I have been in a lot of debates with both Christians and Atheists alike. One thing that I realized as a result of all those talks is that it involves a lot of responsibility on my side of it. I am the only one who can control whether I get angry or impatient, or whether I start allowing my views to become a platform from which I judge those that I am speaking with, something that we must be extremely cautious not to do. Especially in talks with those who are not Christians I have learned that I am not there, typically, to tell them that I believe that they are wrong. I am there to listen to what they have to say and to have the love and respect for them to let them speak what is on their minds and hearts. Even just being patient enough to not interrupt someone, no matter how much you may disagree with them, is sometimes such a powerful witness that we can not even imagine it.
I remember one such discussion that I was having with a group of mixed believers and non-believers, mostly non-believers, and the conversation took its course but the one thing that I remember so vividly from that talk is what was said at the end. One of the people in the group, who was a non-believer, said that he may not agree with all that I had said, but the patience I had demonstrated and my not getting frustrated or heated in my speaking, had made an impression on him. I do not say that to demonstrate how great I am at talking to people, I was and am still very much an amateur when it comes to such things. But I believe that what he said was meant especially for me, it led me to a revelation that I have always kept in my heart. I am not here to change hearts, I am here to plant seeds, it is God who changes hearts and causes people to grow to see Him.
In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 Paul tells us this, " What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building."
Yes, we need to be patient and loving, we need to be good listeners, we need to demonstrate God’s love in what we say and what we do. However, one of the biggest things that I believe we need to do is step back and take a breath before we speak with anyone, we need to pray for the strength to realize that we are not there to convert someone. While I will be beside myself with excitement if anyone ever stops me during a talk to ask me to pray with them for salvation, I realize that it all starts with demonstrating the changed heart and mind that we are told to embrace. I am there to plant a seed, it may be up to someone else to water it, but it is most certainly up to God to give the growth.
I think that many churches get so locked in on thinking that they have to go out and change people. The fact of it is, we control the change of one person alone, ourselves. Then we become caretakers of the field. We must go out and prepare the ground, we must plant the seed, and water it for growth, but then we must step back and let the master of the field do His work to cause those seeds to grow. Trying to force people into belief will never work. It will only drive them further from ever believing. But if we trust in the Lord and use the gifts that He has given us to reach out and listen to those around us, we will plant many seeds that He can grow in their hearts.