On occasion I’ve been jumped at church. It has happened so few and far between that I’m never quite ready for it. You never know when it’s going to happen or what’s going to set somebody off. And when it does happen you find yourself in a very veracious situation. Thrown immediately on the defensive it soon becomes a situation that attracts gawkers as you find yourself now, having to defend statements you made from the platform which are being misconstrued. It’s easy for situations like this to get out of hand.
How should you handle getting jumped at church?
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED
This weekend I was in charge of co-leading the worship service. The first song in the main set I selected was Everyday by Hillsong. So I decided to share a few interesting facts about Lent before the song since Lent is a season reflecting upon the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. It is a time when Christians around the world sacrifice something “everyday” (hence, my tie-in with the song) in preparation for Easter and in response to what Christ has done for us.
So using as source material Tim Kimberley’s article on the very Reformed website, Parchment and Pen, I highlight the following points:
- That Lent – in some fashion – predates all Christian denominations, going back as far as the second century, and possibly further.
- That the word “Lent” comes from the German word “Lenz” from the time of Martin Luther during the Reformation.
- That the “40 Days” may be the result of a scribal error, in which the period of fasting (called in Latin, Quadragesima meaning 40) was originally 40 hours.
- That the purpose was to identify with Christ in reflection on the cross and resurrection.
Then I went into the lead song. I had no idea that I had stung a nerve and was not prepared for what was to follow.
After the sermon the worship team took the platform for a final song. When the song had ended and before I could take my guitar off from around my neck a young man who sat at the back of the church suddenly was there, standing adjacent to me. He caught me off guard. “I’d like to talk to you about what you said about Lent,” my Jumper said. “You said it does not come from the Roman Catholic Church. Where’s your proof?”
I told him that I’d happily send him the link. But my offer seemed to have gone unnoticed. He continued on without skipping a beat. The Roman Catholic Church separated from true Christians and Jewish Christians as early as the first century. The Roman Catholic Church are the ones who persecuted the true Christians. They are the ones who started using the pagan word which “Easter” now comes from, when they abandoned Judaism and the word Passover…
You get the idea.
In different churches at different times I’ve had these experiences. Where there are people, something like this is bound to happen eventually. Here are five principles I’ve learned to most effectively and efficiently handle these situations:
1. REMAIN CALM
Chances are what you said has been festering in the Jumpers mind ever since you said it. It’s possible your comments are all he could think about, possibly even having a hard time focusing on the sermon. That means that by the time he has jumped you his blood pressure is probably raised and he has rehearsed in his mind over and over exactly how he thinks the conversation will go. He has laid out his argument and expects you to be dumbfounded by them.
This means your first step is to remain calm. His blood pressure is up. Yours must be down. He has rehearsed his argument, you need to clear your thoughts. He wants a debate, you want to eat a sandwich. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
2. KEEP A HUMBLE ATTITUDE
You’ve hit a nerve that somebody is passionate about. That means that while you may be broadly versed, he fancies himself an expert in the niche you’ve pinched. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be right, it almost certainly guarantees that he’ll mention something – a word, an event, a definition – that you are unfamiliar with or at least could be more familiar with.
In my situation the Jumper used the word “Ēostre” and “Pascha” and mentioned something about pagan goddesses. It had been a long time since I read about the Easter debates in the history of the Church and about the origins of the word Easter. So he could theoretically ramble on and on and, at least in the moment, I’d have no reference point to test what he was saying. (I refreshed my memory when I got home.)
3. STAY AWAY FROM DETAILS
While your Jumper has probably been rehearsing his arguments over and over again in his head, you have been caught off guard. But both of you are on equal footing in one key way: neither of you are armed with empirical evidence. Neither of you can prove what you are saying in that moment. At best you can offer each other ideas that you hope will get the other person to think about what they are saying.
When my Jumper said “Where’s your proof?” he didn’t seem much interested in my answer. The question is disingenuous and can go both ways. Later in the discussion when he claimed that the Roman Catholic Church broke off from “true Christians and Jewish Christians” as early as the first century, I knew this was wrong and anachronistic. So I asked him, “Where is your proof?” He seemed genuinely take aback that I would doubt his claim. “From the history books,” he said. “I read lots of history books too,” I said. “And none of them say what you are saying they say.” Suddenly a key element of the Jumpers position was exposed when he responded, “I’ll have to double-check my father’s notes.”
4. LISTEN AND CLARIFY
A funny thing happens when you pinch someone’s nerve. A magical ear-filter appears and key things you say get “translated” through the ear-filter into the jumpers mind as something else altogether. I call this the Listening-Distortion-Field or LDF for short (I just made that up). This is why it is all the more important that you listen to the words that come out of their mouth.
About half way through the conversation with my Jumper he made the statement, “well where is Lent in the Bible?” Funny thing was, I never said Lent was in the Bible. I only talked about certain key historical elements related to Lent throughout Church history since Irenaeus. To this he replied with, “Oh. I thought you said Lent was in the Bible.” I had not. So listen carefully to what your Jumper thinks you said, and clarify what you actually said.
5. HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY
Finally, make sure you develop a gentle (or, if necessary, a not so gentle) exit strategy. One way to do this is to be mindful of your surroundings. Look for an opportunity to respectfully dismiss yourself. Often times someone will see that you’ve been jumped and will politely interrupt. But that doesn’t always work.
About half way through our conversation a lady interrupted us and said there was a get well card for everyone to sign in the eating hall. My Jumper didn’t miss a beat and our conversation continued. A little later when I saw an opportune time I reminded him of the card, pointing out that I should sign it before it’s too late. Sometimes it won’t be that easy. You may need to be abrupt by telling your Jumper that now is not the time or place for that conversation.
So the next time you’ve been jumped in church remember this: do the opposite of your jumper and everything should turn out fine. His blood pressure is raised; stay calm and keep a clear head. He’s overconfident and sure of himself; you stay humble while offering him a few nibbles of food for thought. He wants to argue specifics; stay away from the details since neither of you can prove much of anything in that moment. He may not have heard you very well; listen carefully to him and clarify. He wants to hold you captive until you’ll see things his way. Look for an exit strategy since in all likelihood, he may have a lot to learn but his overconfidence makes him unteachable. The conversation is unproductive. Get out of there. And don’t forget, he’s still your brother (or sister) in Christ.