Have you ever known anyone who’s very judgmental? They criticize everything you have and everything you do. Maybe they think you’re a disappointment, settling when you could have something better – a better job, a better house, a better relationship. And nothing you do seems to be good enough.
Do you like talking to such people? Are you going to open up and be vulnerable? Probably not. The problem is that’s how many non-believers see Christians.
When people without faith think of Christianity, often they don’t think of Jesus himself, His sacrifice, or His promise of salvation and a relationship with God. They think of the Christians they have known, or know of, who think what they’re doing is wrong.
There’s an Incubus song called “Favorite Things” in which singer Brandon Boyd talks about how Christians have tried to reach and convert him but he’s not interested. Why not? He sums that up in the chorus: “Too bad the things that make you mad are my favorite things.” To him, and to many non-believers, Christians are like the Fun Police, telling people they shouldn’t do the things (sins) that they like.
Listening without judgment
A recent Barna Group study asked non-Christians about their willingness to talk about faith with a Christian. The number-one quality that they look for is someone who “listens without judgment.” However, only 34% of those surveyed say they personally know a Christian who shows that quality.
Clearly, we as Christians need to do a better job of listening without judgment. That doesn’t mean to ignore sin or act like a sinful lifestyle is okay. It doesn’t mean that we don’t think a life with God would be better for them. But it does mean being able to listen with empathy. If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to judge someone who doesn’t know God for behaving as though they don’t know God anyway, does it?
As you are having conversations on social media, texting your friends, or having Zoom calls to catch up, how can you practice listening without judgment? If there is someone in your life who God has put on your heart, try listening to them. Don’t just start a conversation to make a point or just as an ice-breaker to share the Gospel. Really listen. Listen to what they’re going through, what they think, what they believe. If you show you can listen without judgment, you may be given an opportunity to have a faith conversation. But first you have to show that you’re a safe person for such a conversation.
How to listen well
How can you do this well?
You can use the interview technique. Recently, we wrote about an experiment conducted by Tyler Ellis, Director of Let’s Talk Story, where he interviewed people and asked about their beliefs without sharing his own. The experiments gave Tyler key insights and helped him form friendships that provided the foundation for him to eventually share his own beliefs.
Or you can take the advice of Liam Savage, Indigitous Partnerships Lead, and be a friend for Jesus. “A lot of times it can come across as intimidating, as if we’re wanting you to do something outside your comfort zone,” Liam says of discipleship. “It’s really more about making friends and being a part of people’s lives and when the opportunity presents itself, being ready to share your faith.” If you focus on being a good friend who listens without judgement, you will have greater opportunities for faith conversations.