For a period of time in 2010 I chatted with my best friend about his faith. I had not yet developed the First Date Evangelism approach but I was asking him good questions about why he held his views. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for my friend’s responses. He would often interrupt me, change the subject, and condescend. Sometimes he’d even overwhelm me with six different responses all at once. I remember walking away from those conversations feeling very frustrated!
Whenever you engage your friends and neighbors for Christ there’s always a potential for things like this that can quickly derail a productive chat. But you don’t have to be frustrated like I was! Here are some effective tips to avoid barriers and have more effective conversations for Christ.
Tip #1: Always be fair, polite, and gracious
Through your tone, mannerisms, and speech you should eagerly seek common ground with people. Always treat them with great care and concern. Always patiently listen to what they have to say. Never interrupt them.
If you are not fair, polite, and gracious to folks, you’ll ruin their developing trust in you and they’ll likely become defensive or shut down. This is why I always start my questions like this: “Do you mind if I ask…?” Or, “Is it okay if we talk about…?” In this manner I’m asking their permission, which puts me in a submissive stance that further develops trust (and lowers walls of defenses in the other person).
Tip #2: Don’t let people change the subject
Some people will answer your question by bringing up an unrelated issue. In essence, they’ve changed the subject and are talking about something else. There are typically two reasons for this: 1) they don’t know what they’re doing; 2) they do know and they’re doing it on purpose. Either way this is unhelpful. When someone starts talking about something else, politely remind them that they haven’t answered your original question. Then wait for them to get back on track.
You also may ask a question but get multiple, unrelated answers. If this happens to you, you may think you need to answer every single response. You don’t! Choose one thing your friend has offered and focus only on that one thing until you are satisfied that your friend has the proper perspective. Then, and only then, can you move on to another topic.
Tip #3: For some questions, “yes” or “no” is a huge mistake
Sometimes people ask misleading questions like: You’re saying if I don’t believe in Jesus, I’m going to hell? or You’re saying God’s going to punish me for being gay? People who ask these kinds of questions smuggle incorrect assumptions into the conversation. Those who ask the first question often think that what sends people to hell is not believing in Jesus, when in actuality sin sends people to hell. Those who ask the second question often think that God punishes people for who they are, when in actuality people go to hell for what they choose to do. To simply say, “Yes,” to these kinds of questions does not correct the flawed assumptions buried underneath.
In these moments I ask clarification questions like, “What do you mean by that?” in order to flush out the error in their thinking. If you ask for clarification first you’ll be able to identify the flawed assumption. Once the assumption is identified and corrected, then and only then can you answer the question.
Stay tuned next week for 3 additional tips to more effective conversations for Christ!