It’s the time of year when we gather with friends and family, exchange presents and eat and drink too much. For most of us, we’ll interact with unbelieving family or friends, including people we may not see that often.
How do we do this in a way as not to screw up these relationships, but also making the most of every opportunity?
Eternity asked Dr. John Dickson – Australian speaker, author and historian, and public advocate for the Christian faith – for some advice about engaging with our unbelieving family and friends at this important time of year.
1. What do you think about the greeting ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ which we’ve seen an example of this week (Peter Dutton)?
Nah, it’s dumb!
“In reality, most secularists haven’t taken the time to find out what, for example, Muslims or Jews think of Christmas greetings…” – John Dickson
In my experience, the only people who are really upset with the mention of ‘Christmas’ are the secularists who imagine that people of other faiths are disturbed by the mention of ‘Christ’—either that, or they use this as an excuse to sideline religion from the public square! In reality, most secularists haven’t taken the time to find out what, for example, Muslims or Jews think of Christmas greetings, or carols and nativity displays in shopping malls.
“It’s just what societies with a ‘bit of religion’ do!” – John Dickson
I would hazard a guess that most serious adherents of other faiths are complete grown-ups about all this stuff. They know Australia has been shaped by the Christian story, and they don’t mind seeing a bit of religion in the public square.
For most cultures of the world, remember, religion has not been pushed to the sidelines. It is part of the public conversation. They do not see the occasional Christmas greeting—or carols playing through the PA at the shopping centre—as a challenge to their identity. It’s just what societies with a ‘bit of religion’ do!
(I’m not sure Peter Dutton would agree, but for my part, if someone was offended by my ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting, I would apologise in a flash and ask them what it is about the Christmas story they don’t like. Who knows where that conversation will go!).
2. What are the biggest mistakes you think Christians make when engaging with their unbelieving friends and family at Christmas?
Unfortunately, our biggest mistakes can be at opposite ends of the spectrum.
“God can use the smallest, passing remark to pique the interest of others and turn them to Himself.” – John Dickson
On the one hand, some of us make the mistake of going in too hard at Christmas time, taking the slightest hint of an opportunity to mention the Faith as an invitation to download the whole gospel, while the eyes of our hearers’ glaze over.
When we do this, we are often forgetting that God can use the smallest, passing remark to pique the interest of others and turn them to Himself. We are also forgetting that with friends and family we are usually in it for the long haul.
Do we really want to blow the next opportunity to say something about Christ by being greedy or overeager with this opportunity?
On the other hand, of course, some of us find talking about Christ to our closest friends and family the hardest of all.
“…take a deep breath, remind yourself who ‘owns the room’ (Jesus)” – John Dickson
So much is at stake in these relationships. We don’t want to blow it. And often, over time, we slip into an all-too-comfortable willingness to say nothing about Christ, ever—lest we put anyone off! For many, this is the greater problem.
I would say, take a deep breath, remind yourself who ‘owns the room’ (Jesus), and speak of your faith in whatever way feels natural and appropriate. It might be unnatural to ‘Bible bash’ over the Christmas ham, but it is certainly unnatural to hide your faith at the meal celebrating the Lord’s coming.
3. What’s your advice for engaging with our unbelieving family and friends over Christmas?
“…why not offer to say grace before the meal?” – John Dickson
Invite your loved ones to church to sing carols. Mention to family over Christmas lunch what you loved most about church that morning—perhaps the preacher said something half interesting, perhaps it’s a line in a carol. Or why not offer to say grace before the meal?
I offered to say grace 10-15 years ago at my extended family Christmas lunch. Now it’s a tradition others request of me. And most of my family doesn’t yet believe in Christ.
Some prayer points to help
Pray that as believers all around the world meet together with their family this Christmas, their conversations would be saturated in grace.