5 Tips for Managing Gospel Conversations
I grew up near the Ocoee River in Tennessee which is known for its whitewater rapids. Having been down that river several times, here is what I have learned:
- You cannot control the river. You simply navigate it.
- You will experience obstacles (rocks, hydraulic currents, etc.).
- No two trips are the same. Each trip is a new experience.
Navigating gospel conversations is a bit like whitewater rafting. First, we have no control over how the person will respond – all we can do is navigate the conversation. Second, we should anticipate obstacles (objections, hard questions, etc.). Not anticipating these can catch us off guard and impede our efforts. Finally, no two gospel conversations are alike. Just as people are different, their responses to what we say will be different.
The Apostle Paul’s experience in Athens demonstrates this. Notice the various responses to Paul’s message:
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. Acts 17:32-34
Paul gave one message but was met with multiple responses.
Even though we cannot predict how our conversations will go, we can employ wisdom as to how we approach them. Several tips will help
Five suggestions to help you best navigate conversations that lead to the gospel
- Accompany your conversations with others with conversations with God. Prayer is essential because we are dependent on the Lord during gospel conversations. He is the one who knows the heart of the other person. He is the One who can open their eyes to their need for Christ. Knowing He is ultimately in control, we need to pray before, during, and after our conversations and be sensitive to His leading.
- Strive to listen and lead. Let your gospel conversation be just that, a conversation. Be sure to listen to the person as you seek to lead them to Christ. Do not talk over the person or ignore their words just to get through your presentation. Understanding on their part is a vital part of the process.
- Be patient. We like to see instant results, “If I do this, I will get that.” Gospel conversations do not always lead to immediate or obvious results. They can take time and may require multiple conversations. Do not try to force the issue.
- Do not assume. Do not assume the reasons behind why someone believes something. Ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?” or “Why do you believe that?” Learning the rationale behind someone’s belief will help you know how to best respond and will help them as well. They may have never seriously considered why they believe what they believe.
- Show respect. Appreciate people’s right to have their own opinion. Be very careful that you do not talk down to people or use a trite phrase like, “I’ll pray for you” when they do not agree with what you are saying. Doing so may do more harm than good.
- Create a bridge to the next conversation. Do not feel like you must get through your gospel presentation in one sitting. It may require multiple conversations. Try ending the conversation with, “Would you be open to me sharing more about this with you later?” or “Would love to discuss this with you in greater detail next week? Would that be ok?”
If anyone were to ask me whether they should go whitewater rafting I would wholeheartedly say “Go for it!” The adventure is worth the effort. And I wholeheartedly say the same regarding gospel conversations. No, you cannot control the outcome. Yes, there will be obstacles. And yes, each conversation be different. However, the adventure is worth the effort as you partner with God in evangelism. God will be glorified, people will hear the good news, and you will grow in your faith and relationship with God.
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“What if I don’t know how to answer an objection about my faith in Jesus?”
This is a top fear people face when seeking to introduce a friend or loved one to Jesus. Sadly, it will stop many Christ followers in their tracks while sharing their faith this year. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
First, we should get one thing settled – if you are actively sharing your faith, you will be stumped by an objection about the Bible, Jesus, or Christian beliefs eventually. Unless, of course, you have an immediate answer to every potential question someone may ask about our infinite, all-knowing God. If that’s the case, I need to be reading your blog. However, if you’re more like the rest of us, the question really isn’t “what if I get stumped?”; instead, the question is “when I get stumped, how should I respond?”
Here are three things to do and one very important thing to remember when you run into an objection that shortens your breath, quickens your pulse, and makes you want to exit stage left.
Ask a clarifying question
Many Christians falsely believe that when an objection is raised, the clock starts ticking, and they have a very short window of time to answer the objection. If that’s how you feel, I want you to read this next sentence carefully. When someone makes an objection, you are not on the hook to answer it; they are on the hook to explain more. You can invite them to do so with a clarifying question like, “What do you mean by that?” I think an example will help.
Joanne: “Tina, I appreciate your beliefs, but I really don’t see any good reason to believe in God.”
Tina: “Thank you for being honest. However, may I ask what you mean when you say ‘God’?”
Joanne: “Well, I just don’t think there’s an old bearded guy up there watching our every move.”
Tina: “I see, and actually, I don’t believe in an old bearded guy either – can I share a little about who God is according to the Bible?”
Look back at what Tina did (politely). She asked a what do you mean question that invited Joanne to explain more. That did two very important things: It kept the conversation moving toward the gospel, and it took all the pressure off Tina to cobble together a defense of God’s existence on the spot.
Acknowledge the objection and advance the conversation
Consider this brief exchange:
Jonathan: “I just don’t think there is any evidence that Christianity is true.”
Craig: “I definitely want to hear your thoughts about that, but can I briefly share what I believe about Jesus?”
In this short conversation, Craig isn’t interested in proving Jonathan wrong, and he isn’t avoiding the objection. In fact, he makes it clear that he wants to hear Jonathan’s thoughts. All he’s seeing permission to push the objection to the end so he can share about his faith in Christ. This can be very effective, because in some cases, someone like Jonathan has been bringing up this objection for years and has heard 1,000 reasons why Christianity makes sense (and continues to ignore them), but what he’s never heard is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“But,” you may be thinking, “what happens when they bring up the objection again and I don’t know how to respond?” Well, that leads us right into the next suggestion.
Use Your 5-word Ace Card: “Let me think about that”
If you ever feel pinned down by an objection, these five words will get you off the hook 100% of the time: “let me think about that.” Here are four reasons this phrase is so powerful:
- It lets the other person know you appreciate their objection and want the time it deserves to think about it
- It removes all pressure to provide an immediate answer
- It allows you the opportunity to set up a future time to talk
- It gives you the chance to meet with a pastor, mentor, etc. about the topic at hand so you can come prepared to the future discussion
As you can see, this simple phrase does a lot of work for you. It is quite literally your ace card in any conversation that goes sideways.
One critical thing to remember
Now that you know some helpful tactics to address objections while sharing your faith, there is one last thing to remember – and it’s vitally important.
Your job is to glorify God, not win arguments.
Too often people come to blogs like this with the goal to “not look foolish” or “to get the best of someone.” If your honest intention is to win arguments instead of souls, then your intention has more to do with glorifying your intellect than glorifying God. Sit with that for a moment before you depart to put these tactics into action. Ask God to make these a part of your efforts to glorify Him as He opens opportunities for you to share the wondrous message of the cross.