Breaking Out of Our Canadian Christian “Parallel Universe” Syndrome
David Arrol Macfarlane
Originally published in FOCUS Magazine August 2014
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 Pet 3:15)
“How many of you came to Christ through the efforts of a friend or relative?” I often ask the audience of Canadian Christians that I am speaking to at seminars. Inevitably 80 to 90% of the hands go up. Evangelism in North America happens mostly through relationships. But here is the problem: most Canadian Christians do not have many, if any, credible relationships (bridges) with non Christians – over which, in time, Jesus can cross.
How can we be salt if we stay in the saltshaker or light if we hide under the bowl? The challenge is Canada-wide. In the last decades Canadian Christians (and the society as a whole) have become so busy and self-focused that they have retreated to the point where most have lost the will to be hospitable and build genuine friendships with those who have not yet found Christ. A friend of mine says that many of us have become what he calls “Submarine Christians” – we come up for church on Sundays and submerge the rest of the week. The result has been a sharp decline in the number of Canadians who profess to be followers of Jesus in our nation.
Speaking hundreds of times across Canada, over the last decade, in Christian churches of a wide variety of denominations, I have become aware of numerous spiritual trends. Here are some of them:
- While Canadians say that they are more “spiritual” than everthey are not turning to organized religion as in the past. This “privatization” of faith has led many Christians to retreat and become silent about their beliefs.
- Immigration is swelling the numbers of Christians for many denominations but, we are still losing ground overall.
- While a few decades ago Christians went to church at least weekly now the trend of the committed is “every other weekend” – or less.
- Young Canadians are less likely than other age groups to identify themselves as Christians with many having never attended a religious institution.
- A larger percentage than ever of young people who were brought up in the Christian faith are falling away once they go to University or begin work. (We can only hope that they will return later on).
- Most practicing Christians in Canada enjoy their faith and church community but have retreated and keep quiet about their faith to those around them.
WISDOM FROM THE APOSTLE PETER
How can we break out of this “parallel universe” so that we can authentically connect, serve, love and influence people for Christ? In 1 Peter 3:15 the Apostle Peter instructs us on how to do this with three practical and powerful points:
1. Keep your own walk with God “real.” “But in your hearts revere
Christ as Lord.” The old adage says: “Your life speaks so loud that I cannot hear a word that you are saying.” But the opposite is also true. When Christ is number one in our lives then our faith is authentic and people should be attracted by the difference that they see in us and even ask: “What makes you tick?”
2. Know what to say when asked. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” It is one thing to know the Gospel but another to be able to share it in a way that will be clear and understandable to people with no Christian frame of reference. We do need to prayerfully prepare so that when we are asked about our faith we can explain it in a winsome way. Your own faith journey when thoughtfully told can help others encounter Christ too.
3. Love and graciousness should lead the conversation. “But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The Pharisees criticized Jesus for always wanting to visit, interact, care and even have meals with lost people instead of just spending time with the already “religious crowd.” “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Mt 9:11). On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Our example, Jesus, was all about interacting with the ordinary people of His day not hiding in an exclusive religious “club.”
My own spiritual journey is typical of many. From being an agnostic who seldom set foot in a church I became a believer in Jesus Christ because of a high school friend. Actually calling him a “friend” is a bit much as he was openly a Christian that most of us made fun of. In spite of this Mark good-naturedly kept talking to me about his faith and one time invited me to a church on a Thursday night to see an illusionist called Andre Kole. I loved magic and so I went. Andre is a creative and dazzling performer and at the end of the show he shared the good news of the Gospel and how one could find personal peace with God. That evening I began a spiritual quest that ended six years later when, as a young businessman of 23, I saw my need for Christ and turned to Him and have been following Him and involved in church ever since. All this began because Mark chose not to live in the Christian “parallel universe” and boldly, yet respectfully, shared his faith with me.
7 STEPS TO BREAK OUT OF OUR “PARALLEL UNIVERSE”
Here are 7 “radical” and “counter cultural,” but biblical, ideas for breaking out of our “parallel universe”:
4. Daily pray for those you know who do not know Christ. God answers prayer. Through your consistent prayer the Holy Spirit can make them open to the Gospel and show you opportunities to reach them for Christ. At a camp for University of British Columbia students I was able to lead a number of them to Christ. A fellow student came up to me in tears and said, pointing at one of the new converts: “I have been praying for Max daily for five years!” She had done all the hard work, the prayer, I just happened to be there to help him “cross the line.” Persistent prayer is key to seeing people respond to the Gospel.
