REACHING THE ATHEIST IN AN URBAN SETTING
Is there a reason to stay in relationship with people if they don’t, or won’t, think like you? Is it a waste of time? Are we “casting the pearl before the swine?”
We don’t continue to serve people through relationship to convert them; we continue to serve people through relationship with them because we are converted. The average city dweller is likely to believe something about spirituality, politics, sexuality, and any other controversial topic. If you are a Christ follower, it gets even more complicated. Now, where there are differences in beliefs, there is a never ending, relentless ulterior motive- save the lost! Unfortunately, this has been translated into “get them to think like me.” And as long as believing what we believe means a person is saved, then we will never see a lasting bridge built from the heart of the Christian to the atheist. Reaching the atheist in the urban setting does not mean the radical left become more conservative, the gay become straight, or the doubts and questions go away. The atheist and the Christian will continue to live separate lives as long as we think in these terms. The key, I believe, is understanding what the ultimate goal is, and never making the ultimate goal our ulterior motive.
We mix those two up all the time.
Education and experience have converged for me in a very unique way. I currently pastor The Doubters Church- a faith community set on a mission to help people bring their uncertainties to an Unchanging God. I believe the greatest way to put faith into practice is by committing in the face of uncertainty. It is the essence of covenantal relationship. And in my line of work (more fun than work) I have many friends who identify as atheists. None of them have a plot to kill God. In fact, it is safe to assume that most of them, at one time or another, heard the gospel and believed it. Our job is not to befriend someone with ulterior motives of saving them when we do not really like them. Doing that will only continue to mar the beauty of God in the face of Jesus. If that’s your approach, I kindly ask you to stop all attempts for God’s sake (seriously!). In the New Testament, we are commanded to love people- period. That means to follow Jesus is to love atheists, agnostics, and all other urban folks who don’t think like you, without any ulterior motives.
Ulterior means something is intentionally kept concealed. An ulterior motive is usually manipulative. It’s when we do or say one thing out in the open but intend or mean another thing in private. I believe genuine love and servant mindedness cannot exist with ulterior motives. Ultimate means the farthest point of a journey. An ultimate goal is an eventual point or a longed-for destination. One of my friends who identified as an atheist walked into our prayer room, which had hundreds of names written on butcher paper. Names of people we are praying for in our community. He saw his name close to the top and asked, “why is my name on this list?” Good question! I told him, “We pray for you every week. We hope one day you love Jesus.” It wasn’t the first time he had heard me say that to him. It wasn’t hidden. I hope his (and other’s) end destination in life is with God. Regardless, I will journey with them until the journey ends.
I believe loving and serving those who think different than you is worth it. It is worth building a bridge from our hearts to theirs. Jesus needs a bridge to walk across if he is going to knock on the door of someone’s heart. But our job is to construct, and protect, that bridge. May God grant you the authenticity it takes to love someone without ulterior motives. To serve them because they have intrinsic worth. And to use the type of language that Jesus used. Welcoming language that invited the prodigal home without any sense of the Father needing to prove his rightness of belief.
Preston Ulmer is a guest blogger for FiveTwo and Lead Pastor/Founder of The Doubters Church. The Doubter’s Church is a faith community that encourages people to wrestle with God, to not be afraid of questions, and to act faithfully in the face of uncertainty. Find out more by visiting www.thedoubterschurch.com.
BY PRESTON ULMER, LEAD PASTOR/FOUNDER OF THE DOUBTERS CHURCH.
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