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About this series
Not Beyond Reach
How to Share Jesus with the Young, the Deconstructed, and the Non-Religious
Are you – as a parent or grandparent – concerned about the spiritual health of your kids? Do you sense they’re drifting from the Christian faith they grew up with? Or have they perhaps already outright rejected it? In this series, guest teacher Aaron Pierce – from an international missions organization called Steiger – has some hope and direction for us. He’ll unpack a sequence of intentional conversations you can use to better understand and reconnect with your kids, and lead them to Jesus. Learn why today’s young people are prime to hear the saving message of the Gospel and how you can share it with them.More from this series
The first session, we talked about understanding the post-Christian shift, that we have experienced in this culture. The idea that we used to live in a Christian nation in which most people identified as a Christian and now we live in a post-Christian nation. The fastest growing religious group in America is the religiously unaffiliated. And it is not just affiliation, it’s attitude as well. So, people’s attitude has gone from predominately positive view of the Church to apathetic, if not outright hostile.
I had a meeting yesterday with some people and I have this story pretty much all the time. Their adult kids have walked away from the Lord and they don’t know what to do about it. And it’s probably the thing that is prayed for at churches across America more than anything else.
And so, the challenge is: How do we reach people that are in that apathetic to hostile side of the spectrum? And how do we engage them and recognizing that there’s a number of key realities.
One is that people have become increasingly suspicious of institutional religion and are far less likely to walk into a church.
The second being that secular people do not have the same assumptions about truth and morality and the nature and existence of God and the Bible as previous generations.
And then the third key reality being despite all of that, secular people are still open to spirituality.
And today we are going to be talking about the second topic, which is: How to become friends, how to develop authentic friendships with non-religious people and then the three other sessions are going to be: How to start a spiritual conversation, which is distinct from a gospel conversation. We’ll talk about that. How to introduce Jesus and the message of the cross and to start a discipleship relationship. And then the last one is navigating politics, social justice, sexuality, and other fun topics, which are challenges that we face in our culture.
So, today it’s all about how to build relationships and friendships with secular, non-religious people.
So, a Harvard study last year showed that sixty-one percent of young adults feel serious loneliness. Sixty-one percent feel serious loneliness. This was last year. And there’s a bunch of reasons why loneliness has become an epidemic, which is so common. So, there are a number of reasons.
First is just basically the concept of cheap sex. We have rejected the biblical sexual ethic, right? Where, that, where sex is supposed to be between a man and a woman in the context of marriage, that has been rejected. And basically, sex is nothing more than a physical act that is about personal pleasure, you know? So long as you’re not harming others and it’s governed by this sense of mutual consent, you can do whatever you want. Right? And so, that’s the sexual ethic of the day.
And it’s also led to kind of cultural changes. Right? Where we are delaying marriage, we are delaying kids, and what is so ironic about that is we actually desire intimacy. We desire connection, but we are pushing away the design where we are supposed to find that most meaningfully in our human existence is in the context of a family. And so, that’s being delayed and pushed away.
And then, of course, you’ve got just pornography and hookup culture, which is a pervasive culture of our day. You’ve got, you know, crazy things like dating apps where people are connecting with strangers with very personal, very little personal connection, but they are connecting sexually. And it’s leading to all sorts of brokenness and loneliness, because of this concept of cheap sex.
The other is technological changes that we have experienced with social media, video games, and now the emergence of the metaverse, which is a whole big thing as well. And so, basically what you’ve got is this sense of filtered reality, right? Which is that on social media, but also on these other things, we are presenting a view of ourselves and we are seeing a view of others that is filtered. It’s not real. It’s projecting a view of ourselves that looks good, but it’s not who I am authentically. It’s not real. So, in that sense, all my connections are superficial and they are not authentic. And so, you have a lot of this filtered reality.
And then you have a sense of escapism. And the idea here is that rather than face the issues or the dark thoughts that I’m facing, I can escape into the world of video games or metaverse, or I can just keep scrolling. It’s like the Finding Nemo movie where it’s like, “Just keep swimming,” you just, just keep scrolling so I don’t have to think about these big, deep, scary thoughts. I escape into the world of video games. And which is how so many people are responding to the challenges and the difficulties they face.
