In his book Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley says, “I think it would be wise to extend Paul’s advice (1. Cor 5:12-13; Col. 4:5-6) to our preaching. When addressing unbelievers, it should be all grace with just a pinch of salt. To do that, we must distinguish between what the biblical authors expected of believers and what is expected of nonbelievers. In short, give non-Christians an out…My experience is that when you give non-Christians an out, they respond by leaning in. Especially if you invite them rather than expect them. There’s a big difference between being expected to do something and being invited to try something…So I always invite our non-believing friends to try living like Christians, to apply the principles we’ve discussed, to adopt the new way of thinking that the Scriptures present. And I usually give them a time frame. A week or a day…When people are convinced you want something FOR them rather than something FROM them, they are less likely to be offended when you challenge them…Learn to create space in your preaching for those who are unsure, skeptical, disbelieving. Give them an out. But then offer an invitation.”
I think the message can and should be applied to all believers. Most people who aren’t Christians don’t spend a lot of time hanging out with pastors and when they do, they get kind of nervous. They tend to be on their best behavior, even though we’re just normal guys. The Christians with whom most believers have relationships are everyone else in the church. And, I think we need to be careful what message we’re sending to them! We want nonbelievers to feel like it’s alright to ask us questions, to come to our church, and to be curious and skeptical about the contents of scripture. We want them to understand that they’re not held to a standard that they can’t meet. Even for us, it would be impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and we only receive him when we surrender to Christ! Nonbelievers see most of us in our daily lives away from the church. They see us behind the wheel, at the grocery store, movie theater, park, and work. They see us in our neighborhoods. And, they see us on social media.
We need to be careful that we don’t judge nonbelievers for not acting like Christians. There’s a good reason for that. They’re not Christians! A lot of times, I’ll see Christians post things on social media that are direct attacks against nonbelievers for acting like nonbelievers. I’ve listened to conversations in a coffee shop along the same lines. I may even be guilty of having those conversations or making those posts! It is healthy and good to have conversations about our faith, about what is written in scripture, and what is going on in the world. And, while we’re having those conversations, we must remember that our enemy is not the nonbeliever (or, for that matter, other believers). Our enemy is the “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). So we should encourage nonbelievers to engage with God’s Word and with us. We should welcome their skepticism. As Andy Stanley says, “Inviting unchurched people to take small steps is inviting them to take first steps.” And, as we’re doing that, let’s remember that they’re listening to what we say and watching what we do. Let’s make sure that, when we address what’s going on in the world or even in our own lives, that we do it in a way that stands firm against Satan while remaining soft toward them. Let’s make it easy for them to see, hear, and understand God’s message!