Monday, March 07, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: First Impressions and Figuring it Out

It has been said, “We never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” While this statement is not always true or absolutely true, it is mostly true. We don’t eat at a restaurant a second time when we had a bad experience the first time, we don’t usually watch a television program a second time when we weren’t impressed with the first episode we saw, and we rarely give a church a second chance to get it right if our first experience didn’t meet our expectations. Like it or not; people do judge based on first impressions.

I have a testimony that I am ready, willing, and able to give each and every time I am asked why I believe what I believe. I expect the blogsphere to become an excellent medium for delivering and understanding personal testimonies. It is off to a good start and I plan to play a part. However, I no longer force my testimony on anyone who doesn’t ask, and I no longer feel obligated to ever share my testimony except on the rare occasion when I have an interested listener and I feel I have the right message to deliver. I trust the Holy Spirit to make such arrangements. Manipulation is no longer part of my repertoire no matter how good or how sacred the cause.

It doesn’t happen very often, but I do occasionally get asked about my faith by non-believers. However, I have never been asked by an evangelical to give my testimony as a non-believer, either before or after I crossed over from non-belief to belief. So to answer the challenge posed by blue fish, in this comment, I do have a testimony for non-believers, but I also have a strong testimony for evangelicals, if they would only care, hear, listen, and understand.

Evangelicals need to get over the arrogant and misguided belief that their individual life is attractive to non-believers. They also need to get over the false and misguided notion that their words are persuasive to non-believers. In most cases, my life is not attractive and my testimony is not persuasive to a non-believer and neither is anyone else’s. It is our relationship with God and our relationship with other believers that can be attractive when we occasionally get it right. However, when we start trying to convince others how great we are, we stop being attractive. Non-believers are smart enough to figure it out without us shoving our theology down their throat. When are we going to become smart enough to start figuring non-believers out?

For decades, we have developed and nurtured a Church culture that is always ready to tell others what to believe, when we should have been developing and nurturing a Church culture that is always ready to listen and welcome and only occasionally ready to tell. We need to quit believing non-believers are stupid and even more importantly, we need to stop treating non-believers like they are stupid. A little humility on our part will go a long way towards helping us to make a better first impression. After all, we spend way too much effort undoing bad first impressions because we never get a second chance to make a good first impression.


Hammertime said...

I am with you 100%...or at least close. I think the idea that we witness through our lifestyles is true, but misleading. We witness through our lifestyles in this: people are watching. If we are servants of Christ, they likely will figure that out early in the relationship. Then, they are watching, and when we act just like everyone else, they are not interested. However, I do not believe the converse to be true - that we can MAKE them interested through our lifestyle, so I am pretty sure that concurs with what you are saying.

I agree with the postulate that we fail miserably when we try to make ourselves or Christ look 'so great'. While I also agree that we should not manipulate, I think that our words can persuade...but only when those words are from the Holy Spirit, which will be given when the situation is right. I, too, believe that he presents the arrangements, and makes it clear to us.

My only contention, if you would call it one, is that I don't understand what you are alluding to when you say that 'non-believers are not stupid'. Of course not - but I think you have a specific (or general, even) scenario in mind that I am not quite grasping.

Thanks for pursuing this - I am growing from it, even if no one else is.

blue fish said...

David... thanks for responding.

I have to say that I agree whole-heartedly with almost everything you say in this post.

I have seen the negative effects of arrogant, pushy "Christians" trying to push their beliefs onto other people. I, personally, have been "witnessed" to by some of these people. It's actually a rather amusing (if sad) story.

I was sitting on a bench in the mall and a guy came up and started aggressively witnessing to me. I explained I was already a believer, in a Church, Sunday school teacher, etc. He didn't care and started in on a "sin-list" or something.

"Do you drink?" No
"Do drugs?" No
"Do you fornicate?" Do I what?
"Do you... you know..." Well, I'm married and have kids.... so I guess if you call that fornicating... well...
"Oh... no.... that's okay."About this time one of his buddies in the mall came over and started talking to him. He totally ignored me for about 30 seconds. Then he condescendingly said something like "Well.... you need to get right with God." and walked away with his buddy.

I was definitely left with a sour taste in my mouth and I'm pretty sure many people were left with a very poor impression of Christ and His followers.

But... this is an extreme example... (If I hadn't experienced it first hand I'd almost cetainly think it was an exaggeration of a bad stereotype) ...and it would certainly be unfair to look at the actions of these people and assume that all "evangelicals" treat people the same way.

I am particularly interested in any insights you may have as to how we, as a church, can reach out to our community and demonstrate this:

"It is our relationship with God and our relationship with other believers that can be attractive when we occasionally get it right."I realize that... as a contrarian... you tend to focus on the stuff we are doing wrong.... but I'd really appreciate hearing any positive outreach ideas you have.


Buz said...

I think that what your are really stumping for is not a change in the method of evangelism as a change in the hearts of those who evangelize.

I agree with every case that you cited. If you look at the biblical examples we are given, everyone of them started with the non-believers WANTING to hear what was said. Non-of it was "shove-it-down-your-throat" evangelism.

Jesus, fed, healed and came in as a "celebrity", and people wanted to hear him.

Paul went to towns and preached to anyone who would listen ... he didn't corner people.

The disciples were sent out at one point, and they healed and cast out demons ... then they preached and baptized.

Even on the day of Pentecost, the people came to hear the "drunks" babbling in different languages.

My words of wisdom are a treasure greater than gold. I will not multiply them so as to dilute their value, nor will I waste them on those who disdain them.

I try to live my life in such a way that it is different than those around me. I am a king and a prince among men. If those who see want to know what is different I will gladly tell them. Otherwise, I will not burden them with the truth.

If my life is not worth their note, then it is not the message of the Gospel which is unattractive, but me. And if my life is unattractive, then why should I expect others to care about my philosophy?

Beware of the philosophy of that thought ... anyone can live a "pretty" life when life is "pretty". It is when life gets ugly that a beautiful life stands out. And that is where people are attracted to someone's beliefs. When their own life gets ugly, and they need help, then they remember the one who had a beautiful life in the midst of ugliness.

The best ad for fire insurance is the guy who had his house rebuilt quickest after a fire. If you want others to ask you about your beliefs, then you must expect to go through the ugly parts of life, and while you are going through those parts, your life must still be filled with the joy and peace of God. THEN when other people go through the ugliness of life, they will remember your joy and peace, and THEN they will come to ask you about your God.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries people were not converting to Christianity because Christians were NOT thrown to the lions, but rather because in the midst of being thrown to the lions, they had the peace of God.