Fall 2016

Stop Tryingto DefendEverything

by Glenda Owor

Advice for engaging emerging adults in conversation


Glenda Owor, 22, is a legal assistant in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office. She earned her B.A. in human rights and justice and Africa from the University of Minnesota. Glenda attends Hope Community Church (EFCA) in Minneapolis, where she’s part of a vibrant small group.

Many of my Christian friends who are not part of a church fall into three camps. Either (a) they do not want to tie themselves to a hierarchical, systematic-style institution; or (b) they believe that the church is outdated when it comes to their stances on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, divorce and cohabitation; or (c) they’ve experienced disappointment and/or pain from the church.

I didn’t grow up in the church, and so I find it easy to be friends with those who aren’t part of the church or who aren’t Christians. Because I have an openness and not a defensiveness about my faith, I’m open to hearing different opinions.

I think of a conversation I recently had with a friend. His father was a pastor, but he had left the church himself because he hadn’t seen Christ exemplified in his parents. “There’s a lot of deception in the church, people using God for their own gain, and I don’t want to be part of it,” he told me. “There also isn’t space to doubt. Instead, there are exhortations: ‘Why do you have questions? You just need to have more faith.’

“I don’t have that much faith.”

Even though he admits that “some type of higher power” protects him, he still resists going to church because of a fear of surrender—giving up his individual will and his affections. He said to me, “I look at your life and see I could never have that much faith.”

I felt some pressure to have answers for him. But I also felt sad about his interpretations of church and of what it means to be a Christian. I wanted to say, “No, that’s not how Christ views you.”

Knowing you can’t fix someone and giving them space to disagree with what you believe—that really opens up the discussion.

In defensiveness, you put up wallsthat say, “Im right and youre wrong.” Itturns people away.

As Christians, we are often taught to have conversations that are super-pointed about the gospel. But pointed conversation takes away the fact that you are in a conversation with two people and what the other person has to say is valuable too. It feels unnatural, as if you’re expecting a certain response by the end of the conversation instead of being willing to see how it flows. If someone has an agenda, I’m not open to listen to them, even if I share the same feelings. It seems as if they don’t care about me—they only want to make their point.

Traditional methods of evangelism are legitimate, and people still get saved through them. But if this generation doesn’t receive a pointed approached to evangelism well, then that method of evangelism becomes a stumbling block. So it’s not something worth holding onto. You’re not compromising a core part of the gospel, only delivery, if you move away from a pointed approach.

We’re often told that we need to defend and protect our faith. But defensiveness makes me want to cringe. We fall into defensiveness sometimes because the gospel is such a radical message and it’s so weighty in its promises. If it’s not true, then a whole lot unravels.

So the weight of its truth causes people to cling closely to what they know and not let go of it. But in defensiveness, you put up walls that say, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It comes off that you are prideful and better than others, that you don’t have doubts or questions. It turns people away.

If you look at other times when people act that way—a political pundit or someone trying to spread the word about veganism—you don’t want to be part of it. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.