Three ways to tackle difficult conversations about faith
I was eating french fries when I had my first challenging conversation about faith.
Now I’ll be honest, before this moment I thought I was completely prepared to talk about any aspect of my faith. I was fully convinced that, if challenged, I would be able to spew forth such a brilliant argument that even a die-hard atheist would become Christian. I should also mention that I was only 14 years old and full of that youthful “immortality” mindset that made me believe I could conquer anything.
One of the people in my friend group at lunch asked if I believed that the flood actually happened, to which I responded, “Yes.” Immediately I was met with a hailstorm of questions.
How could a good God allow bad things to happen?
Was the flood even real?
Doesn’t science disprove almost all of Christianity?
How could our earth only be a few thousands of years old?
On and on the questions went. The more I talked, the further away I got from the main point of Christianity—Jesus.
Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar situation at some time in your life?
There will likely come a time when you are challenged by someone about your faith. In fact, God tells us in His word to, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Turns out, I wasn’t in any way prepared. Believing that God is with you and will speak through you is great! But sitting by the sidelines, not reading my Bible, and living a lackadaisical faith left me feeling speechless.
That’s why today I’m tackling the question: How do you prepare for the difficult and uncomfortable conversations that happen when you share your faith? And how do you do that with gentleness and respect?
You don't have to master the art of debating someone in order to share the gospel.
1. Point to Jesus instead of debating
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:15)
I was never on the debate team in high school but two of my friends, Vishnu and Afra, were. I saw how much work they put into the sport. They researched every angle an argument could take, created stacks of note cards filled with information to defend their case, and pulled statistics out of thin air. And they kept all their information stored safely in a large debate box.
(Side note: Debate boxes come in all shapes and sizes. While some amateurs kept their debate contents in nothing more than a common shoebox, Vishnu and Afra kept their battle materials in a large, plastic file-storage box.)
There are times when I think about what my spiritual “debate box” looks like. Do I have Bible-passage note cards filled to the brim with my personal beliefs and understanding? Have I had enough life experience to help me understand opposing stances? Would I be able to talk about any subject or question regarding faith at the drop of a hat?
When I start to feel that Lutheran guilt for not being a “good enough” Christian, I have to stop and remind myself of a very vital fact. Sharing the gospel isn’t a battle where you try to take down your opponent—it’s all about sharing the good news that Jesus died to save them.
It’s great to have Bible passages memorized or careful plans for responses. In fact, we have some tips on how to do just that down below. But if what you say, do, or think doesn’t lead to Jesus then we are missing an opportunity to impact someone’s heart.
If someone ever starts to debate with you, it is ok to allow conversation to take place. But as soon as you feel like your words are shifting toward “I need to prove you wrong about…” take a pause and remember that the whole purpose of the gospel is to point to Jesus.
Here’s an example:
Someone starts arguing with you that the flood could never have happened, that science disproves creation theory, or that the plagues in Egypt were all ancient fake news accounts.
Instances like this can make it difficult to stay focused. We so badly want to share God’s truths about the matters, but conversations like this can feel like a personal attack. And sometimes, that is all the other person wants to do—argue with you. They have no intention of actually hearing you out. If that is the case, you can let them ask their questions, blow off steam, and then when it is quiet you can speak.
As they talk, listen to what they say and try to understand the way they see things, it will help you better understand how to share Jesus. You can also say something like, “I really appreciate you asking and sharing those comments with me. And we can talk more about these topics, we can even continue to disagree, but the main thing you need to know about Christianity is that it is all about who Jesus is and what He did for you and me.”
Taking time to get to know someone will help you better share Jesus with them in a meaningful way.
2. Know your neighbor
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (Colossians 3:17)
When we connect with people different from ourselves, it opens our eyes to new world views. For example, my friend Vishnu is from India. Before I met her, my knowledge of Indian culture was nonexistent.
Now I have had the joy of experiencing Indian celebrations, seen several classic Bollywood movies, learned some Hindi, and even tried my hand at cooking traditional Indian dishes.
