Conversation: Dean Merrill
Dean Merrill, author of Damage Control: How to Stop Making Jesus Look Bad, says followers of Christ need to step up and be the ambassadors Jesus intended them to be. Merrill, who attends Radiant Church Assembly of God in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Todd Hudnall, senior pastor), recently spoke with Associate Editor Kirk Noonan.
tpe: In your newest book you say some Christians are giving people a less-than-favorable view of Christ. How so?
MERRILL: Some Christians do it in famous ways that hit the national press with the outrageous statements they make. Other Christians, through their ordinary lives, donÕt live up to what they proclaim.
All of us behave a little differently when we think our neighbors and co-workers are watching us. Well, guess what? They are watching us and theyÕre drawing conclusions about Jesus from us.
They canÕt see Jesus, but they can see us and thatÕs where theyÕre getting their information about Him.
tpe: Are people watching Christians to see the good or bad in them?
MERRILL: Some of both. People are looking for answers in life and wonder if Christians have them. Others are prejudiced against Jesus and are waiting to see evidence that Christianity is all a hoax.
tpe: How do you think Christians are viewed in America?
MERRILL: ItÕs too hard to generalize because opinions are all over the map ranging from hostile to curious.
tpe: Fairly or unfairly, how do you think non-Christians define Christians?
MERRILL: They view Christians as everything from narrow-minded and hypocritical to devout and committed. Jesus left this thing called Christianity in our care, so weÕre the ambassadors representing Him. ItÕs time we start viewing ourselves in that light.
tpe: What does a good ambassador for Christ look like?
MERRILL: A good ambassador reconciles with others rather than stir up controversy and trouble. Part of our role as Christians is to be known as people of peace.
tpe: Some people are offended by Christians because of opposing beliefs. How should ambassadors go about sharing their faith with such people?
MERRILL: We all have points of view we feel strongly about and we ought not shrink from sharing our beliefs. But a person hostile toward Christianity might be more impressed by what we do rather than by what we say.
I wish people could say of all Christians, ÒI may not buy into their doctrine, but they sure do a good job with their marriages and families.Ó Unfortunately, the divorce rates in the church are the same as in the world.
However, we do some things right. Compassion ministries such as HealthCare Ministries, Teen Challenge and Convoy of Hope are helping so many people. Through that kind of outreach we make many nonbelievers say, ÒI have to admit theyÕre good to have around because they do good things.Ó
tpe: What are some other practical ways Christians can be better ambassadors for Christ?
MERRILL: Bring peaceful attitudes to conflict and the supernatural power of God to desperate situations.
tpe: What do you say to Christians who judge others?
MERRILL: John 3:17 says God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but save it. If condemning people was not JesusÕ job, itÕs probably not my job either.
tpe: What encouragement do you give to a person who isnÕt vocal about his or her faith in word or action?
MERRILL: ThatÕs why we need the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It gives us power to be vocal. But communicating the gospel doesnÕt always mean you have to present the doctrine of salvation. IÕve learned that rarely will someone turn down an offer for encouragement or prayer. If they do, so what? At least you made an effort.
tpe: WhatÕs the problem with the way Christians talk among themselves?
MERRILL: Every group has its own language. But if outsiders fail to understand what Christians are saying about spiritual matters because weÕre using Christianese, we canÕt explain it away by saying they just didnÕt get it, as if itÕs their fault. We have to go back and present the gospel in a way the lost will understand. We have to learn to speak their language.
tpe: In an attempt to live holy lives some Christians strive to avoid the things of the world and inadvertently avoid relating to non-Christians in any way. Why is this dangerous?
MERRILL: We need to be as close to nonbelievers as Jesus was. He spent a lot of time around ordinary people, but didnÕt compromise His values.
In todayÕs world, Christians donÕt need to be educated in every form of wickedness that comes along, but we do need to be in close contact with ordinary people so we can represent Jesus and be ambassadors for Him.
tpe: If Christians donÕt recognize and correct some of their flaws, what will be the impact on the nation, and more importantly on the gospel?
MERRILL: If Christians donÕt care about these things, we will become more marginalized than we already are and be pushed to the edge of culture. The result will be many people will miss out on eternity with Jesus. I donÕt think any of us want that, and neither does Jesus. He cares so deeply about those who are far from Him and wants them brought close to Him.
tpe: What is your hope for Christians?
MERRILL: People were intrigued by Jesus when He ministered on earth. They wanted to hear more. Like Jesus, we have a different point of view than the world. But there should be something so fascinating about us that we intrigue people and draw them into relationship. Then they will want to hear about this gospel that has transformed our lives.