As a public high school teacher, and a Christian, I’ve had to navigate difficult environments. I’ve taught gang members, students with behavioral issues and mental disorders, as well as students who just hate everything about school. They walk in, plop down in the back of the room, fold their arms, and sigh loudly. When I see that, I realize that I’m already at a disadvantage with these folks.
This is no different than our experiences as Christians in today’s culture. As soon as we tell people we are Christian, or talk about Jesus, the Bible, or our faith, they fold their arms and shut down on us.
Over the years I’ve learned how to get people engaged with my message. The first step is getting a person to trust you. If someone trusts you they will confer upon you the authority to speak. If someone does not trust you, they won’t listen. No matter how perfect or logically valid your message is, if you have not established their trust, people will dismiss you. This is often why nobody changes their mind in a disagreement on social media. The first, crucial step of establishing trust is skipped over to get right to the argument.
Don’t skip this important, first step! Trust opens the ears of your audience. You might be wondering, “How do I get somebody to trust me?” The answer is counterintuitive and yet surprisingly simple: Stop making speeches and start asking the right questions. Asking the right questions tests and tills the soil of a person’s heart to receive the Gospel. There are two reasons for this:
Questions develop relationship: The ancient Roman poet Publilius Syrus once wrote, “We are interested in others when they are interested in us.” If you treat your conversations like you would a first date and ask the right questions, you are instantly showing someone you care about them. Why? Because asking questions shows a person that you care enough about them and their thoughts to hear what they think. And you appreciate them enough to listen intently to what they have to say. Asking a question has the power to bring down walls of defenses and to keep the person you’re talking to actively engaged.
Questions can be an excellent teacher: Jesus, the ultimate Teacher, asked folks a lot of questions. Sure, He gave speeches but He also posed effective questions and let people wrestle with their implications. I think this is because Jesus knew that asking the right questions is an excellent method of teaching people what you want them to know. Galileo said it best: “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.” Sure, you can explain to someone why they’re wrong about their beliefs but there’s a great chance they’ll clam up, fold their arms, and shut down. If you ask a leading question that exposes a flaw in your friend’s thinking, and your friend can’t answer it, he is faced with an uncomfortable dread, what Francis Schaeffer described as standing, “naked and wounded before the truth of what is.” That is a much more effective teacher than any speech you could ever make!
Takeaway: If people don’t trust you, they won’t listen to your apologetic or evangelistic message. Develop trust first by asking the right questions and you’ll have easier and more productive conversations for Christ in today’s culture.
For more information on effectively communicating your Christian faith in today’s culture, check out First Date Evangelism.