5. Be quick to listen and slow to speak ( Jas 1:19). Showing an interest in others builds trust, shows care and paves the way for genuine relationships. An extremely traditional church, in a small rural community in Ontario, has a dynamic and fast growing youth ministry that is revolutionizing their congregation. When I asked the Pastor for their secret he told me that it was because the church had gone out of their way to listen to the community needs and built a large professional skate park on their property. Youth come to the meetings with a bible under one arm and a skateboard under the other. In the summer they keep it open every day and the local police have thanked the church because while the skate park is operating, juvenile crime in the area goes down. Many of these young people are coming to Christ.
6. Show you care. Love is a verb. Do not underestimate the importance of small yet thoughtful acts of kindness. Leave your comfort zone and think of ways you can reach out and bless others that you already know. After speaking at a church service in Winnipeg I met two young men from Central America who told me that they had recently given their lives to Christ. When I asked how it happened they told me how they were refugees to Canada and arrived with nothing. The people of this church had befriended them, listened to their needs and helped them get a place to live. These church people also gave them tables, chairs and other furniture. The young men visited the church to say thank you and the Pastor led them both to Christ. I later discovered that retired people from this congregation collected and refurbished over 1500 pieces of furniture a year to give to new arrivals. The leader of the furniture ministry said to me: “This is a tangible expression of God’s love to people in need and, David, this not about furniture. It is about evangelism.”
7. Have people over. Hospitality builds bridges and cements friendships. In many cultures having a meal in your home with someone is the mark of a solid relationship. Diana and I had a couple from Sri Lanka over for dinner. We had a fun time and then when Diana put the roast beef dinner on the table, the lady opened her huge purse and started taking out lots of little bottles. Then she said: “We brought our own spices because we find your food too bland.” We all laughed and had a great evening talking about faith.
8. Join secular organizations. Rub shoulders with seekers. Instead of joining a Christian hockey, bowling, soccer etc. team, choose to become salt and light on a community team. Instead of joining a “Holy Rollers” Christian bowling league a friend of mine who is a Baptist Pastor has been playing on a secular bowling team for many years just so he can rub shoulders with people who do not yet know Christ. In the process he has gained their respect, made many wonderful friends and performed a number of weddings as he is the only “religious” leader that they know. Some of them are now admitting their own spiritual quest and asking him about his faith.
9. Talk openly and positively about spiritual things. Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16). If you went on a Christian Marriage retreat or heard a great sermon on Sunday, talk about
it with secular friends without making a big deal of it. It could open doors for you to share Christ in the future. In British Columbia (where a very low percentage of people attend church) a denominational leader told me about four successful church plants each started by a hairdresser who owns a salon. When I asked, “What was her secret?” he told me that when she cuts someone’s hair she says, “I will give you five dollars off the haircut if you come to my Bible study.” “Does it work?” I asked him. He told me that her latest church plant has sixty people in it after only a few months.
10. With sensitivity and common sense, use your work relationships to talk about your faith when you have an opportunity. One successful businessman in a large organization had good quality pens made up (at his own expense) with the name of his church embossed on them and gave them to clients who had to sign contracts with his firm. Often the client would comment on the church name on the pen and it gave the businessman an opportunity tell him about his faith and let him keep the pen should he ever want to visit the church. When I was in business I kept a Bible amongst all my other books and files in my credenza at the office. It was surprising how many would comment on it and often come to talk to me privately about some issue they were facing because “I think you believe in prayer and will understand.” Often this led to talking about my own faith journey.
Harvey, a member of the church that I led in Toronto was a wonderful Christian who did not believe in living in a Christian “ghetto.” During the summers this fun-loving believer would prayerfully and intentionally invite his neighbours over for BBQs. Then, after the neighbours had reciprocated and enjoyed many community parties because of Harvey he would call me. “I invited them all over for a BBQ this Saturday and told them that you were my Pastor and were going to come and give a short talk about Jesus, and they said that they would come.” At the event, after they had flipped the burgers, drank their beers, smoked their cigarettes and had lots of laughs together Harvey would introduce me. They all gathered round to listen (because they respected and loved Harvey) and I shared the Gospel as simply as I could. Each year some two or three would begin a relationship with Jesus at his BBQ. The key was simply Harvey who lovingly chose not to live in a “parallel universe” but to build genuine and caring relationships with his neighbours so that, in time, Jesus could cross over. Harvey continued to be their friend regardless of whether they responded to the Gospel or not. If every believer in Canada chose to live like this, God could change our nation in our lifetime.