Resisting Your Own Little World for the Sake of the Kingdom


Tim Challies linked to an interesting article that reflects a topic I’ve discussed in depth: technology’s attack on genuine community. A good article, worthy of your time and consideration.

Toward the article’s end, one educational scientist, William Kist of Kent State University, makes an intriguing statement:

[Kist] also pointed out that the “real world” that many social media critics hark back to never really existed. Before everyone travelled on the bus or train with their heads buried in an iPad or a smart phone, they usually just travelled in silence. “We did not see people spontaneously talking to strangers. They were just keeping to themselves,” Kist said.

Many Christian writers/thinkers/pastors/bloggers talk about community, but rarely have I heard any of them discussing what Kist states above.

That ability to engage a stranger is foundational to any healthy society. And it goes beyond simple transactional engagement, such as asking the butcher for pound of ground chuck.

As Kist notes, in the days before the proliferation of tech devices that wired us into our own little worlds, people were already in that world, we just couldn’t see it. Lonely in a crowdI would contend that industrialization and social Darwinism abetted that transformation long ago, as we heartily received the false gospels of self-sufficiency and survival of the fittest.

Ours has become an “I don’t need you” society where people fight over scraps. Witness how easily a simple pending snowstorm turns grocery shoppers into frightened hoarders because their self-sufficiency is briefly threatened.

I honestly believe we can counter some of that mentality if we break out of our little worlds.

I was that guy on the plane flight who was chatty with the people in my row. I’m told that makes me a nuisance, but that was before everyone was plugged into a computer, iPad, iPod, Blackberry, or whatever. And you know, I never once had a conversation with rowmates that wasn’t fascinating. Nor did I ever get the feeling that those in the conversation resented the chat.  People did open up. In fact, most people would leave the plane laughing or smiling after such a talk. Made the flight go faster too.

What got me was that just talking with a stranger opened up a level of connection that most people now avoid like the plague. Tech only makes it more obvious. (I would tend to disagree with Kist, in part, because a person with a gadget truly is less likely to engage another, lost as they are in their cyberworld. People may have been silent in the past, but that was only because they’d been acclimatized by conditioning to be so. Now, it’s supplemented.)

Those conversations I have on planes (and in checkout lines, buses, sporting events—wherever) have meaning. They tie people together and remind us that we’re not only NOT self-suffucient but that other people have worth, that their stories matter in the larger story of God’s redemptive history.

This brings me to my final point.

I’ve been wondering why Christians today are so lousy at personal evangelism, and I believe these issues play right into that. If we can’t engage people, if we aren’t the ones who break the silence, then no one will hear about Jesus.

I’m constantly amazed at the personal details I hear from strangers I engage. The young woman running my bag of carrots over the grocery store scanner has a story. And if I talk with her, I may find out her husband just left her and the kid to fend for themselves. Or that her mom just died of cancer.

For those of us who are Christians, how can we be silent? How can we be buried in an iPad when the drama of the lives of broken, shattered people plays out around us?

Do you think Jesus has anything to say through your lips to that young woman whose husband just left? Does He have anything to offer her after her mom died right when she needed her most?

Each day, our opportunities to lead lost people to Jesus are legion. How can we possibly be silent, to let others pass by trapped in a world they can’t understand, while we who claim to know the answers dwell in our own little world, oblivious?

18 thoughts on “Resisting Your Own Little World for the Sake of the Kingdom

  1. For Christians I think there is a theological foundation here that is core.

    God is a relational God on every level. Relationship is his central medium through which he operates (to us and through us to others). If we as His people aren’t making ourselves avaliable to those around us in relationship we are deluding outselves about who God is and how he works through us.

    Social networking is not the problem. It is afflicted by the same human failure that we have always have had. Social networking has the potential to be a great tool to augment healthy relationships. But there’s an internal issue that needs to be addressed first.

    It’s one thing to pinpoint those internal issues (pride, security, comfort, self centerdness), the next step is to discover tangible tools that we can grab onto and imeplement to redeem our social contexts. I call this discovering and creating relational space in our day to day lives.

    And I’m calling bluff on everyone who says “I’m not wired as a people person, I’m a servant”. I’m as anxious, fearful, and insecure in talking to a stranger as the next bloke, but we don’t worship a God that invites us to settle into comfort, but call us into discomfort.

    • David,

      EVERYTHING about our culture today, especially in the Christian subculture, is hurtling toward being a mile wide and an inch deep. Same goes for how we communicate. We have tons of Facebook friends, but we see the core of them less often.

  2. this is a really great post…yeah, I hear a lot about community all the time but the reality is we are lousy at it. I would challenge anyone to name 5 neighbors on their street anywhere in America. God is relational and we are not. That’s why sharing our faith stories is so difficult for most of us…we are self absorbed and that makes it almost impossible to engage others in an authentic way.

