Transcript: Welcome back to another episode of A Clear Lens podcast, my name is Nate Sala and you’re listening to “Day by Day” by Citizens. For more excellent music from this awesome band, go to wearecitizens.net. I was having a conversation a couple of days ago with Will Sipling, who is a colleague and a behind the scenes member of our ministry. Will has a background in psychology and is very wise, very astute.
By the way, just as an aside, it’s always good to have a couple people in your life that are smarter than you, ok? Keep those folks around you so that you can toss the ball back on forth on some concepts and ideas and be intellectually challenged in the process. Why? Because it trains your brain. I remember hearing JP Moreland speak on this a while back. I think the context was more in line with teaching. But he used to say: When you teach to a student aim a little bit over their head; because the exercise of trying to reach up and grasp a concept that is directly over your head is good for your mind. It strengthens it and makes you a better thinker.
Well, that’s what I was doing with Will. And in the conversation he reminded me of something vitally important as it pertains to our ministry. So I thought I’d share that with you now because I think this is vitally important for your ministry as well!
The takeaway from that conversation is this: Relationship is not less important than conversion. I think this is a caution to all of us to make sure that we properly understand what exactly we’re doing here when we enter the fray, so to speak, and engage people for Christ! Now, what I just said there, while relatively simple, is also a little nuanced. So let me give you some more thoughts to unpack this a bit better.
How many of you have had someone in your life that always wanted to come around when you had something they wanted. You know the type of person I’m talking about? They’d call you up and want to hang out, maybe because you had a car and they didn’t, or maybe because they wanted to hang around your friends, or maybe hanging out with you was a way of avoiding something in their life, or maybe you just made them feel good, because whenever they’d talk about themselves you would give them a good ear and encourage them and make them feel better about themselves. But the minute that you wanted something, the minute that you asked for something in return from them, they were nowhere to be found. That’s because this person had crafted a relationship with you out of utility. In other words, they tried to get close to you not because of you but because of an ulterior motive, because of what you could give them.
Aristotle wrote some profound thoughts on friendship and overall relationships in his book Nicomachean Ethics. In it he said two things that I think are worth remembering: 1) Those who are friends with you for the sake of utility will dump you as soon as the advantage they receive comes to an end. That’s because they did not love you, they only loved what they profited from you. 2) A lasting friendship is one where both people value each other because of each other, not for any other ulterior motive.
Now, let me say again what the big idea here is: Relationship is not less important than conversion. So how does this relate to apologetics? Well, if you’ve listened to the show in the past or visited the website then you know that we’ve been saying you should begin your evangelistic or apologetic efforts with relationship. This is something that, unfortunately, is not the central focus of other ministries! Ministries by the way that we love and appreciate! But the bottom line is: You should always begin in relationship with others in order to develop trust so that people will confer upon you the authority to speak into their lives.
Here’s the danger in thinking along these terms if we’re not being careful. We may develop relationships purely to evangelize or purely to provide an apologetic for Christianity. In other words, you may tell someone, “Hey I’d love to get coffee with you and spend time with you.” But if you hang out a few times and you realize it’s not really going anywhere, you bail out! If that happens then you’ve only entered the relationship purely for utilitarian purposes. Purely to use the person as a means to conversion.
Be very careful here! People are valuable souls. And they should be treated as valuable souls. If we enter into relationships with the overarching goal of converting someone, then we have devalued human beings from the valuable souls they truly are. Let me say this again: We don’t treat valuable souls as a commodity or a means to an end. We treat them as they are.
By the way, doesn’t this seem to be a huge problem in today’s culture? Whether it’s through social media, or advertising, or Hollywood movies, we tend to reduce people down from their status as valuable souls to objects that can be used for a specific end. I think pornography is a perfect example of this!
So we need to swim upstream from our culture when we as Christians treat people as the valuable souls they are! In some sense I think you all know this… but where we often forget to apply this truth is in the area of apologetics or evangelism. That is, we learn a script or memorize some arguments that we heard Frank Turek or William Lane Craig say, and then we just jump into conversations with people purely to change their minds! As if all we had to do is say certain words in a specific order and magic will happen! That’s not how this works friends! That’s not how people change their minds and that’s not how we should enter into relationships!
Now, our ministry seeks to begin on better footing but our First Date Evangelism approach is not immune to the problem I’ve been describing! We really have to begin with the proper heart condition and mental attitude. Here’s how you know the difference between hanging out with someone in order to convert them and hanging out with someone because they’re a valuable soul. What will you do when that person rejects your message about Christ? Will you bail out of the relationship or will you maintain the relationship?
See friends, relationship is not less important than conversion. As a matter of fact, in chronological order, relationship comes before conversion! And if you’re doing this right: relationship remains after conversion. As a matter of fact, relationship should remain even if there is no conversion! Don’t get me wrong folks. I’m not saying that we just hang out with people for no reason. I’m saying that people should be valued as people, whether they do what we want them to do (and become Christian like us) or not! This is the true Christian ethic and it should be our attitude whenever we engage others for Christ.