When I talk with Vishnu about faith, sometimes she asks hard questions. But because I know her and understand her worldview I also have the ability to respond in a meaningful way. Just like Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it for the sake of the gospel.”
I want to be clear that what Paul is saying here is that he was focused on understanding others. He took time to “take on” the cultures he was living in so as to not cause offense. When he spoke to a person with no faith, he didn’t lose his faith, he instead worked to understand what their world was like. Then, without judgement, he was able to share the gospel in a way that connected with people.
This is something I believe everyone is capable of doing.
Understanding will help you navigate tough conversations. And a great way to build understanding is through listening. Read our blog here to learn how active listening helps you share the gospel message with others.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Being “always prepared” sounds intimidating, but if you follow these three tips it doesn’t have to be.
1. Learn to speak the language of God
Vishnu and Afra had their debate box crammed with notes. They knew exactly what they would say, how they would pace their speech, and how they would connect with the judges.
While you and I might not have a physical box where we store our bible passages or lines of dialogue, we can prioritize time to make God and His word a part of our lives.
When we do this, we will realize an incredible fact—that God is here.* Think about that. God, the creator of the universe, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end is WITH US. And we get to talk with Him and learn from Him as we read our bible.
Filling up our hearts with the language of God will give you a wealth of knowledge to pour out when you talk with others about difficult things. I know there have been moments in my life when my dad has given me advice that I know was God speaking through him. The wisdom and passages were just what my aching and confused heart needed to hear.
Spending time in God's word will help you learn to speak the language of God.
2. Visualize bold victories
How many times has this happened—you’re nervous about an upcoming concert, sports match, or event that you’re doing and your mind keeps replaying horrible potential disasters?
You see yourself play the wrong note at an embarrassing time, you slip up and miss the game-winning shot, you say the wrong thing and everyone looks at you like you’ve lost your mind.
I’ve been there, too. I’ve even had “waking-nightmares” where I see a series of unfortunate events unfold before me as I struggle to figure out if I’m dreaming or actually awake.
If you are scared about how you might handle a conversation about faith there is a remedy—visualization. It works like this:
1. Think of a potential situation you might find yourself in. Maybe one where a close non-Christian friend of yours asks you why you believe in God.
2. Write down some potential responses you could give.
3. Think about and imagine yourself giving the response to the person. Imagine it going well.
4. Think through some potential follow-up questions they might have.
5. Repeat steps 2 and 3.
The more you visualize positive outcomes the bolder you will become. Trust that even if things don’t go as you planned, God is in ultimate control. I have thought about how I might respond if a friend of mine asks why something bad happened to them. I know that the words I use might not be verbatim what I practiced, but I do know that I’ve thought about the situation and have a roadmap to follow using God’s wisdom.
3. Find a mentor/mentee
Every week I go to a small group. The church I attend has done a lot of work to prioritize environments outside of Sunday morning where our faith can grow through meaningful Christian friendships.
Through my interactions with the group I have gotten to know many Christian people who have become mentors in my life. When I am experiencing a rough time I can reach out to them for advice. I also have the opportunity to provide the same level of counsel to them.
Having a mentor and a mentee allows you to continue to grow as a Christian. It is also an excellent place to workshop potential conversations or think through how to approach certain topics of faith.
If you really want to gain in-person experience in how to handle difficult conversations, begin by practicing with a close Christian mentor or mentee.
You never know when the time will come when you will be asked to share the gospel. As you and I go on throughout our days and weeks, my prayer is that you find courage to reach out and connect those around you to the amazing love of Jesus.
Kimberly Magsig is the Copy and Social Media Coordinator for Kingdom Workers. She enjoys getting to share God's word each day in her work. And learning about cultures unique to her own has helped her understand many different ways in which the gospel can be shared. In her free time she enjoys spending time in nature, trying her hand at cooking new recipes, and having friends over for a game night.
*From Mike Novotny’s book “God is Here.”