Where the way that God has designed it is that when we face challenges, we have a community, right? That we connect into and instead we move to an escapism.
And then we have this sense of living someone else’s story, which is a big thing that we experience. One of the, like, the things that people love to do is follow a particular social media influencer, right? And so, it’ll be someone on YouTube. There’s a kind of the modern-day Seinfeld. There’s a girl called Emma Chamberlain and she basically has a YouTube channel about nothing.
But she’s this charismatic girl that posts these videos of her just doing daily life. And people love it because they connect and they live through her story. And so, she has millions and millions of followers on YouTube and other platforms and she’s not doing anything particularly interesting, but people really connect because they get to live someone else’s story.
And that is true also for the world of video games where you live a kind of fantasy world of, you know, living some character out. Or in the metaverse where people are finding their kind of identity in an avatar in some metaverse reality.
And so, you’ve got all of these things technologically and then our sexual ethics that is creating this deep sense of loneliness. And, of course, God has created us to be in community. So, when we are missing that sense of community, we feel this deep longing for something. And so many people are experiencing it, so many people sense that there’s something missing.
And so, the truth that we need to understand is that secular people are looking for deep relational connection and belonging. That is a deep desire that people have. You can bank on that truth when you’re connecting with people. They desire for deep relational connection and belonging.
The challenge is that we have this false idea and the false idea is this, and this is a cultural lie that we have today, which is to love or be in relationship with someone I have to affirm their lifestyle or their worldview.
So, for example, at my school, our kids go to a public school and I was invited to be part of an inclusion and acceptance conversation with the parents that the district had mandated. And you could imagine what the topics were about. And it was a very interesting experience.
And one of the moms said in that conversation, “You know what? I think it’s important to understand that tolerance is not enough. We must affirm.” And it so perfectly speaks to this thing that we are dealing with in our culture, which is to love or be in relationship with someone, like, tolerance is not enough. I have to affirm their lifestyle and worldview.
And here’s the thing that’s really important to understand is that Jesus demonstrated that association and relationship with sinners, and I put that in quotes only because we are all sinners, right? But association and relationship with sinners was not synonymous with affirming their lifestyle. Jesus demonstrated this in a really powerful way over and over and over again.
So, let’s talk about this. Because one of the challenges of our day is tribalism. Alright? It’s this us versus them mentality. It’s this toxic trait of modern culture. Basically because of social media algorithms, cable news, Internet conspiracies, it’s this intense sense of us versus them. The other side. We kind of straw-man-argument the other side and what they are about and how they are out to get us, right? And so, you have this toxic tribalism of the day. But the thing is, tribalism existed during Jesus’ day as well in multiple ways. And one of the good examples of that was actually the Jews and the Samaritans.
So, the Samaritans were these kind of racially mixed people of Gentiles and Jew background. And the Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Like, Jews would actually, there would be a direct path to go somewhere, through the Samaritan area, but they would go around it just so they wouldn’t be associated with these unclean people, right?
And so, it was in that context in John 4 that Jesus goes to Samaria and He meets the woman at the well, which is an incredible example of Jesus defying the tribalism of His day. Where He defied it in a radical, counter-cultural way, because He ended up engaging. He actually initiates contact with this woman. Just the fact that she’s a woman, that is already breaking some boundaries.
But then the fact is that this is a woman who has been married five times and now is currently living with a man that is not her husband. In that day, like, the fact that He would engage this woman was just beyond comprehension. And it speaks to how Jesus loved people so much that He wasn’t going to be, you know, He was going to cross those cultural boundaries.
So, but that didn’t mean that He affirmed their lifestyle, right? That didn’t mean that He accepted the way that someone lived and said, “Nah, just do whatever you want.” He challenged people to sin no more, even as He approached them with great mercy and grace.
And so, that’s the thing we have to understand. But what that means as well is that Jesus was, He offended the religious people of His day and He offended them because He spent so much time with sinners, because that’s what happens when you just spend time with sinners, you get accused of being one yourself, whether you’ve… And so what happens is we were afraid to associate with those people, lest I get lumped in with them. And, like, I’m agreeing with them. And so, that is one of the challenges that we have. But, again, Jesus did this all the time. Luke 15:1 and 2 said, “The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus, but the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” And eating with people in that culture was a very intimate thing to do, you know?
