This article was originally published in the column “Ask a Chaplain” on the McGill Christians Blog. The McGill Christians Blog is a student-led initiative, overseen by an ecumencial editorial board and publishing student writing on their experiences of being Christian on campus.
This is my attempt to answer the question: How can I talk to my non-Christian friends/roommates about Jesus without scaring them off? I thought it might be a useful question for people other than students to consider as well.
That means that, most days, I ride the bus in a clerical collar. I go for lunch in a clerical collar. I pick up groceries in a clerical collar. I don’t have to talk to anyone about Jesus to scare them off – they’re scared already!
Many people are deeply uncomfortable talking about religion of any sort but Christianity has a particular burden to bear. We are required by our faith to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of all nations…but too often that requirement has been used to excuse oppression, coercion, and a position of self-righteous judgement. As a result, people are often wary of attempts to “talk about Jesus” and many Christians are hesitant to even try – I certainly am and it’s my job!
So what do we do? We can’t (well, shouldn’t) just pretend that Jesus doesn’t matter to us so how do we talk about him without scaring our friends off?
I think the first step is talk about ourselves and our values and passions. If Jesus is at the heart of who we are and what we do, then talking about Jesus becomes a natural part of talking about everything else. “Talking about Jesus” becomes sharing rather than teaching. In this way, we can talk about Jesus when we talk about our politics, our ethics, our relationships, our vocational choices, our struggles…you get the picture.
And I don’t just mean witnessing to Jesus through our actions (although that is also important) or our “Christian values”. I really do mean literally talking about Jesus in the context of those other conversations topics. Of course, if you do this all the time, you won’t scare people off – you’ll bore them off! But you don’t have to do it constantly. People will come to understand that your relationship with Jesus is transformative for you, providing you with strength and meaning and hope. I am prepared to guarantee that more theologically explicit conversations will follow quite naturally quite a lot of the time.
And genuine sharing involves being open to listening to the other person as well – what is at the heart of who they are and what they do? When we are respectful and interested in others, they are more likely to respectful and interested in us.
But this can’t just be a ploy. It has to be genuine. When we bear witness to Jesus, we stand in the place of Jesus. If we are perceived to be manipulative or pushy or judgemental or narrow-minded, then so is Jesus. And the Jesus I know and love is none of those things. Rather, he is creative and funny and brave and compassionate and welcoming and forgiving, always more interested in a relationship than in power or “success”. This is the Jesus we are called to talk about.
Finally, remember that the salvation of souls is not your responsibility. The Holy Spirit is the one who draws people to Jesus, not you. Your responsibility is simply to bear witness to who Jesus is in your life.