How to awaken curiosity about the faith in our friends and colleagues

Filed in Relationships by on August 18, 2014 12 Comments

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One of the most difficult things we can encounter as Christians are friends who have no interest at all in Christianity, even if they “respect me for being a Catholic”. It is like a bridge of trust is there, between them and me, and yet they couldn’t be less interested.

In the five thresholds of conversion, discussed by Sherry Weddell inForming Intentional Disciples, curiosity is the second threshold. Once a bridge of trust exists between the person and God, and/or the Church, and/or a Christian… our task as an evangeliser is to arouse curiosity.

Curiosity in what is a big question. I knew a lady who was fascinated by the Church her daughter had joined because it seemed like a big, intriguing club. Curiosity as a threshold of conversion really means curiosity about Christ – and about things in relation to him.

Often, for many of our friends, colleagues, and family members a ‘bridge of trust’ is in place because of us and the relationship they have with us. I think we can also think about those who come to enquiry sessions of RCIA – many will already be at the point of curiosity for them to be there at all; but it is good to be open to the fact that some may not have any curiosity about Jesus… Perhaps they are there for other reasons we won’t rehearse right now, but, whatever reason they’re there, our job is to awaken curiosity.

Here, I’ve written some suggestions: both how to arouse curiosity, and how we can dampen it (usually by making Catholics look somewhat socially awkward…) Good to be aware of both!

Ways to arouse curiosity: 

  • Be your cheerful, loving, helpful, efficient, friendly, peace-exuding Christian self :) – no better way
  • Drop into conversation that you’re going to Mass/a prayer group/retreat – but only say more about it if they ask (going to Mass in your lunch break is pretty curiosity-inducing)
  • Have a small crucifix on your desk/a rosary in your bag/a holy picture in your home
  • Talk a little about Christian heroism we don’t often see in mainstream media, e.g. the Iraqi Christians
  • Pose curiosity-arousing questions when you talk about topical issues: happiness, freedom, life, family… bring all these topics up and ask interesting questions
  • Live a life with many different interests – sports, hobbies, travel – and share conversations about many different things
  • Make the sign of the cross before eating a meal when you’re in a restaurant
  • Invite your friend to a gathering or event with other Christians you think they’ll get along well with
  • If someone notices you don’t eat meat on Fridays or don’t eat sweets during Lent, have a good reason why you don’t
  • If your friend begins asking questions, answer them in a Christ-centred way
  • Match your answer to your friend’s level of curiosity

Ways to drown curiosity: 

  • Be moany, lazy, judgemental, [insert other unattractive character adjectives] and still say you’re a Christian – see people lose interest in droves
  • Give a blow-by-blow account of the retreat you went on
  • Make a disparaging joke about some aspect of Catholic teaching, “Most Catholics don’t believe that”
  • Clutter your entire workspace with prayer cards and small statues
  • Tell your friend about the in-fighting at your church
  • Pray the whole of Night Prayer loudly in a public place, complete with Salve Regina
  • Invite someone to spend time with you and other Christians then have a fiery debate about inside-Catholic hot issues in front of them
  • Draw unnecessary attention, in a self-conscious way, to saying grace before meals/not eating meat on a Friday/going to Mass on a holy day of obligation/fasting on Ash Wednesday, etc.
  • When someone asks a serious question, you give a jokey response, or a human-centred rather than a Christ-centred perspective
  • Your friend asks a quick, simple question about the faith, and you give a long, convoluted answer, quoting the Catechism, the Church Fathers, and St Thomas Aquinas till they’re not listening anymore

How about you? What ways do you help arouse curiosity in others? What do you think is off-putting?

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About the Author ()

Hannah Vaughan-Spruce is an experienced catechist and youth worker, who now works for the Diocese of Portsmouth. Some of her Jericho Tree articles were first posted at her personal catechetical blog Transformed in Christ. They are used here with permission. See http://www.transformedinchrist.com/

Comments (12)

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  1. Richard says:

    This is such an important topic, and I find the list of Do’s and Don’t’s equally interesting. I dread over-responding to expressions of interest, but it’s so disheartening when you find that find an opportunity has slipped by.
    Somebody with literary talent should turn the lists into amusing and instructive stories.

  2. Paul Rodden says:

    ‘What do you think is off-putting?’
    Christians trying to arouse curiosity.

