Conversations About God: How I Ditched Formal Evangelism and Started Just Being A Friend

happyEighteen-year-old Me. I dunno.

Note: I’ve been talking about evangelism around here, sharing my personal stories. You can find my introduction to the subject here.

In my last post, I shared my humiliating and disastrous attempt to convert my sweet friend Marie, which resulted in a shattered friendship. Today I’m continuing with another story.

I wrote this several years ago on my embarrassing old blog, and thought it would be fun to repost it. I mention this only to highlight that you might notice my writing style is different, and I’m probably even less evangelical than I was when I wrote this.

I never tried to convert another person to Christianity after the incident with Marie.

Okay, I only tried to convert one other person. But she didn’t mind because she was actually interested in my faith. She was taking philosophy with me in the same semester that I was taking sociology with Marie. So I was evangelizing them both simultaneously. I thought I was doing pretty good with this other girl, too, until she dropped out of the class before I got a chance to lead her to Christ. She never responded to any of my emails.

So that was that. I ditched that form of evangelism almost as quickly as I had picked it up. It clearly wasn’t working for me.

The fact that I gave up “evangelism” in the traditional sense, though, doesn’t mean I stopped talking about God. Far from it.

But after I gave up on conventional evangelism, my conversations about God were different. They just sort of happened spontaneously. They were natural and organic and never premeditated.

And I lost the whole idea that I was a spiritual teacher seeking disciples. I was a twenty-year old kid, for goodness sakes. I was just some girl in university who believed in God and liked to talk about him if people were interested.

And lots of people were, it turned out.


A year or two after Project Marie fell through, I took a summer art class at the university. I was getting married in a few months and wanted to decrease my upcoming semester’s workload by doing a class during the break. In art class I met a remarkable woman whom I’ll call Wendy.

I have met few human beings in my life as beautiful as Wendy. She was sweet and honest, with a personality that was as warm and golden as her hair and her amber complexion. She had a younger brother with a developmental disability whom she absolutely adored and about whom she talked with refreshing fondness. As a result, she was extremely sympathetic to all people with disabilities and loved hearing their stories.

She was a generous and friendly individual, and she struck up a conversation with me on the first day of class as we were setting up our easels. When she found out where I lived she suggested that we carpool to school. So, for the rest of the summer, I got to drive back and forth with her every day in her parents’ big white Expedition, talking about music, boys, family, and art. She would play her country music really loud and keep the windows down, and then yell over the roar of the wind about how she loved the singer’s voice or how she wanted to collect paintings for a gallery some day.

I don’t even remember ever mentioning that I was a Christian. I never do anymore. It seems people can just tell, or maybe I let it slip without realizing it. But on our last day of class, as we were heading home for the last time down the highway with the wind roaring in our ears and Rascal Flatts serenading us over the speakers, she yelled to me, “So . . . why do you believe in God?”

I explained to her, as best as I could, that God just made sense to me, and helped me to make sense of the world. I explained that I was pretty sure that Jesus was God. I explained how I believed the Gospels were accurate historical documents and that I found Jesus a pretty compelling deity. Wendy said that she wasn’t really convinced but she would probably remain open to the possibility that God existed. We drifted on to another conversation topic, and shortly after that we arrived at her house. I got into my car and exchanged warm goodbyes, and I gave her an invitation to my wedding before I drove off.

We didn’t ever talk about God explicitly again, but we continued to hang out every once in a while. She even came to my wedding, looking like a goddess in a short white dress, and danced with all the people with special needs, including my autistic brother-in-law. I visited her a couple of times at her place until she moved to another province to do another degree.

As with Marie, I never succeeded in converting her; but that was no longer my mission. And neither did I turn her off from God or church. I figure that’s gotta count for something.

I loved this new way of talking about God.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save."

I loved being asked about my faith, and being able to talk about it openly without any pressure to change the person who was asking. I realized that I had no control over whether or not Wendy wanted to know Jesus, and that was okay. That wasn’t my responsibility. I was available to her if she ever did want to know more, and I’m sure she knew it. I didn’t have to give her a weird, “I’m available to talk if you ever want to come to Christ” spiel. That was already apparent.

My job was simply to continue loving God and living in relationship with him, and to make friends and to be open to talking about God with them if they were interested. And if they simply weren’t? There was nothing I could really do about that.