And so, He, Jesus, was willing to be very intimate with these people, even if it offended the religious establishment. And so, that’s part of what we have to deal with today. So, part of it is understanding the power of friendship with people that are not like us, with people that wouldn’t walk into a church.
So, the first idea is that friendship humanizes them. Right? It’s so easy to talk about “those people” and the way, you know or what “they” do. But when you sit across from someone, it’s a lot harder to hate them. Right? When you’re sitting and having coffee with them, it’s a lot harder to hate them.
And then friendship actually allows you to demonstrate the gospel with your life. So, a lot of secular people have a lot of false assumptions about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ followers are like. And they, like us, they make these kind of misconceptions. And when you get to be with secular people and live a life, you can actually reflect the gospel in a way, through your actions, that can break down some of those walls.
You know, Philippians 2:3 and 4 is such a powerful verse, because if we can live this verse out in front of secular people, it’s the kind of verse that does not make sense to secular culture. It’s the idea of: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather in humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.” If you live that kind of life in front of secular people, it blows them away, right? Because that is something where you are laying down my needs, my desires for someone else’s sake.
The religion of this culture is secular humanism, which is the religion of self. Right? And it’s all about me and pursuing my happiness. And when you see people lay aside their happiness for the sake of others, it’s radical, countercultural that really opens up the opportunity to connect with people.
The other thing that friendship does, it helps you to understand. So often we don’t actually understand people or understand how they came to be where they are or understand why they believe what they believe. And so, because of that, we are not able to communicate the gospel effectively. So, when you build friendships, you can actually get to know them and then you’re able to communicate the gospel in a way that connects with them.
And then beyond that, it allows you to earn the trust, to actually challenge their views and speak truth. We live in a very sensitive time in which if you challenge my views, I’m going to get offended. But when I build the relational trust and credibility, then I can actually speak into your life. So, the power of friendship in engaging secular people is amazing. And also what is beautiful about this is you don’t have to be super talented or a really persuasive, apologetic person. You can just be a good friend. And so, it’s accessible to all of us and each of us can build a friendship with a few people that God puts in our life.
To me this is encouraging because I can do this. Anyone can do this. And we are going to talk more about what that looks like.
But here’s the thing. In order for you to do this, you’ve got to count the cost, because one of the addictions of our time is busyness. We are so over-scheduled. And as Christians, we are often overscheduled doing good things like five different Bible studies and eight different church events.
All good stuff, but there is literally no room, no margin to have a relationship with a secular person. And as we all know, relationships take time; they are costly, right? And so, we need to make room, which means we need to have a shift in priority and lifestyle.
This starts with a broken heart where we repent and say, “God, my heart is cold, it’s not right, I’m sorry. Would You give me Your broken heart?” And when your heart is broken, then you’re willing to sacrifice, then you’re willing to say no to whatever thing or things that you’re doing in order to create space for you to have relationships with secular people in your life.
And to understand that friendships, they take time and that they are cumulative and that they are exponential. Like, the more you develop a relationship over time, the more it grows, the more you can build that trust, the more you can speak into their life, the more they can see your lifestyle in action. But that takes time and it’s going to take sacrifice. So we need to count the cost and intentionally build the margin in our life in order to have these kinds of relationships.
Alright, another key point has to do with the idea of holiness versus relevance. So, at Steiger, we have a number of values. And two of our values are holiness and relevance. And holiness and relevance is an interesting concept, because they can feel like tensions or like they are actually on the opposite sides of two spectrums.
Because what relevance is about is it’s about being with people, and being connected to people, and knowing people, and understanding how they see the world, and to be able to communicate in an effective way. Whereas holiness is about being set apart. It’s about being different and distinct.
And so, what happens is you can actually err on either side.
And so, the tension is how do we actually be in the world but distinct?
Holiness and relevance is an interesting concept, because they can feel like tensions or like they are actually on the opposite sides of two spectrums.
