No wonder people view Christians as judgmental. No wonder the unchurched feel their thoughts and questions are unwelcome at church.

In my work with Lifetree Café I hear weekly from the unchurched, the dechurched and not-yet-believers. And I also have the opportunity to talk with church leaders about how Lifetree connects with those who don’t yet have a relationship with Jesus. Some leaders get it. And some have no interest in altering their present course.

Let me share with you an actual conversation between an inquiring pastor and a Lifetree Café leader last week.

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Pastor: We believe the Word is sacred and we don’t like too many outside opinions thrown in there. Simply put, if it’s not in the Word of God, we don’t want it.

Lifetree: I’m not sure Lifetree will be for you then, because it invites an opportunity for people to share their opinions, whether they accept the Bible yet or not. It creates an opportunity for them to share their doubts. And it offers an opportunity for you to share why you believe the Bible. The truth of the Word comes out through the stories and conversations that your people share. But it’s a safe place where others share their opinions as well. Does that sound consistent with the type of environment you want to have?

Pastor: Well, yes and no. It’s like this. Atheists have opinions, but we really don’t give a d*** about hearing them.

Lifetree: Well, wouldn’t you want to have a spiritual conversation with an atheist?

Pastor: No. Let me explain something to you about an atheist. The reason they are atheist is because it is handy that way, and then they can be God.

Lifetree: Well, didn’t Jesus have conversations with people who didn’t subscribe to the same belief system he had?

Pastor: Yes, but he also told them the truth. The truth is the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and nobody comes to the Father except through me.” That’s it.

Lifetree: The truth is the truth, but we welcome the opportunity to have a dialog with people who are far from God. It sounds like you’re not interested in that conversation.

Pastor: Listen. I want to share something with you. I am retired from the Marine Corps. I remember a sergeant told me this about 35 years ago: Opinions are a lot like ***holes. Everybody has one, but it’s really nothing that needs to be shined in the light of day. And God does not care about people’s opinions.

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Though our former Marine reverend admitted he’s “a little rough around the edges,” I’m afraid he represents the actual sentiments of many in the church. If they have any patience at all for the non-believer, they’re interested only in telling. Not listening. Not dialoging.

That demeanor is stifling the work of the church in our communities. It is un-Christlike.

Jesus modeled to us how to interact with not-yet-believers. He listened. He welcomed their thoughts. He engaged in conversation with them. He exchanged questions with them. He respected them. He befriended them. He allowed them to discover his truth.

Until we’re willing to listen we will not attain the right to be heard.