Whether you think the phenomenon of people leaving the church is a real thing or not, the reality is that some people will–and that when it happens, things can get a little awkward.

I’ve had a few friends stop publicly identifying as Christians, and I have a soft spot for them.  I have talked to enough of them to realize that Christians often don’t quite know how to react when the switch is made official, and have made enough mistakes on my own that I thought I might have something helpful to say.

A tidbit:

The Awkward Christian Approach

When my wife and I go out to eat, we’ll often pray before our meal. It’s always a little awkward, especially when the server drops by with the food in the middle of it. I’m sometimes tempted to alter what I say and hurry through the prayer to prevent an awkward moment.

But prayer is what Christians do. It’s part of the heartbeat of our life in Jesus. My tendency to avoid prayer in public isn’t grounded in a desire to avoid making others uncomfortable, or a commitment to pray in secret as Jesus commanded, but rather a lack of courage.

I’ve observed a similar pattern with friends who leave the faith. It’s tempting to paper over our differences, to mute the distinct habits and ways of speaking that are a constant reminder of the divisions between us — and the bonds we used to share. Sometimes that desire isn’t grounded in a sense of hospitality or love for the other person, but in a desire to avoid the reminder that things are not the way they once were.

There is a fine line to walk. “Christianese” won’t resonate with them anymore, and it’s important to be sensitive to that. And it’s pretty clear we should avoid undue controversy or divisions with those we love and practice the sort of radical hospitality toward them that distinguishes us as Christians.

But this hospitality must be marked by a quiet confidence that comes from a refusal to compromise the distinctive aspects of our faith. When Peter asked Jesus about the Apostle John, Jesus responded: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” It is a command for us as well. We must go about our Father’s business oblivious to the particular shape that other people’s relationship with Jesus takes.

Anyone made similar mistakes or have other advice?

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

3 Comments

  1. Great topic to think about.

    Sadly I have found that former Christians tend to distance themselves from me, even though I think of myself as non-judgmental and accepting. Maybe it’s just the price of pursuing a call to ministry: you are no longer a “neutral party”

    Reply

    1. Matthew Lee Anderson June 6, 2011 at 10:50 pm

      Thanks, Marc. And yeah, I agree that’s a real phenomenon as well. There can be an expectation that Christians *will* be judgmental, and that can lead to awkwardness in itself.

      Reply

  2. My thinking immediately moves past the shared bonds of Christian fellowship and on toward friendship, for if someone I love has once shared with me a common narrative in Christianity, and leaves that narrative behind in exchange for another, the friendship is fundamentally changed, though not expired. This change does not necessarily diminish my love for that person, for they remain my neighbor.

    I agree with you that things become a bit awkward. But if my love for that person remains deep, as it should, then I can patiently listen, civilly disagree,and even attempt to gently persuade, maybe not in the terms that were once familiar, but within a new, common language that comes through a sustained fellowship and a shared history. I guess that counts as advice, or at least it is how I’ve tried to live among my friends who walk away from Christianity.

    Reply

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