I find that that I get confronted by two kinds of responses to announcing that I’m a Christian. The less common one is a negative kind that manifests as mocking, cynicism or argument. The more common one is avoidance – don’t engage, don’t engage! – which usually takes the shape of people dismissively suggesting that we should all be allowed to believe whatever we like and to live-and-let-live.
This latter response can be combatted by discussion but may then lead to the former! Negative responses especially need a different reply. One which demonstrates love and grace to get past the bravado and to find what is in the heart. And the heart within the Christian must surely reflect that of Jesus who showed compassion on the multitudes who He saw as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Rather than me ‘being right’, I want others to know the Shepherd. Not only does this get ‘to the heart’ of the matter, but it avoids the pressure of always knowing answers. Of course, this doesn’t negate the need to have enough integrity to continue seeking such answers, rather than dismissing the fact that any genuine faith must be intellectually credible.
As for the idea that we can leave each other be, it is insidiously simplistic. If my faith is good for me then it can surely be good for others. If I can have a discussion with a total stranger about work, football, politics or the everyday business of life, then I can surely have a discussion with them about faith. This becomes threatening, though, not necessarily because of coercion but because of conviction. That conviction is in people wanting either to avoid accountability for the implications of a point of view or believing that the point of view is itself readily dismissible. Whilst people might freely enter new debates over the merits of certain cars, the eternal implications of faith discussions seem to render them off-limits to many. Since forcing the issue is unhelpfully combative, I find that discussions open up much better with short statements, non-judgmental reflective listening and genuine heart-felt inquiry.
At the end of the day, I am proactive but polite, knowing that my role is to be faithful and friendly, not to assault people with my convictions. I pray for openings and talk naturally. Then, when I have done all I can, I leave the rest with God and pray that He might water any seeds that I have planted. His supernatural intervention can be through me, but I’m OK for it to also be through others!