These are the two things we need to start doing if we are going to understand people's stories.
I am preaching to those in the Church right now.
We must shut up and listen. Too often, we have all of the right answers in the Church. We know our theology and we throw it around like a game of hot potato. Whomever catches it (receives what we hear) ends up losing because we bombard them with getting "their act together". And our version of "getting our act together" can be very damaging to ourselves, others, and the Church.
We have a language problem in Christianity. We want to get everybody "saved" but the concept of getting saved has been distorted for centuries. Many of us equate salvation with someone crawling up to the altar after a 2 hour sermon is delivered. Sweating and our sins pulsating out of us, we accept Jesus. That is it. Done. End of story. Case closed.
That is not the end of the story. But that is what we have been telling folks for years. Just get up to the altar. Or these other examples:
----"Once you get baptized (infant or adult), you are done! You don't have to do anything else".
----"Just go to church weekly. Heaven is about good deeds. Just be nice to people on Earth and God will reward you in Heaven".
----"My church is perfect. We have free coffee!!! How can you not like it? Something must be wrong with you!"
Again, we have a language problem. When we approach people, we have these agendas for them. "Let's get you to church on Sunday.....your life is a damn mess. You need Jesusssssssss (in Southern Baptist preacher voice)." But what about their story?
Alot of people don't go to church and we have no clue why. We just assume they like sitting on their butts on Sundays and watching football previews from 9 am to noon and then football from noon until 11 PM on Sunday night. And we also assume that many folks are not spiritual or into "these sorts of things".
We don't know! Maybe people are burnt out from church as a kid. Church was mandatory with all rules, rigidness, boredom, and no Jesus. Maybe someone you know was abused by a powerful figure in their church at some point in their life. Or....people are just sick of those of us that go to church and act like it is a country club......without exhibiting any real life change in how we treat others.
Shut up. Listen.
Ask the tough questions. What do you believe? Have you gone to church and if so, how come you do not attend anymore? How could the church have a better conversation between those that attend church and those that do not? Let's start having these conversations and stop focusing on conversions. Because conversions (changed lives) happen over time but this is AFTER key conversations and AFTER people know that we care about their heart, story, and pain that they have experienced from the Church.