  3. Very good blog with good points. Social media gives ordinary people a global platform that has never been available before. I agree, social networking isn’t the problem, depravity is. I try to be diligent to connect with people in whatever way I can. But it does require a decision to love people and make yourself available for evangelism in season and out. Great blog. It really made me think.

    Ronda Ray
    Author of Prayer Revolution, How God Refined My Connection With Heaven.

  4. Jonathan

    I was recently reading a book for young men (hoping to present it to my Jr. High students) on becoming a gentleman. I was fascinated that one of the points it made, and emphatically I might add, was that a gentleman is always ready and cheerful in offering polite conversation that is insightful, personal, and engaging – and that was for interactions with complete strangers! The book went on to make the point that elevators, subways, street corners, and shopping markets should never be places of isolation and it is the duty of a gentleman to ensure that no one feels that way.

    What got me about this was very close to Dan’s final point. If that’s the duty of a gentleman from a secular perspective, then what should our role in this be as Christians? Isn’t it our job to reach outside of ourselves and love those around us? If it’s considered common courtesy and gentlemanly to engage others in order to make them feel less isolated, how much more should we be motivated by love to interact with those around us?

    So thank you, Dan, good post – and very encouraging. Though, like Clint, I suck at this.

  5. Jonathan

    @David: I apologize, but I couldn’t hope to tell you. That’s why I cited it so poorly. I read it in the middle of a Barnes & Noble while buried in a pile of possible resource books larger than my entire classrooom collection. I ultimately did not choose the book because it was aimed expressly at young men and I am teaching a mixed group. So, sadly, I do not remember which volume it was that included the passage that caught my eye and today’s post reminded me of.

  6. suzanne

    This is very good. My only comment would be for those of us on the more introverted side of the communication spectrum, exchanging pleasantries or conversation is sometimes not something we seek out. If I am on a train, and gazing out the window in quiet, or engrossed in a book, it’s because I am perfectly happy doing so. That said, I totally agree that “EVERYTHING about our culture today, especially in the Christian subculture, is hurtling toward being a mile wide and an inch deep.”

    • I don’t think anyone is saying that everyone reading a book or playing on their iPhone is not enjoying themselves doing so. On the contrary, the problem is our society has developed in such a way in which we are perfectly happy keeping to ourselves. And it is anxiety inducing to reach out in relationship to those around us. Our relational God reached into discomfort to love us that we might know Him, and I have a hunch that we as His followers are called to do the same.

      • David,

        Very well put. I’ve personally learned to take a book or some other attention occupying medium when traveling just so that I won’t be forced to interact with people I don’t know. Yet, as far out of our comfort or even enjoyment zone as this may be…our relational God has called us to share His love with the world – His relational, boundary crossing love that pushes us out of our comfort zone and into relation with other human being in need of God’s love as a catalyst in their lives.

        • suzanne

          I guess I’m also looking at it from the point of view of the person we are interacting with. If I’m sitting on a train, reading a book and enjoying myself doing so, I’m afraid I might resent some stranger pestering me in my down time. Sure, I interact with strangers all the time at the store, at the post office, at the doctor’s office, and have had some great conversations, but I think we have to be careful about being a little too eager, especially when encountering those on the introspective side of the spectrum. We need to understand that while we may feel compelled to interact with them, they just may not appreciate the intrusion. I guess what I mean is that for some, especially introverts, unwarranted interaction is not always a welcome thing.

          • Great point Suzanne.

            Half of conversation 101 is being respectful and actively discerning where your audience is at. Otherwise this very quickly could be intrusive and obnoxious.

            Again, myself being an introvert, I know how it can be unsettling for someone to initiate a conversation, but this anxiety is quickly settled if the person is respectful and discerning of where I am at.

            The end goal is to love people, and love can only be communicated in relationship. While this requires initiative and discomfort on my part, it can’t be forced. By no means am I advocating constant conversation with anyone in sight just for the sake of connecting in relationship without regard to loving the person.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy

    I was that guy on the plane flight who was chatty with the people in my row.

    There’s an additional reason we avoid “that guy on the plane flight who is chatty” — especially if his chattiness includes Christianese.

    We’re gun-shy. Gun-shy of having the Four Spiritual Laws and Sinner’s Prayer/Magic Words high-pressured on us out of Wretched Urgency. You say “Hi”, he responds with “HAVEYOUACCEPTEDJESUSCHRISTASYOURPERSONALLORDANDSAVIOR?” It’s like finding yourself next to a 9/11 Truther or Obama Birther or Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory Gnostic who won’t shut up to his captive audience, and you’re afraid that even noticing the guy will set him off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *