In some of my recent posts I have been discussing how evangelism should be thought of as more of a process instead of a one-time event (read that post here). That process begins with building healthy relationships with others (read that post here). It also includes learning to be transparent about both our failures and our victories (read that post here). It also includes avoiding the “I versus you” syndrome (read that post here). I want to expand the discussion of the “I versus you” syndrome” in this post.
Some time ago I was taking part in a discussion group sponsored by a fairly traditional church in a nearby town. We were studying a powerful passage of Scripture I have enjoyed in the past. We were given a Bible study book that was published by a major Christian publishing house to use as a basis for the study. The leader of the group also shared stories of his journey of faith. Both the literature we were using and the leader’s discussion of it were ﬁlled with statements like, “I did this and you need to do that too,” “I stopped this behavior, and you need to stop this behavior too,” and “You need to change the way you think, feel, act, and believe and become like me.”
It became clear that the leader assumed the people in the discussion group could not possibly be living correctly until they changed their behavior to be more like his. After a while, both the study book and the leader’s conversation became insulting. While I agreed that the leader had experienced a remarkable change in his behavior and I was in theological agreement with much of what he said, it was diﬃcult to get past the constant “I versus you” statements.
The leader, perhaps unintentionally, seemed to imply that he had all the answers and had everything about life ﬁgured out. Postmodern young adults know better than that. Sharing our story in this way sounds arrogant and condescending. While it is important to share the stories of our own spiritual journeys when witnessing, churches that want to reach the next generation will teach their people to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements.
Using we and us statements helps young people feel as if they are part of the group instead of observers who are outside of the group. Since most postmodern people desire to belong to the group, when our witnessing methods create an artiﬁcial division between us and others, it can destroy that sense of belonging. Individual Christians, as well as religious teachers and preachers who want to connect with postmodern adults, need to retrain themselves to use statements that help people feel part of the group instead of being isolated from the group. This does not mean that we should not warn young people about dangerous or sinful behaviors; it just means that we should not create an “I versus you” environment in the process. Because young people will perceive this type of environment as being judgmental, they are unlikely to want to engage in a second dose of hearing how great Christians think we are. Retraining ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements can be quite a challenge.
The following might be an example of a less-eﬀective statement:
“If you continue in your addiction, you will never have a happy life. I trusted Christ, and it helped me overcome my addiction. I have been happier ever since. If you trust Christ, He will help you overcome your addiction, and you will be happier too.”
Though every word of the preceding statement may be technically accurate, to postmodern people it sounds arrogant.
An example of a more-eﬀective statement might be the following:
“Many of us have struggled with various addictions in our lives. We know what it is like to overcome such addictions, and we know what it is like to give in to those addictions. But as we have learned to turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we have found new strength to overcome our addictions. Let us encourage one another in our struggles and use the power of our faith in Christ to help one another overcome the addictions all of us battle.”
That type of statement expresses the need to turn away from sinful actions but does not put the hearer outside the group. To the contrary, it puts the speaker and the listener on common ground. Postmodern people will respond much better to this type of inclusive statement than to one with an I versus you perspective.
Retraining ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements can be quite a challenge. But it is a challenge worth engaging in if we hope to reach the next generation.
Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.