I normally go to play in the early mornings before getting to work on the church plant, so when I got to the courts, there were several players I haven’t met before. I paired up with two players – a guy and a woman, both in their 30s – and we played a few games of cutthroat (3-player game). When we finished playing, I struck up some conversation. We began to ask about each other’s lives. She’s from out of state. He works for the local news. And me? Well, when they asked what I did, the entire conversation took a turn.
The next 20 minutes was tough to hear, as each of them shared with me how much they dislike the Church, how much they have been hurt by pastors, church leaders, and Christians. Interestingly, they both said they are Christians. But they insisted they are both very “spiritual,” just not church goers, because church holds no significance in their spiritual lives.
It would be very easy to get defensive hearing these words. After all, I love the Church! Somehow I don’t relate to a lot of the baggage many people have when it comes to church leaders and what the church is supposed to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have seen the ugliness. I even watched as a kid when my dad was voted out of our church and lost his job. But somehow in all the mess, I learned early on that those weren’t just the people in the Church, but they were the people who needed to be reach, too.
So when I hear from people who are being vulnerable and transparent, and at the same time a little offensive, I only have one way to react if I’m ever going to have a shot at earning the right to be heard: Listen.
Over the next several minutes, these two people continued to open up to me, to the point that one of them began to tear up as she told of some of her past hurts. “I just don’t understand how a pastor can tell me I’m going to hell just because I disagree with how he interprets the Bible. I mean, I might be wrong, but what if he’s the one wrong? Does that mean that I get to go to heaven and he goes to hell? That just doesn’t make sense.”
Or as he talked about his search for a church. “I’m tired of going to churches that put on a rock show but don’t seem to have any substance after that. I want a religious experience, and I want people to be real. I don’t have any time for fake people. I’ve had enough of that already.”
How do we respond to comments like these? I realize that several of their assumptions might be flawed. They might even be dead wrong on some of their points. But the way they feel can’t be argued with, because it has been their experiences whether I like it or not. I can’t change that, and I can’t just beat them down with an awesome argument and cause them to believe what I believe.
Maybe if I continue to listen, then they’ll be interested in hearing a different perspective. I just doubt it’s ever going to happen until they know I care enough to not argue… until I care enough to just sit down and listen.