Because what relevance is about is it’s about being with people, and being connected to people, and knowing people, and understanding how they see the world, and to be able to communicate in an effective way. Whereas holiness is about being set apart. It’s about being different and distinct.
And so, what happens is you can actually err on either side. So, you can be completely “relevant” to the point where you look exactly like the world. And you essentially adopt the world’s lifestyle and morals and theology in order to fit in and to connect.
The other spectrum is that we are so “holy” that we isolate ourselves from the world, that we are completely disconnected, that we do everything separate. Separate Christian schools, Christian entertainment, Christian everything so that we have no impact and no influence on the world. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go into the world and to transform it. You know? And that means that we have to be distinct, we don’t compromise morally or theologically, but we also don’t hide from the world either. So, how do we do this well?
So, the first thing is, again, we want to be, when we are developing these relationships, these friendships, we want to be distinct, we want to be clear that we are a follower of Jesus, right? We don’t want to hide the fact that we are a follower of Jesus. In fact, if following Jesus is core to who you are, it should come out naturally, right? It should be part of the flow of your conversation. So, we want to be distinct and clear, but we don’t want to be obnoxious or a Jesus robot where we can’t, like, you know, we don’t see the social cues that are going on and we are just like, “Rawr! Jesus!” You know? Like, we want to be able to connect with people naturally and be clear that we are, we are followers of Jesus.
The second thing that is really important in this approach is that we cannot be offended that non-Christians act like non-Christians. So many times Christians are so precious and so, like, easily offended when someone acts a little rough or maybe makes a comment politically that you don’t agree with and it’s like, “Whoa!” And you freak out. And we need to be a little more relaxed, that we’re not going to freak out when someone acts like a non-Christian, because that is what they are, right?
So, I’ll give you an example. I grew up in the Netherlands and I grew up with a friend that my brother and I both had, we grew up in the same neighborhood. We had a great friendship.
And then when we got older, we left. We left the Netherlands. And then years later I came back to Amsterdam and I thought, I’m going to look up my friend. And so, I went to his house, knocked on his door, and it turned out they were having a party and they’re like, “Yeah! Yeah, he’s upstairs. Go upstairs.” So, I went upstairs, whole group – and this is Amsterdam, mind you – there’s a whole group of people and they are all smoking joints and they’re like, “Come on! Sit down!” And I could have been like, “Whoa! No way! Get away from me!”
And instead, I was like, “Okay, fine.” Sat down, they handed the joint, I handed it off to the next person, and just began to have a conversation with these people, because I am not going to be tainted or, you know, like, I can hang out with non-Christian people and not be offended that they act like non-Christians, right? Like, so, we can be a little not-so-precious about that.
The next point, is that the goal, and this is critical, the goal is not to flaunt our moral superiority. Like, the fact that we swear a little less or the fact that we don’t, you know, we don’t get drunk and… The goal is not to flaunt that.
The goal is that we actually allow them to see our supernatural hope, love, joy, and peace. So, what I mean by that is what people want to see is: How is it that you are joyful in suffering? Right? How is it that you just found out that you have cancer, but you have peace? How does that make sense? How is it that you have hope when everything around you is falling apart? How is it that you are able to love the unlovable? That you are able to forgive someone that hurt you? How is it that you are able to have hope, love, joy, and peace? And the reason is because it’s not natural. It’s a supernatural thing the Holy Spirit has done in you. That is what you want people, the distinction that you want people to see.
I’m not suggesting that we don’t worry about our morals. I’m just saying that is not what is going to attract someone. They want to see something supernatural. And the supernatural is the fruit of the Spirit. And, you know, especially when they see how you handle hard things, how you handle suffering. Because then what you get is you get that classic apologetic verse, which is 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “Always prepare 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.”
They’re not asking you to give the reason that you swear less or the reason that you’re not drinking. That’s not what they’re…they’re asking, “Where does the hope come from?”
And so, I think this is a critical distinction that we need to make as we engage secular people, because we want people to see those supernatural things of hope, joy, love, and peace in our lives. Alright. So, those are kind of the basic principles.
Now, how do we actually get friendships? Like, how do we actually do this? So, the idea here is we want to adopt a missionary mindset. And so, what does that mean? That means that we want to be intentional about a lifestyle that is going to put us in places and situations where we are going to be able to interact with and ultimately develop friendships with secular people.
