Are we able to have a conversation with someone outside of our “group”?

“This splintering and polarization of American culture has made it more difficult than ever to have a good conversation, especially about faith,” says David Kinnaman (President of the Barna Group).

I recently read the article quoted from above, and just had to write a post about it. Barna is a research powerhouse, and one of their recent studies found that evangelical Christians “have a particularly difficult time talking to those outside their group.” In fact, the research found that 9 in 10 (87%) would find it difficult to have a natural or normal conversation with someone from the LGBT community, while only 6 in 10 (58%) from the LGBT community felt the same way toward having a natural or normal conversation with someone from the evangelical community.

Reading this, it struck a chord in my heart. Jesus consistently, often, controversially spent much time with people outside of his “group.” He spent so much time with people outside the religious community that the religious community questioned him on the topic:

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” – Matthew 9:10-11 ESV

The Pharisees, the religious elite, could not understand why Jesus went outside of his “group” and hung out with them, ate with them, valued them and cared about them. Jesus had no difficulty having natural and normal conversations with people very different than Himself, and actually people outside of His group wanted to be in His group because of the way He treated them. He was contagious to be around. Why aren’t followers of Christ today contagious to be around? There are certainly many reasons, including because we believe and state emphatically that Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

However, I think one of the biggest reasons Christians are not contagious to be around is because we can be harsh. We can be off-putting and sometimes just downright mean. Truth without grace and love can simply be mean. We must balance truth with grace and love. We must extend love. We must allow people to belong before they believe. We must allow them to be in our community before the Holy Spirit convicts and they are converted from their old life of sin and death to a new life of freedom and life.

This post can by no means deal with all of the varying viewpoints and all the theological, social, political, and relational intricacies of what it means to love the lost, but it is something we must do. We cannot hold the world to the behavioral standards of a Christ-follower because they are not Christ-followers. The only way to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) is to go into the brokenness, go into the lostness, with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Loving the world so much that we can’t help but proclaim with love and compassion the necessity of repentance of sin and belief in Jesus Christ, while at the same time journeying with them as they work to figure this out and understand the implications of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let’s be the light and the salt, not the judgment. Let’s bring Christ with us wherever we go, living out our faith and changing the world around us as we are known for Who we are for rather than what we are against.

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