After that summer, I was often surprised to find myself in the middle of a conversation about heaven with a friend over lunch or a chatting about prayer while walking to the library. I was surprised to find how naturally – and frequently – it occurred. People — particularly atheists — loved talking and hearing about God, as long as I wasn’t giving them a sermon.

And it never felt weird. It was just as natural as talking about our weekends or our boyfriends or the authors we were reading. I simply shared some of my own young thoughts and experiences when the subject came up. And my friends seemed to value them.

I never had to intentionally steer the conversation in that direction if it wasn’t going there. God came up on his own accord.

Using this approach, I also had plenty of time to get to know my friends first before diving into God stuff – to learn what kinds of things they found interesting or exciting.

I also found I was never nervous about talking about God anymore – my friends cherished my views and often found them intriguing. What was there to be nervous about? We were equals; we were both spiritual seekers, even if we had come to different conclusions about the universe. I had no responsibility but to be loving, open, honest, and thoughtful.

This is the form of evangelism I have embraced since the failed Convert Marie Project, and I have had no shortage of conversations about God since then.

Lighthouse image from Rene Gonzalez.
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  1. This sounds so familiar. For me it was growing up in a very traditional Baptist church and finding out when I went to college that the world didn’t work the way I thought it did, especially when it comes to sharing my faith. My husband taught me that the best way to convert people can be found in this simple phrase that we have both accepted as our life goal no matter where we are or what we’re doing: “Make a friend, be a friend, lead a friend to Christ.” It’s all about living in such a different way from everyone else and then letting them come to you. We feel it really is the way Jesus operated and it works so much better. It’s one of the biggest reasons we decided to take creation care and minimalism so seriously in our lives. We are living in a radically different way than everyone around us because God showed us that we don’t need material things and that one of the best ways to serve God is to follow His very first commandment to Adam, care for the Earth we were given. Because of my intense love of all thing natural and sustainable (especially in Arizona), I usually run in a very non Christian crowd and most of them are surprised to hear I’m a Christian and a conservationist. My story then gets to be the message, which ends up just being very cool.
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  2. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve often felt like I wasn’t a good Christian because I don’t evangelize to people. Yet I don’t evangelize because it doesn’t seem culturally appropriate and (I think) tends to turn people off from Christianity. Plus as you said, people usually know that I’m a Christian, so if they want to talk about that stuff with me they can. So anyway, thank you — I now feel free to continue not evangelizing! Love the Anne Lamott quote, she is one of my favorite writers.
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  3. “People — particularly atheists — loved talking and hearing about God, as long as I wasn’t giving them a sermon.” <—- As an atheist*, I can say it's true.

    The reason I read your blog is because you inspire me with your dedication to simplicity and conservation, but the reason I continue to read your blog is because you don't preach.

    When you write about your faith, you write about *your* faith; you don't make it about anyone besides youself. I appreciate that, as it allows me to read your thoughts with openness and intrigue, rather than defensiveness or conflict. I genuinely enjoy reading what you write about your faith. That you are an intelligent and gifted writer doesn't hurt, either.

    I mentioned before that I have great admiration for the sincerity with which you live your faith, and that you do so in a way that makes sense to me. My general response is confusion to the way most people of faith (Christianity or otherwise) live their lives; it generally just doesn't add up in my head. Your living faith makes sense to me.

    I am taking a deep breath as I ask this, but I would love to read your thoughts on the Bible as an accurate historical document. I take that deep breath because, just as deeply as I know you believe that, I believe a very different history of the world. I've never before asked someone of your historical beliefs to elaborate on them; I hope you consider it a compliment that I ask you. You should :)

    (Oh, and just now as I've typed all that out, I see that you've actually written you believe in the *Gospels* as accurate historical documents. So feel free to ignore my question, or clarify that you believe in the Gospels – but not the Old Testament – as historically accurate, or answer my original question if it does actually hold true for you.)


    * I do just want to chime in that although it is most accurate to label myself as an atheist, I generally do not like the word in description of myself. I believe in many things, just not God in the traditional sense, or religion in any sense.
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    • Hi Rebecca! Thanks so much for your kind words and support. I hope never again to make someone feel like they’re being preached at.

      As for the historical accuracy of the Bible: you were right to note that I specified the gospels.

