"Connect With People" An Excerpt from UnChristian

We have no record of anything Jesus wrote. He created no organizations. He eschewed political power, even though people expected him to embrace this form of influence. Instead, Jesus laid the foundation for the church through relationships. His influence was {and is} indelible because he changed people. His focus was on reconciling human beings to a holy God through his sacrifice. It’s interesting that Jesus frequently referred to God in relational terms. emphasizing the Creator of the universe as a heavenly Father. And one of the few “traditions” Jesus left with us is communion, which began in the context of a meal Jesus shared with his closest friends. Relationships mattered to Jesus.

When it comes to our interaction with outsiders, we have to realize that our relationships, our interactions with people, comprise the picture of Jesus that people retain. God has wired human beings so that spiritual influence occurs most commonly through relationships. One of the clear implications of our research is that the negative image of Christians can be overcome, and this almost always happens in the context of meaningful, trusting relationships. The goal of overcoming their negative baggage is not just to make outsiders think pleasant things about us, but to point them to life in Christ. We do not need to exaggerate or hype faith; we embrace and describe all the potency, depth, complexity, and realism of following Christ.

It is encouraging that our research uncovered scenarios in which outsiders’ experiences with Christians helped to reshape their perspectives about God and about Jesus. Rather than being unChristian, the Christ follower no longer seemed judgmental, offensive, or insincere. Meeting such Christians made outsiders believe that becoming a Christ follower might actually have merit. For a few moments they discovered that Christians think, love, and listen.

The caveat here is that such interactions were rare. It was also uncommon for an outsider to have a complete 180-degree change of heart as a result of a handful of experiences, although we do not know how his or her life will unfold in the years to come …. The important think is that these outsiders admitted their experience with a Christ follower had activated something in them. It left them more open, hungrier, and more willing to dialogue. And they were less hostile toward Christianity as a result. Because they felt as though Christians had listened and cared about them, they were less likely to reject Jesus.

Again, let me point out that it is not up to us to “fix” everyone’s ideas about Jesus. Even with the best of intentions, even when we live in a Christlike way, it is still possible to be misunderstood ….

Yet this does not give us an excuse. We are responsible for faithfully representing Christ within the natural network of our relationships ….

It is also important to remember that Jesus said we would be known by our love for fellow believers. The reality is that if we do not demonstrate loving relationships within the church, it does not matter how much we display Jesus to outsiders. Many outsiders specifically articulated that they think Christians “eat their own.” They pointed out that they see us critiquing each other, raising money to rally the troops against other believers, and acting in ways that they deem unChristian. Our witness will continue to erode if we cannot embrace fellow Christ followers. Relationships within the Christian community should be beacons of grace and acceptance, of biblical accountability within the context of love and relationship, of unity without blind conformity, of transparency, and of mutual support.

As it was for Jesus, our most important influence comes in the midst of our everyday relationships. Spiritual depth develops slowly, one life at a time. Living life together, learning to become the people Christ intended, being real about our faults – and our continual need for Jesus’ grace – are powerful antidotes to unChristian faith among a new generation.

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