It means that it doesn’t just happen organically. Like, a missionary is not an organic, “Oh, well, look at this. I’m in Egypt now.” No. I decided to go to Egypt to pursue people in Egypt that don’t know Jesus. That is the mindset that we need to have right here.
The approach is we need to be missionaries to our people in our cities. And so, the idea is we adopt a missionary mindset, an intentional lifestyle. And, again, we go back to the fact that that starts in a broken heart, counting the cost, and now we intentionally engage with people.
So, how do we do that? Well, first thing you need to do is start by actively pursuing people in your oikos, which is a Greek word for your sphere of influence. So, who is already in your sphere of influence? Whether that’s obviously family, coworkers, neighbors. There are people already around you that there’s a difference between, like, knowing someone or seeing someone at an event or Thanksgiving and pursuing them for a deeper relationship.
And there are people right now in your world that if you would ask the Lord, “God, who do You want me to pursue? Who do You want me to pursue for a deeper relationship?”
Second thing when it comes to the missionary mindset is we should expand our oikos because the reality is in our culture, our oikos, our sphere of influence is getting smaller and smaller. Even our neighborhoods, we don’t engage with like we used to. You know, working from home has made our work influence smaller and smaller, right? Families are more separated than ever before.
So, in fact, a lot of times our natural sphere of influence is pretty small. And so, we need to expand that by being relationally present in secular places. Again, this is that missionary mindset. And so, the idea is, “What could we do?” Well, go to – it’s places like hobbies where people like to do things together.
The other are causes. Causes are actually awesome ways to connect, because causes – and we’ll talk about this later when we talk about politics – but causes inherently suggest that people want to be part of something bigger than themselves and that they believe the world is not as it ought to be and they want to make it better. I mean, those are biblical truths that we can actually connect with someone on, even if they don’t follow Jesus.
And then lastly it’s places or events. Right? So it’s public places where people hang out: parks, bars, gyms. Maybe it’s events like festivals where you can go and you can develop authentic relationships. Again, the big paradigm shift here is this just doesn’t happen organically, right? This is God saying to you, “I want you to be a missionary in your city. And part of being a good missionary is you go where the people are in order to develop authentic relationships. And you go there and you develop real relationships with them.”
Now, a couple, some key wisdom to, especially when you’re going to places that are either kind of spiritually dark or there’s maybe some issues like if there’s alcohol and you’re got a history with, you know, alcohol abuse – the key here is there needs to be wisdom in going. You need to be clear about your motivation, why you’re going. And who is doing the influencing? And the other key thing about this is generally you don’t want to do this alone. One of the things, my big challenge is in this is that this should not be an individual sport, this should be a team sport.
And what is cool about doing this with a group of people is that they actually, first of all, we are gifted differently. We bring different strengths and giftings to the group. But also, there are moments when I am weak or when I’m not feeling particularly brave or courageous. But then I, if I’m going with someone else it’s like working out. When I know someone else is going to be there that I said I’d be there with, I show up. Right? So doing this together is good because it keeps you motivated, it keeps you going, but it also keeps you safe so that you’re not being influenced by the scene, you’re influencing the world. So find others that you can do this with and it makes for a really cool thing to do together.
So, the key thing in all of this is that this cannot just be human. This has got to be Spirit led. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to lead and direct our path to the right person, to a person of peace, that, that, and to give us supernatural favor. So often when we are doing outreach I’ll say, “Lord, just lead me to one person that You want me to connect with.” And so, you’ll end up connecting with a person of peace who is open to the gospel, but if you, but also has influence in their scene, who is able to draw you into their world and build the connection in their world. And so, you’re able to draw and actually connect with far more people.
But the key point here is this is not just a natural thing. This is a supernatural leading of the Holy Spirit to the right person at the right time. So, as you say, “Okay, Lord, I’m going to start, I’m going to reshape my lifestyle and I’m going to intentionally go to places in order to develop relationships with people who wouldn’t walk into a church, Lord, would You lead me to the right person at the right time?” And you do that and He will lead you and you’ll find yourself in that relationship.
