If something like the whistling theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly plays in your head when you go into “spiritual discussion mode,” then you probably are doing more damage than good.
Unfortunately, many spiritual conversations end up in arguments over dinosaurs on the ark or whether or not Jonah was really swallowed by a fish instead of the real issue of sin and our need for Jesus.
But it’s not just because Christians are bad at civil conversation. It’s because everyone is bad at civil conversation.
As much as I love social and digital media, nothing replaces a real, true-to-life, face-to-face conversation.
Personally, I love a good conversation. I can sit and talk to you for hours and hours. In fact, my wife told me just the other night that I talk a lot.
That’s right. I, the man, annoy my wife, the woman, with words.
I promise, I’m an introvert at heart, but if you try and tell me that Matt Smith isn’t the best Doctor of the modern era of Doctor Who, so help me….you know, that’s not important.
Let’s talk about how we can have better conversations with one another, especially in the realm of spiritual things. It’s so important that we put Jesus on display properly that we can’t afford to ignore the fact that many of us could be better at this.
The next time you’re headed into a creation vs. evolution argument, give my (non-Buddhist) 8-fold path to a great spiritual conversation a shot.
Start with Prayer for a Focused Conversation
Most conversations end up in the weeds fast. As soon as you feel yourself entering spiritual topics, pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the words to say that keep the focus of the conversation on Jesus and our need for Him. If you’re thinking, you can always find a way to steer any topic to Jesus.
Do not assume that they know what you know about the Bible or that they probably already believe in Jesus. The generation coming up behind the Millennials did not grow up in church and are probably not as familiar with a Biblical worldview.
Prepare to explain churchy words or phrases, but be careful that you don’t come off as condescending. They’re not stupid, but they don’t have the same context you do. This is why telling your story of how Jesus changed your life is so powerful. It provides context as well as action items for the listener.
Ask More Questions
When Jesus confronts sin or wrong theology in Scripture, he doesn’t set up a program to correct it or start a sermon then and there. Often, he addresses the incorrect thinking with a probing question.
I think this method does several things right in the conversation, such as 1) keeps you focused on them instead of you, 2) Makes you think about leading them to instead of indoctrinating them with the truth, and 3) disarms a lot of inflammatory rhetoric.
Instead of, “No, that’s not right,” you could try, “How did you come to that conclusion?”
If Truth really does belong to God, then asking questions can sometimes be enough to unwrap the layers of deception and expose faulty thinking gently. People tend to be more responsive to gentleness. Not UFC fighters though. They aren’t gentle. But you should be because Jesus was.
Do Your Homework
Of course, if you’re going to have any kind of meaningful conversation about spiritual matters, you have to know why you believe what you do about Jesus. Most people know exactly what they believe, but that’s not the question the non-believer is asking.
They want to know why Jesus isn’t just a legend. Why did he have to die? Why do you think a loving God would punish us for anything?
You don’t have to be a seminary professor, but you do need to know what the Bible actually says. You may or may not be surprised how many people out there are living their lives in opposition to the Scriptures based on something that it does not say.
Rehearse Your Reasoning
Have you ever learned something for a test and then forgotten in? Of course not, right? #sarcasmfont
It helps to go over your reasons for belief so that when you are asked, they are there in the front of your mind. This is the basic idea of apologetics.
But Seth, the Holy Spirit will give us what to say. Maybe He will, but he’s not a genie! It’s hard to remind you of something you know that you don’t actually know. You have a spiritual journey to embark on as well.
Choose Your Battles
Recognizing when a person isn’t ready to really go deeper into the conversation isn’t the same as giving up. Don’t mistake the two. Choosing your battles means that you realize that some spiritual journeys are marathons, so run beside them while you can and try not to trip them.
Planting a seed is every bit as important as harvesting. In modern terms, wheels are just as important as gas for the car to go, so it’s ok if every conversation doesn’t end with a prayer for salvation. Help them take the next step that they trust you with.
Oh, and most of us should probably avoid these types of conversations online unless you know how to do it well. Just thought I should throw that out there.
Anger Leads to the Dark Side
Never return hostility for hostility. As soon as you engage in pithy comebacks or your tone challenges their intelligence, it’s over.
It’s a hard line to walk, but it’s very much ok to call out lies and false doctrines that we encounter against the truth of Scripture. However, we must remember that our goal is to win people, not arguments. Sometimes that means taking an insult without retaliating…like Jesus.
Remember that relationships need nurturing and must build trust to grow. I think that’s why Jesus uses farming to illustrate so many relational things in the New Testament.
People are worth reaching with the Good News, even if we have to come the long way round with them.
Go talk to someone about Jesus! Talk about spiritual things and try to implement some of these principles. I can almost promise that you’ll have a better conversation that doesn’t end in a fistfight!