    The Christian ‘goodie-two-shoes’ in list one can be just as off-putting or annoying, and come across as a sanctimonious twit, just as much as list two. It’s just as easy to antagonise or alienate, as raise curiosity without saying or doing anything even, as the ‘enquirer’ has their own (erroneous) presuppositions and ‘baggage’. Understanding people’s Frame of Reference is crucial to navigating what is, a minefield. George Weigel, in his biography on St Pope John Paul II, ‘Witness to Hope’, says that JPII’s method was, ‘Meeting people wisely’. I agree.

    I believe genuine and effective evangelisation is primarily an epiphenomenon of faith lived (deification/theosis), rather than any technique. Too many people try to do ‘friendship evangelism’ which is, more often than not, simply an interest in a person to the degree they’re likely to be open to whatever one’s peddling. It’s cringe-making, especially the smiles and ‘air kisses’ popular in Evangelicalism.

    Some Evangelicals meet me for lunch to talk because I’m the only person they can be honest with about their doubts and depression because they trust me because I became a friend first (without any ulterior motive), whilst they’re considered the ‘life and soul’ of their congregations, always smiling and happy and so ‘spiritual’. Too many Christians idealise and ‘fake it’. It’s hard work and so many people keep up appearances, the pretense, because many around them are, too. The presumed expectations of others trump truth and reality. In short, it seems the Gospel has not freed them in the very way it should. It’s still just ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

    From my experience, God puts people in our paths at the right time, using his methods. in fact, I’m quite shocked how God can use such a broken dork like me, but he gives me plenty of evidence of his existence through my personal encounters. One day, for example, I might read a paragraph in a book about a knotty issue, then have someone ask me about that very issue later, out of the blue. This has happened several times. Every act of ‘Evangelism’ seems to be also an act of Revelation.

    Living the Virtues rather than trying to fake it or escape, and living in the real world rather than some utopian (secular or religious) make-believe, wishful thinking lifestyle, speaks volumes, I believe.

    People can smell when they’re being objectified, ‘done-unto’, even if they can’t put their finger on it. Christians have to surprise by being different – not in a ‘moral’ or ‘pious’ sense – but engaging rather than superficial, earthy (hummus) rather than earthly (mundus).

  3. mags says:

    ‘our task as an evangeliser is to arouse curiosity.’

    Forgive me Hannah but No it isn’t.

    Our task as evangeliser is to be AUTHENTIC, is to be TRUE, is to be REAL, is to share our TRUTH our WONDER our HONESTY our WITNESS through our everyday experiences of living and KNOWING GOD ~ to All ~ without exception ~ WITH LOVING KINDNESS ~ Both our SORROWS and our JOYS.

    Its is not to try and arouse anything in anybody. Thats contrived ~ and thats the Holy Spirits job.

    Our job as Evangelisers is to SPEAK THE TRUTH . and if we do so in God it will naturally be radiant for others whom THE HOLY SPIRIT BESTOWS HIS LOVE UPON.

    • kentgeordie says:

      The one does not exclude the other. Evangelisation, like all forms of communication, comprises both content and form, substance and method. If we are concerned to evangelise, we must be concerned about how to do it well.

      • Paul Rodden says:

        Yes, kent.

        But do we want ‘to do it well’ to win, or to love? In fact, if we love first, would that change how we go about evangelisation/apologetics? From my observations, it seems too many catechists and apologists care more about scalps than souls, de facto, whatever they claim, de jure.

    • Paul Rodden says:

      Hi Mags.
      Spot on!

      Contrived. That sums up best what I see many New Evangelists turning the New Evangelisation into.

      However, manipulative, increasingly trite, sentimental, and condescending, are quite good words to throw in, too. :)

      As an ex-Evangelical, I’ve seen exactly the same mentality and the same approach played out in Evangelical congregations. Every time, it ended badly.

      Call it ‘purpose-driven’ or ‘intentional’, it’s the same thing in the wrong hands. It can end up authoritarian implementing its intention or purpose, ‘THE Solution’.

      Words like prudence and wisdom are second to evangelistic pragmatism, recklessness replaces courage, zeal supersedes temperance and patience, and the coterie’s expectations end up trumping justice and dignity.

      They hunt out like-minds then run rough-shod over their congregations, like a group of know-it-alls, trying to ‘fix them’ and ‘put them straight’, causing splits at best and schism at worst.

      The problem is, the ‘leaders’ gradually get trapped inside their own box. Everything is coherent within it, and everything outside is just as they all believe it to be (normally defective in some way). They read the same (approved) books, and just talk to, and affirm, each other, so it all seems so true and right because they all agree.

