Disclaimer: This post does not directly relate to youth ministry. I also couldn’t come up with a title I liked, so that’s the best I could come up with. If those things don’t scare you away, read on…
Yesterday I was sitting in Starbucks with my good friend Kyle. We were going through some stuff we wanted to discuss with our junior high small group, when a guy that had been sitting across the room came over. He said to me, “I saw your sweatshirt [that says Biola University] and thought you might want to check this out,” as he leaves a card on the table. On the front of the card is a website that is very clearly anti-Christian based on the title and the picture of a cross with a big X through it.
I went to the site and wasn’t surprised to find page after page of essays written by this guy, claiming that “the god of the Bible does not exist.” Rather than send him a seething email like many of the Christians that had visited the site before me, here’s the email I sent him:
Hi [name omitted],
I’m assuming you are the person that dropped a card off at my table at Starbucks in Lake Forest earlier today. I was the guy in the black Biola sweatshirt. If that was you, I admire your dedication to a cause, whether I agree with your beliefs or not. Your dedication to anti-”fundamentalist Bible-believing Christians” is evident by the fact that you went out of your way to promote your website to someone who very clearly believes the opposite things you do.
To give a little background, I do go to Biola University. Not only do I go to Biola, I’m a Biblical and Theological Studies major, which means I study the Bible in all the classes I take there. I’m pursuing a degree which will then lead to attending seminary, in hopes of obtaining a Masters in Divinity. From there I hope to go on to be a pastor, probably to junior high or high school students. I’m on staff at a church in the area, which, judging from some of the essays you wrote, you would be familiar with. I spend a significant chunk of time every week ministering to and mentoring junior high students.
Unfortunately, for the sake of argument, this point in the semester is midterm-time, which leaves me lacking free time. That being said, I didn’t want our brief encounter today to go un-responded to. Had I more time, I would love to read all of your articles and find out what drew you to the conclusion you’re promoting. I don’t intend to attack you or even argue with you at this time.
What I do want to accomplish with this email is apologize. I’ve been around the church long enough to know that typically when someone radically changes their view in light of Christianity and the Bible, the church itself is usually to blame. If someone in some church somewhere did something to turn you away, I apologize. The fact is that even people inside the church are very, very broken. We are consumed by sin that separates us from God and we fall according to the temptations we face. Many people don’t immediately recognize the results of their actions, and unfortunately it can turn people away from the church, and ultimately God himself. If something like this happened in your life after 20 years in the church, I am deeply sorry and my heart breaks for you.
I hear many Christians-turned-Atheists say that it’s not Christ that they don’t like, it’s the Christians who represent him. I can understand and empathize with that statement. Christians don’t always do things that accurately represent who we’re called to emulate: Jesus.
Feel free to respond to this email, but I’m not expecting anything back. If you do respond, please know that I am chest-deep in school work right now and probably won’t be able to reply right away. I understand that by sending this to you, it becomes your property to be displayed on the site, but I would ask that you respect me as I respect you and keep this between us.
I pray that somehow you will find your way to the truth from God, not from the flawed modern church.
My first inclination when I saw the site was to respond in anger. Then I thought, “I’m a Biblical Studies major… I could destroy his biblical arguments!” Instead I thought it would be a better idea to surprise him. Maybe let him see a side of Christianity that he hadn’t seen before.
Then I thought about my junior high students. They’re going to be faced with challenges like these all the time: What do I do when I’m faced with a view different from my own? What’s the best way to handle it? The simple answer to those questions is to respond in love. Yes, it’s necessary to respond at some point with the truth, but shock them with the love of Christ first. Hey, look at that… I guess this did end up relating to youth ministry!