FENTON, MI – Last month, I described what I labeled as Secondhand Faith. I described its six traits or markers.
This month, I do not want to paint a completely negative picture because there is good news. There is evidence that spirituality has grown in recent years. Bookstores have enlarged their spiritual reading sections. Music producers have created discs from all corners of the spiritual world. Mainline movies from Hollywood have been filled with spiritual themes. People have used the Internet, in record numbers, searching for answers to spiritual questions. Television and radio programs have been peppered with spiritual jargon. Pop culture and current celebrities have cast a spotlight on the latest self-improvement trend. Spirituality is on the rise.
We cannot let this moment escape us without trying to move our world from an ambiguous
spirituality toward an accurate expression of genuine faith. Like the freshness date on a bottle of milk, it could be that we have a limited window of opportunity in which to transform the population before the next mood takes us farther away from authentic spirituality. We should make the most of this opportunity.
I need to share what I believe are ten trends in today’s world. This phenomenon is a multigenerational trend. I have friends, who live by secondhand faith’s six markers, who are in their 20s, 40s, and 70s. I find that those who have adopted the mood of secondhand faith live by the following ten trends:
1. Are comfortable with mysteries, everything need not be explained
2. Prefer learning through interactive dialogues, not monologues
3. Like to discover things for themselves, not be indoctrinated
4. Have a bad impression of Christianity, not an accurate one
5. Focus on the here-and-now, not so much the hereafter
6. Will choose amorality over a stringent morality
7. Want to be perceived as spiritual, not religious
8. Feel insignificant, not important
9. Want community, not isolation
10. Are skeptical, not gullible
A familiar passage written thousands of years ago says, “There is nothing new under the sun”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9). While that is absolutely true concerning man’s search for meaning, it is still
profitable to analyze our current situation in fresh ways.
Twelve Effective Habits
The markers and trends associated with secondhand faith offer a quick sketch of our contemporary audience. By reviewing these lists, from time to time, I have created twelve personal habits that I follow while trying to help friends transform their secondhand faith into a genuine faith.
1. Intercede for friends, seekers, and myself through regular prayer times.
I ask the Lord to open up opportunities for spiritual discussions. I have to be ready to discuss spiritual matters when the moment arrives. Those important moments often come at the most
2. Inform people about the gospel with all sorts of media.
I share creative business cards, digital images, text messages, tracts, websites, video files, audio files, DVDs, and CDs, with my contact information attached. Those materials start and continue dialogues. I attempt to fill their senses with different forms of the same message: video testimonies, music, and personal stories of conversion from those who resemble my friends. It seems that offering morsels of the message in small doses is much more effective than exhaustive explanations.
3. Initiate spiritual discussions and listen carefully.
I have stopped using the word “religion” when talking with someone about his or her spirituality. Labels too often lead to misunderstandings. I intentionally use everyday language to discuss faith. I usually say something like, “Please, tell me about your spiritual journey.” This approach seems to lead to a more candid and thorough discussion. During the conversation, or soon
afterwards, my new acquaintance asks about my spiritual journey which allows us to more freely discuss the claims of Christ and Christianity.
4. Infiltrate the lives of people in a respectful way.
People who follow secondhand faith rarely come to church. Therefore, I have to make the initial effort by entering into areas of their lives where we can have conversations. Intentionally bridging relationships with new friends can be done through cultural, recreational, activist, and social activities. Oftentimes, I find those involved in meaningful or charitable activities more easily identify with me. I explain my concerns for ecology, world events, social injustices, and
charitable events while referring to my faith. Our common interests allow me time to translate the gospel into forms they will more easily understand.
5. Introduce people to the Lord as if He is a close personal friend.
This is not an effort to trivialize God. It is a way of showing God’s personal concern in their lives. People often think that God is too impersonal and far-removed from their reality. Understanding that God knew them before they were born and that He knows their thoughts and motives moves them from feeling insignificant to a more correct assessment of how God actually sees them.
6. Inspire people with the narrative stories of the Bible and current testimonies.
People like to know they are not alone in their daily struggles. They find community and answers in other peoples’ experiences. They are not looking for perfect people. They are looking for people who are transparent and honest about their own spiritual journeys. In reality, they want someone to show that a more fulfilling life can be acquired in this lifetime.
7. Instill a confidence in the Bible by helping people to become familiar with its contents.
People want to know how the Bible relates to their daily lives. Scriptural application
needs to be straightforward and practical. They will discover for themselves that much of
their dissatisfaction in life comes from the fact that their lives do not line-up with the
expectations in the Bible.
8. Interact in small discussion groups mixing many seekers with a couple of respected
Most of my friends seem to learn best through interactive dialogues and discussions. They do not seem to gain as much from simply listening to a discourse. Monologues make them feel they are being coerced with religious propaganda. They are not comfortable displaying ignorance on subjects. So, small groups allow them to express their doubts and explore their questions in a friendly, relaxed environment. This involvement with other Christians advances the seeker’s confidence in genuine faith. The more Christians a seeker meets during the early stages of his or her search, the more reasonable conversion seems.
9. Invite people to attend a gathering of Christians involved in a vibrant worship experience even before they have become Christians.
Seekers, involved with secondhand faith, often crave a dynamic and vibrant community. They love the mystery of worship. They find a sense of belonging and community within Christian groups often before they are ready to convert to Christianity. Our friends have often made their final step toward conversion after observing Christians in authentic, passionate worship. Figuratively speaking, I find ways to expand the entryway of our Christian groups and churches. I have to allow people to take part in our activities and to find a sense of belonging before they are willing to believe.
10. Identify prayerfully where God is at work in each person’s life and customize
relationships so as to join God in what He is already accomplishing.
The Holy Spirit is always at work urging men and women toward the Lord. I want to take part in what God is already doing rather than control all of my relationships in a common manner.
11. Insult no one.
While making comparisons between spiritual pathways, discussing morals, and encouraging those involved in secondhand faith toward genuine faith, I have to be careful to not insult, malign, or attack anyone’s personal spirituality. This is important regardless of where my friends are in their spiritual journey. I can say that something is not in agreement with the Bible or is not in keeping with God’s expectations without offending anyone. People learn to make their own critical comparisons as they increase their confidence in Christ and the Bible.
12. Inquire frequently, asking people to reflect on where they are in their spiritual journey when coming to Christ.
People need to share their spiritual challenges aloud, as they consider the claims of Christianity. They often struggle with the exclusive claims of Christianity stating that Christ is the only way to salvation. Allowing them to wrestle aloud with their obstacles in a secure relationship allows them to discover new spiritual insights.
Let me ask, are you and your church poised to attract and persuade those who live by a secondhand faith that Christ is the only true solution for their condition? If not, call, email, snapchat, or one of those other new ways of communicating and we will help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.