“I gotta get going!”
Anthony* tossed the phrase into the discussion with a shrug and a backwards step. Then he bolted out of sight around the corner without so much as a wave.
He did not return.
A familiar sense of frustration crept in as I watched Anthony disappear… I recalled my teenage years when riding horses in some very rugged terrain. Once while cantering along a mountain trail, my horse suddenly froze, then bolted off course leaving me in a dazed, bruised heap on the ground. I lifted my head just in time to catch a glimpse of the steed galloping over a distant hill, its saddle empty and the stirrups flapping. I had assumed the trail was clear of obstacles, but apparently my mount thought otherwise.
A similar scenario happened with Anthony.
I was invited, along with several others, to a friend’s home for a weekend get-together. Anthony was among the group that assembled. I met Anthony earlier that same morning and quickly determined he was not from a “churched” family. He and I were sipping iced tea while visiting when Dave joined us.
Somehow the conversation turned to a spiritual topic. Immediately, as a Christian “ready to give an answer,” Dave seized the opportunity and moved quickly towards presenting the Gospel. His lofty motive, of course, was that our new friend might be saved. But Anthony bolted before Dave could finish. And, like my spooked horse, we were both left bewildered and wondering when (or if!) we might catch up with him again.
So what went wrong? What sent Anthony “galloping over the hill” as it were?
Some believers would say, “It just wasn’t his time for salvation.” Others might state, “The important thing is that you at least tried to witness… just leave the results up to God.” Or, “He rejected Jesus, not you, so don’t feel bad.” I’ve also heard, “Great job! You planted seeds that will someday grow…”
Each of these well-intended comments does hold a kernel of truth, but they all miss something extremely important. There is an aspect of communication we cannot ignore if we want to convey the Gospel effectively. It is this:
The moment we start assuming, we’ve stopped communicating.
The reality is that the pathway to faith in Jesus Christ can be littered with a steeplechase of communication obstacles; we can run headlong into trouble if we assume too much.
Here are four such obstacles:
1. IGNORANCE –If we assume the people we are speaking to know more about God and the Bible than they actually do, we might be dismayed to learn that they are biblically ignorant. If the Bible’s message were a puzzle, they would possess few, if any, of the pieces necessary to make sense of it. It is said that the fastest growing church in North America today is the Church of the Biblically Illiterate. Little wonder that a young lady when being introduced to the books of the Bible recently commented, “Ephesians? I thought that was a skin disease!”
2. CONFUSION –If we assume those we are speaking to understand the meaning of what we are saying, we might be surprised to discover they are biblically confused. They may have some information regarding the Bible, but because the puzzle pieces have been put together incorrectly, they have a distorted view of the Bible’s message. Over the centuries, countless religious groups–each with its own nuances–have muddled the meaning of what the Bible actually says.
3. SYNCRETISM –If we assume the people we are speaking to share our own worldview, we might be amazed to find out they are biblically syncretized. They have added other non-biblical ideas, teachings, or philosophies to their already distorted view of the Bible’s message. While they might outwardly agree with what we say, in actuality they are merely adding to an existing “have it your way” worldview.
4. PREJUDICE –If we assume the people we are speaking to are open to our message, we might be shocked to discover they are biblically prejudiced. They presuppose the Bible to be suspect. So, they reject not only what it says but also anyone who promotes it. Atheism, postmodernism, agnosticism, and many other “isms” are philosophies that are fundamentally opposed to any claim of absolute truth. And reactions to biblical truth can be a lighthearted dismissal at best or harsh persecution at worst.
Given the eternal, critical nature of the message we bear, we need to be aware of these very real communication obstacles.
When handling horses, I found out (the hard way) about the God-given instincts of these beautiful and powerful creatures. They are to be respected. To ignore my horse’s cues would be foolish and reckless. But once I learned how to read its subtle movements, I could anticipate when it might balk. Eventually, I gained the skills necessary to carefully and gently guide my horse along some very dangerous mountain trails.
In the same way, when we spend time with unbelievers, it is our desire to bring them along the pathway of biblical understanding and to faith in Jesus Christ. But we need to be wise, recognizing the hazardous obstacles that might be present, like the four I’ve mentioned. By God’s grace and enabling, we can anticipate natural “fight or flight” responses while gently and respectfully guiding our friends forward in their understanding.
It seems this is just how God would have us go about pointing people to himself.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
[*Name changed as per GoodSeed policy]