      Here’s how I see it: the Bible is a collection of many different books written by many different authors, in many different genres for many different audiences. Some books are poetry, others are prophecy; some are meant to be historical records. Genesis, for example, is highly poetic, and I don’t read it as literal history. I do consider it a source of truth, though, about human nature and our relationship to God. I honestly don’t know exactly how evolution ties into it. It’s something I’m still working through, since I used to believe in a literal 7-day creation and a 6000-year-old earth. I’ve read a few very interesting and compelling theological works on how we can still consider Genesis *true* while embracing what scientists have come to understand about the earth’s history.

      The gospels, however, were clearly intended to be historically accurate, and I do take them literally. So I really believe Jesus performed all those miracles, was crucified, and rose from the dead.

      And then there are the letters from Paul to different churches in the first century, and I believe it’s essential we take context and audience into consideration before making universal claims about how we ought to behave.

      Does that make sense? I really do enjoy discussing these things with open-minded friends, and would be interested in your thoughts as well!

      • Goodness, it does make sense; but now I want to know all about your transition away from the literal belief that the world was a 7 day creation and is 6,000 years old! That’s fascinating, and I can only imagine what a minority you are in having made that change in thinking/belief.

        Other than that, though, I just have to laugh at the thought of all this Bible talk. I grew up Catholic – went to a Catholic grade school, an all-girls Catholic high school, and even a Jesuit university (though I didn’t choose it for that reason) – and, if you know anything about Catholics, you know we don’t know squat about the Bible! Though I did, at one time, believe as you do: that the Old Testament contained truths (just not literal truths), and the New Testament was historical.

        My “atheism” was a gradual process for me, beginning with distancing myself from the Catholic Church (for so many reasons!), then from religion in general, then from believing in Jesus as God, and finally from a traditional belief in God at all.

        Even when I was (relatively) active in my faith, I never felt comfortable with the idea that we are inherently flawed, or need saving (saving from what?), or required God to send a Son to die for our sins. I suppose I could write a lot about that, but that’s the basics.

        I now see my version of God (though I don’t call it that, I don’t call it anything in fact) in the spirits and energy of this entire universe, our world, and in all of its beings. I had trouble with the traditional concept that we are God’s chosen ones, or that we were made in God’s image, and that we are somehow different from, separate from, or superior in any way to, any of the other beings in our world. I think each species – and each individual within each species – has unique and special spirits/souls all worthy of immese respect, without hierarchy. And so that’s now I how I try to guide the choices in my life and how I engage with all others and our world: kindness, compassion, empathy, respect. (Which, ultimately, isn’t so different from you, is it?)

        I could say so much more but I’ve hijacked your comments section! So I’ll just once again laugh that you’ve now talked to me more about the Bible than I could have gotten in an entire religion class growing up ;)

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        • Ha — yes, it does make me a minority. I don’t think most of my church friends even know that I no longer believe in a 6000-year-old earth. It doesn’t really come up because everyone just assumes we all believe the same thing. I’m too awkward to bring it up. :)

          Thanks for sharing your story. I can somewhat understand your struggle with a lot of these ideas — to be honest, I still often struggle with them, too. I’ve always been naturally drawn towards and sympathetic to animals, and I have a hard time understanding our relationship to them. I’ve never been completely comfortable with our domination over them. Where exactly do they fit into all this theology? It’s perhaps one of the greatest struggles in my faith.

          Interestingly, a lot of what you’re saying here is reminding me of what I’ve read via Jesus Radicals. The editors are vegans, and write against speciesism and the exploitation and dominance over nonhuman animals. They make some compelling arguments that Jesus came to save ALL creatures, and in fact the most important element in his incarnation as a man was that he came as a fellow CREATURE. I guess what I’m saying is that interestingly, there are some Christians who believe in the Bible and worship Jesus and yet have come to the same conclusions as you about the shared dignity of nonhuman animals. (Isn’t it interesting how we can all share so many things?)

          I love that we can still agree on the most important things, despite our different religious convictions: that kindness, compassion, empathy, and respect are the keys to joy, peace and community. Thanks for engaging in this interesting conversation with me!

  4. I love the “lighthouse” quote/illustration. Mind if I repost on IG (obviously to your blog’s credit)?

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