      So, I think you’re right, and sadly, I’m sure you’ll agree too, that what you’re suggesting is slow (in human terms), and so we might not get much satisfaction, but God’s got plenty of time, and we know it’s his time, his will, his movements – and our docility to those – that count.

      As Fr Robert Barron says, ‘It’s not about me’.

  4. Mags says:

    If we as Christians have True faith in God then I believe that we have to respond to the Seekers curiosity aroused by the Holy Spirit. Its a nuanced difference from the above post and one which supports and responds to the seekers own curiosity and Awakening which is True and not a response to an arousal provoked or imagined or suggested from the outside of self which is far lesser, but one that is inherent from within. A far greater discover. and one likely to Last.

    • Paul Rodden says:

      Agree again!

      It seems to me a word that sums up what you’re getting at is ‘authentic’. ‘Sincerity’ and ‘Authenticity’, seem to have had a bad run from some ‘orthodox’ Catholic quarters, but I think they’re important words, if used appropriately.

      The late Fr Thomas Dubay’s book, Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment, Ignatius Press 1977, (Revised Edition 1997), is an outstanding monograph on the subject, and I heartily recommend it.

  5. Mags – I just wanted to come back on your comment about what an evangeliser is. I agree with what you say – that it is about being authentic, truthful, real — of course! I did not think for one moment that as Christians we should be wearing masks and pretending to be something we’re not, or ‘play-acting’. It goes without saying (or, perhaps, it doesn’t!) that we have to be disciples before we can be apostles, and disciples, through intimacy with Christ in prayer and the sacraments, naturally evangelise, that is, become ‘apostles’.

    I guess the point of my article was that, when we want to bring others to Christ, it is helpful to have some idea of ‘where’ they might be. This isn’t to be presumptuous or judgmental – if I am talking to a good friend or family member, I know them pretty well. For example, I know that with some members of my family there is not even a ‘bridge of trust’ in place, so I would not speak with them about God, religion, the Church…. I just want to build a good relationship. However, if I know someone who is beginning to show signs of curiosity, I would want to encourage that as best I could by asking/answering questions…but not too much.

    I really don’t think this is contrived. I believe that this is simply using our reason, our love for Christ and the other person, to be the best channel we can be for God to draw that other person to him.

    • Paul Rodden says:

      Yes! Yes! Yes!

      I think what you’ve described here is more use than either of the lists in dealing with the matter at hand. Dare I say it’s more like ‘the old Hannah’? :)

      As to the topic, someone could follow all your ‘rules’ in list one and still fail to get engagement every time. Too many people ‘try to be Christian’ and it simply doesn’t ring true.

      To outsiders, we’re often all just ‘Christians’ at best, ‘religious nutters’ at worst – lumped together – without distinction. They – even Richard Dawkins – do not distinguish what ‘type’ of Christian. All religion is bad. period. We have our work cut out. Even the tiniest crucifix on our desk can be enough to prejudice someone against us for good. Even before they meet us, their guard is now up.

      And so I think sensitivity to all the nuances of these issues is exactly what your reply here, brings to the fore. Your reply to mags is such a great concrete example of what (who) has to be behind anything one does as an effective Evangelist or Apologist.

      That is, isn’t the most effective and genuine Evangelisation primarily Sanctified Being (witness?) which engages people appropriately, even without a Crucifix or Bible on our desk?

      The key thing is trust before curiosity. I can’t trust someone who comes across as McCatholic™. There seem to be a growing number of Catholic ‘Franchises’ around with their champions becoming as annoying as PPI callers. You get the ‘patter’ of their brand rather than any genuine interaction.

      As a wise apologist puts it, ‘My job is not necessarily “to seal the deal” every conversation, to force a conversion, but “to put a stone in their shoe”, get them thinking. That’s enough. God will reap in his own time’.

  6. mags says:

    ‘of course! I did not think for one moment that as Christians we should be wearing masks and pretending to be something we’re not, or ‘play-acting’. ‘

    Hannah I didn’t think those things of you for a second. You are full of integrity.

    But I thought it had to be made visible ~ that seekers are not to be aroused by ‘us’ as Evangelisers, (that is contrived and unsafe) Evangelisers should not arouse ~ but that when the Holy Spirit arouses an awakening in them, then our Truth will reach out and touch theirs ~ and in that union faith grows stronger for us both.

    I wasn’t so thinking of you and your evangelisation ~ but of the seekers ~ and of the insecure footings that can be laid ~ when seekers are aroused from the outside in ~ and not from the inside out.

    God Bless you and your work Hannah

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