbelieving relatives before. I asked them many questions about their lives and hoped they would ask me a question or two, but they never did, not even about my daughter who works as a missionary in the Middle East. I don’t want a repeat of that time where I felt like an observer rather than a witness for my Lord. The articles you linked were helpful, especially the second one.
@blschumann7 Glad it was helpful! May the Lord open doors for them to see Christ in you as you interact with them. Don’t be discouraged! The Lord is always at work when we honor Him, even if we are unaware.
Barbara, I’ve said this in Connect before but a few years back, during the summers I would go door-to-door in my community talking about Jesus because I felt if He was my treasure, why was I just sitting on my hands? The thought every week, would bring trepidation but literally each week, I would praise God for such wonderful discussions and how faithful He was to me. That time has always encouraged me to be a bit bolder.
When I listen to lectures, like I listened to one by Abdu Murray last night, I’m amazed what they come up with to say when either asked a question or they make a really wise comment. I always think, “I never would have thought of that!” Yet, when you speak, it’s the Holy Spirit that we need to depend on and not my studying per se. You will be given what to say when you need it. There is no pressure on you whatsoever because it is the Lord that is the light in you and your wisdom. To even say that you don’t know the answer can project an integrity from you to them. So Barbara, many of us gulp hard in those situations but the Lord is the Truth and not us. We are just the vessel that He uses.
Kim, my wife and I are headed out to see our grandson at West Point in the fall. I said that we should “zip” up to NYC as I would love to go to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. I’ve read just about every book by Jim Cymbala and our Sunday School class just did a series by him regarding prayer. What I look forward to doing there would go on, I believe it was Tuesdays or Thursdays to the prayer meetings. I love his emphasis on prayer and the testimony of the church getting behind him in reference to his wayward daughter that showed up after the church prayed. In fact, as you know all too well, it was prayer that changed the church from a dying ember to a glowing fire.
@blschumann7, this is a tough situation, and please know I’m lifting you up in prayer. I have not had this experience, but I am sure it can be discouraging. However, amongst my non believing friends, I found Abdu Murray’s book Saving Truth helpful. It’s the first book I’ve read relating to apologetics, so I don’t know if there is one more applicable to your specific situation. However, if you are seeking to find how Christianity applies to everyday life topics, I found it extremely helpful. It really helped me see how Christianity is still relevant in cultural contexts/life.
In one of his talks, Murray discussed how he makes mistakes but the Holy Spirit doesn’t. I really hope that helps you find peace. Luke 19:40 is along those lines, too. Sometimes, we’re just called to water, although our hearts yearn for more. Praying for both you and your daughter!!
Thank you Tim. I so admire your courage and boldness! I would love to get my nervousness out of the way and let the Holy Spirit have His way.
Yes Atlanta bags forgotten about that- the pastor has such a great story:
Great article. It helped me see myself/my responses - better. It showed, how I had missed recognising-accepting, people as people first- and trying to establish genuine friendship based relationships. Asking questions to keep conversation and relationship afloat, is not an area of strength for me, so I really appreciated the “how to” info. Thanks again, God bless.
Thank you Brittany. I will definitely look in to getting Abdu Murray’s book!
As an update to this, I have not yet had the visit with a host of unbelieving relatives that prompted the original question. I did however, have a long talk my great nephew this morning at the breakfast table. (Until yesterday afternoon, I didn’t even know their family was going to be here, let alone that I would be able to have this discussion.) My great nephew believes that he has grown past Christianity into higher ways of thinking, mostly Buddhism. Through what several people have written here and what I learned in the Core Module, I was able to have a good and long talk with this young man. I tried to listen well and understand where he was coming from, then probe with some questions and challenge some of his assertions. In the end, I was able to share about the uniqueness of Christianity, the irrefutable facts of Jesus’ life, miracles, death, and Resurrection. Since D. said he just wanted to know the truth, I ended our discussion by challenging him to read the Gospel of John and pray for God to show him if Jesus was the answer. I also suggested he write out everything Jesus said about Himself ( in order to refute D.'s claim that Jesus was just a prophet like many others). Before leaving, D. told his mom about this challenge and said he was going to do it. I pray that he will and that he will be an honest seeker as he reads.