“I don’t want to turn people into projects….” Have you ever felt this way when it comes to sharing your faith? It’s a path none of us want to go down, but unfortunately, it can happen in subtle ways. More regrettably is when people feel like they have been treated as a project, they’re likely to distance themselves rather than having an awkward conversation about why they don’t want to spend time with you. Opening your heart before God and engaging in self-reflection can help you avoid some of these pitfalls. Only God can change our hearts and perspectives to see each person we interact with as created in his image, and loved by him as holistic people.
You reduce your friend as a soul to be saved. Objectification is usually associated with how we view bodies, but we can also objectify people spiritually. We can reduce others as souls to be saved rather than integrated people with hopes, dreams, bodies, and relationships. Our spirituality is part of every aspect of our lives- from what we eat to how we view the world. When we neglect to acknowledge and care for the other parts of a person’s life in addition to their spiritual welfare we can become blind to some of the very places God may want to connect with a friend. Are you willing to become genuinely interested in what they’re interested in? To grieve over what troubles them? To serve when they need help with a project?
Prayer: “God help me to see my friend how you see them. Attune my heart to how you would guide me to care for them and talk with them about you in a natural, unforced way.”
You plan out what your friend’s spiritual journey should look like. While the Holy Spirit has given us the imagination to dream and envision what life as a Jesus follower could look like for friends far from him, we don’t get to plan how that unfolds. There is no A to Z guide on the exact steps a person needs to take to begin following Jesus. In scripture, we see a diversity of encounters with Jesus that are anything but normal. Saul encountered Jesus in a dramatic way when he was blinded on the Damascus road that interrupts his entire life and career. Lydia was a God-fearing businesswoman who met Paul while she was praying and turned to Jesus as the God she was seeking. We don’t know what our friend’s journey will entail, but we can be present as God moves in their life.
Prayer: “God you choose to reveal yourself in deeply personal ways. Help me to pray, look for signs, and help my friend understand how you might be at work in their life.”
You’ve got a spiritual chip on your shoulder. Years ago, on an outreach trip in Jamaica, where my team was engaging in spiritual conversations in the local community and on college campuses, there had been several people who had begun to follow Jesus, which our team praised God for! One of our teammates, Heather became increasingly distressed that she hadn’t led anyone to Jesus. While it is amazing when God chooses to use us to help someone begin to follow him, we can’t control it. Heather felt spiritually deficient because she hadn’t led anyone to Jesus and was in tears because she felt like she should have been able to lead someone to Christ. It wasn’t for lack of boldness, prayerfulness, or availability. Heather had been faithful to talk with people about Jesus during the week. Unfortunately leading someone to Jesus became a spiritual merit badge about her proficiency rather than being faithful and trusting God with his work of opening hearts.
Prayer: “Lord forgive me for making spiritual conversations about me, rather than about you or the person I’m speaking with. Give me faith to believe that what I offer to others can be used by you to draw someone to yourself even if I never see what results from our conversations”
You refuse to engage your friends in any spiritual conversations. Because you don’t want to be seen as “that Christian” you shy away from anything that could lead to conversations about Jesus. While this may seem like a gracious thing to do to not offend others or pressure them into a conversation they’re not comfortable with, it actually makes it about you and what you’re comfortable with. This is the flip side of only seeing people as a soul to be saved, this diminishes that God created us as spiritual people designed to connect with him. Your friend may want to talk about spiritual things or be curious about Jesus, but unless you have the courage to speak up about it, your friend won’t know this is something you’re willing to talk about! We may not know the ways God wants us to speak about and demonstrate his love for others, but believing that he wants others to know how much he loves them and that we get to share that with others is a pretty darn big piece of scripture to neglect.
Prayer: “Jesus, while I might feel scared or uncomfortable talking about your presence in my life I don’t want to hide that I follow you. Give me the courage to speak up when appropriate and willingness to help others discover who you are.”
You steer the conversation to be about something spiritual even if it is forced and unnatural. Have you ever been around someone who is aggressively selling something? It gets old quickly. Jesus isn’t a product to sell like a protein shake, car warranty, or eyelash growth serum. We don’t need to work on a Bible verse every time we speak with someone who is far from him. If you find yourself encountering this pitfall, it’s a good idea to spend more time listening than talking. Listen to your friend to discover if they’re curious about Jesus, or if they’ve had negative experiences with Christians in the past. Listening and learning more about their spiritual history is not only kind and respectful (which is enough in and of itself), it will help you be sensitive to their openness to talk about spiritual things.
Prayer: “Holy Spirit, help me to listen to you and not try to force something to happen in my friend’s life. Give me sensitivity and a willingness to listen and engage friends with what they’re comfortable with when it comes to talking about spiritual things.”
Perhaps as you’ve been reading this article, you’ve realized some ways that you’ve made people into projects. Take some time to prayerfully reflect. Closing out our week, let’s be intentional in asking the Holy Spirit to see people as God sees them and to engage in ways that bring life, joy, and spiritual curiosity into your conversations.