I live with a 20-year-old and a 14-year-old. As a parent and cultural anthropologist, I am learning everyday that my children live in a “whatever” world. Theirs is a world in which everything goes. In general, they are nonjudgmental, accepting, and don’t particularly give much thought to one’s lifestyle, morality, salvation, or about one’s relationship with God.
“Whatever” is also an attitude. They couldn’t care less about another’s spiritual welfare. For them, whatever one does is their business. They would say, “I live my life and they live theirs, who am I to judge them or tell them what they need?” So how does one enter into such a world? Wouldn’t I be a bother? Who am I to tell them they need God?
I, for one, don’t have all the answers. Like everyone else, I am just trying to figure this out. This past fall I enrolled in a counseling program at a local university and have been learning about some psychotherapy models. One in particular that piqued my interest was Carl Roger’s client centered therapy.
One of the focal points of this therapy is to regard the client with positive unconditional regard. In other words, accept the client as he or she is, don’t make judgments, show authentic concern, and regard and be honest with the client no matter what his or her problems. The client is “prized” in this therapeutic approach. Rogers was the first to even call the patient a client. Prior to this, clients were known as patients.
For Rogers, this meant a one up, one down position. Rogers also modeled empathetic listening, compassion, and kindness to the clients. He became a popular therapist and was known for his efforts in peacemaking. In fact, Rogers was nominated for a Pulitzer peace award.
In a world where “whatever” goes, Rogers’ model can be effective. The person feels accepted, valued, and treated as a human being with dignity and respect. Rogers established a model of therapy in contrast to his upbringing. He was raised in Oak Park, Illinois, in a fundamental Christian home. He didn’t get along with his mother, who enforced his conservative Christian values. He found his family to be judgmental and non-accepting of people. He enrolled at Union Seminary, but halfway through he became disillusioned with his faith and vocational goal and transferred to Columbia University to get a teacher’s degree. Rogers turned away from his faith and became ultra humanistic and valued the human experience above all. But from his approach of treating people, we can learn how to relate the gospel to those who live in a “whatever” world.
Rogers reminds us that people need to be loved and accepted no matter what baggage they come with. He demonstrates that if we have unconditional positive regard for people, then they will listen to us. If we prize them, or value them, they might connect with us.
Two thousand years before Rogers, Jesus modeled unconditional positive regard for people. His gospel was client/people-centered. Consider the woman in John 8:1-11 who was brought before him for a judgment and punishment. But Jesus “prized” her, demonstrated unconditional positive regard for her, and forgave her. What about Zacchaeaus? He was a crook, but Jesus went to his home, engaged him in conversation, and led him to personal repentance. Luke 15:1-2 illustrates that he was nonjudgmental and accepting of sinners.
As gospelers, we have a model in Jesus to bring the gospel to a “whatever” world in fashion that would be nonjudgmental and with unconditional positive regard for people.
Another focus of client centered therapy is to work with the client in the here and now. In other words, explore what he or she is going through currently; consider what is happening in the moment. It might help for us to talk with our pre-Christian friends about what is happening in their lives.
Be in the moment and pay careful attention to their contextual or environmental concerns. Talk of eternity and other matters might be too far out or irrelevant. But if their death is imminent, it makes sense, or if they are God conscious, it makes sense. Otherwise, focus on their daily lives, their problems with family, friends, at work, etc.
What issues in life are bringing guilt, shame, pain, etc.?
Explore the teleological (study of purpose) question. Ask them what brings meaning and purpose to their lives? Of course, you are going to have to gain a right to explore these things. But if you have been person-centered, demonstrated positive unconditional regard, and valued them, you might have found an open door to fruitful spiritual conversations.
As I was writing this blog, a friend of mine related an evangelistic encounter that transpired between her daughter and a friend of hers. Chrissie became concerned about Sadie’s lostness. Sadie recently moved to Lexington to get away from her religious family.
I rest in the fact that as a gospeler, my role is to be sensitive, read the signs, and nudge people toward Jesus (Leonard Sweet). It is the role of the Holy Spirit to convict them and convert them. As a gospeler, I will practice treating people with positive unconditional regard and remain a voice and a valuer of people/souls in a “whatever” world.
Wesley Paul International Ministries, which has conducted city-wide gospel festivals, pastors’ conferences, and evangelism and mission seminars in over 30 countries. Besides being an evangelist, he is also serves as a hospice chaplain.