James Clear wrote, “In many circumstances, social connection is actually more helpful to your daily life than understanding the truth of a particular fact or idea… We don’t always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about… The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them, to integrate them into your tribe, to bring them into your circle. Now, they can change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially.”
Whether he intended so or not, his observations have profound implications for the Church. How often have we heard, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care”? And yet we often don’t practice what we preach. We think that people will be won to our point of view simply because we rehearse the facts with increasing frequency and volume. For some people, this seems to be their only purpose for using social media. (Those are the ones I hide from my Facebook feed.) It doesn’t matter if the subject is politics, education, abortion, or the gospel, we’ve forgotten that relationships trump truth almost every time.
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 12:37-40 ESV). He didn’t say, “Love God and preach the truth.” As important as the truth of God is, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20) is subordinate to loving others. Making disciples has to flow from a heart of love for others. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).
If we were to focus more effort on loving others well, more people might be drawn to believe what we believe. That’s not to say that we never state the truth, but that there’s rarely anything to be gained by hammering someone over the head with it. More hearts are changed by walking alongside others than by getting in their faces. Recently I was reading part of Jesus’ teaching, and it made a big difference when I imagined it not as a lecture, but as a friend drawing close and giving counsel to His friends. A lecture is either information that can be ignored or condemnation that puts us on the defensive. But loving counsel is something to be seriously considered and heeded.
Rosaria Butterfield has shared in her books and this video how it was “radically ordinary hospitality” from a Christian couple that led her to leave the LGBT community and become a Christian. “They didn’t see me as a project, but they saw me as a neighbor… It’s God who saves. It’s not about us being perfect, or our words being perfect. But show up, we must, in the lives of unbelievers… Hospitality, biblically speaking, takes strangers and makes them neighbors. It takes neighbors and makes them family of God.”
I think churches tend to overestimate their friendliness and underestimate the amount of time it takes to build strong relationships with people. If young adults truly felt loved and valued in their churches, they wouldn’t be nearly so quick to drift away. It really was different when the church was the center of the community and everyone knew their neighbors because they saw each other almost every day. Those relationships were a natural outgrowth of time spent together. Today we spend an hour together once or twice a week and think that is sufficient to build a strong community bond. We settle for “friending” people on Facebook rather than loving them as our neighbors, and then we wonder why no one wants to become a Christian or to join the church. Have they truly experienced the love of God through us? Have we offered them our very lives, or just the facts?
“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
© 2019 Dawn Rutan. Image copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.