Alright, so a couple of principles, now that you’ve done it and you’re in it, you’re engaging this scene. A couple key, basic principles.
First of all, like, relax when you’re engaging in secular places. Be yourself, have fun, don’t be so uptight. Sometimes, like, whoa. You know, when you have that missionary mindset, sometimes that comes with being a little uptight and also trying to force it.
So, be patient. Don’t feel the need to make something happen. It goes back to the point I just said earlier, which is allow the Spirit to direct you to the right person at the right time. Have a long-term view of it. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Sometimes it’s awkward. We’re all awkward. And most people are not worried about you; they’re worried about themselves, right? They don’t even see you, frankly. So, don’t worry about it too much.
Try to have fun, because joy is contagious. Well, a person in my world that is so good at this is Serena. It’s one of the leaders at our Minneapolis team. Her joy draws people, right?
Like, we were doing an outreach during the George Floyd times. We were doing an outreach right where that happened. And there was this couple. And I saw them, because I was praying, “Lord, lead me,” and I saw them and they were really kind of cool looking, edgy, and I was like, “I’d really like to talk to them but I’m not quite brave enough to do it.” So, I was like, “Serena! I want to talk to those people.” So, she just comes bounding up to them and was like, “Hey! You guys are cool! We should talk!” And, boom! We were talking.
And so, it wasn’t that complicated for her. And so, the point is, like, that joy is contagious. And, again, also the whole point of a team, right? If you’ve got those people, use them. That’s what I do. So, have fun, relax, be yourself.
Second thing is harness the incredible power of asking questions and listening. One of the most powerful expressions of love is to listen. It’s again, it’s one of the simplest and most powerful expressions of love that you can exhibit to someone is to really listen and ask questions.
So, the principle when it comes to this is three things or three steps to doing it right. Number one, listen. Number two, ask questions. Number three, listen.
This is, I mean, and it’s the simplest and most profound thing that you can do. You know? And so, if you want to go deeper into this stuff, read the old school book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, because it’s basically those principles. How to really connect; how to build authentic friendships with people.
And then, again, the idea here is don’t make assumptions. We put people in boxes just about how they look, right? So, the idea of listening and asking questions, don’t make assumptions about them. Really listen. Try to understand them. Learn their real, raw story. Everyone is going through stuff, right? Everyone is – filtered reality looks good, but in true reality, there’s stuff I’m going through.
So, learn their real story. And what is amazing is people will tell you their real stories. Going back to that story with Serena and those two people, we connected with them, we sat down right in the middle of the George Floyd thing and just talked for hours. And they shared stories deep, vulnerable stories of brokenness so quickly. People are really hungry to share their stories.
And then, again, really try to understand their perspective. And one of the easiest things, when someone says something that you don’t agree with, just, like, “How did you come to believe that?” Really understand. And oftentimes two things happen. When you understand how they came to believe, you understand the real issue plus you have a love for them and an empathy for them that you might not have had before.
So really try to understand what they believe and remember, empathy is not the same as agreeing or affirming. Sometimes we are so afraid to, like, listen and understand someone whose view is totally out of alignment with the Bible, but it’s okay. That is not the same as agreeing or affirming. Remember that. And then find common ground and genuine ways to affirm someone.
We are going to talk about this more during the spiritual conversations idea, but there’s always things that you can affirm in someone, because whether they are following Jesus or not, they are made in the image of God and there are things about them that God has designed that you can begin to call out and to affirm. And that is, like, water to a desert for secular people who are not hearing those words of affirmation.
So, the principle here is how are we going to build relationships with secular people?
My challenge to you is this: Ask God to highlight. Spend some time alone seeking the Lord and ask God to highlight one person in your oikos that you will actively pursue for a deeper relationship.
Like, who…or, like, again, don’t just pick someone. Like, seek the Lord and say, “Lord, who is it in my family, at my work, in my neighborhood,” whatever, the people that are already in my sphere of influence, “who do You want me to actively pursue for a deeper relationship?”
And then the second one, ask God for one place, one place – a hobby, cause, or place – where you will be relationally present, intentionally, in order to develop new relationships with secular people. That’s my challenge for you to take away from this time.