As defenders of Christianity, it would behoove us to learn as much as we could about our beliefs and the beliefs of others.
I recall an illustration used by a popular Christian radio show host. He describes a scenario in which a friend asked him for resources related to Buddhism, in an effort to better understand the view when witnessing to a Buddhist friend.
The radio host replied to his friend: “Why don’t you just ask him what he believes?”
This sounds like obvious and simplistic advice, but his friend hadn’t even thought about it!
I think our academic efforts are justified and needed; however, we must not forget that we often learn best by engaging in thoughtful conversations with others.
One motivational speaker of days gone by used to teach that you could get a college education every six months just by listening to others!1
The experiences of others are a powerful learning tool, and, I’ve often found that if there is one thing people love to talk about, it is themselves.
This will be a shorter post than usual because I am not trying to craft an argument. Rather, I want to encourage you to become more confident in talking with others simply with the intent to learn more about them and their beliefs.
Here are five brief suggestions:
1. Ask More Questions
The value of question-asking cannot be overstated. In a previous post, I highlighted three reasons why you should ask questions rather than always stating your own views.
- Questions Reveal
- Questions Reduce
- Questions Refute
Questions, first of all, reveal what others believe! You would be surprised what others have experienced that they will never tell about unless you act genuinely interested.
Also, questions reduce. In other words, they help one to uncover their own worldview–to gain a better understanding of what they believe about the world, and why.
Finally, questions refute. One may find that they simultaneously believe inconsistent things–a phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance.” Questions help to uncover this.
This seems reasonable. If you want to know more about someone and what they believe, just ask them!
2. Stop Talking!
This is a bit of a “piggy-back” off of point #1, but when you ask someone more about themselves, stop talking!
The point is not that you can “one-up” someone else’s experiences with your own, but rather, that you can learn from theirs!
In his popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie writes, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
If this is a conversation which has led to spiritual things, you may find an opportunity to ask pointed questions which lead to the gospel, or you may not.
You may want to reserve your current conversation for learning, think about things, and give a thoughtful critique/response at a later time.
This, I think, is good advice. When you stop talking and start thinking, you are able to consider the other person’s views in light of your own, and make more headway in the conversation.
3. Show Kindness Before Knowledge
I’m not much for cliche’s, but surely you know what I’m about to say: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
This is oft-repeated advice because it is good and true advice.
I developed this idea further here.
The point is that Christianity is not a thought-system reserved for some echelonic minority, but rather, a practical worldview that is rooted in existential reality.
While one may peruse the depths of Christianity and never “be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” (Ephesians 3:18), at the same time, even a child can come to know Christ.
Let’s remember that we have a responsibility to make a thoughtful appeal to both the head and the heart of people.
4. Expand Your Vocabulary
In a recent podcast series (see here for the first episode), I majored on the importance of definitions.
Along with understanding the precise meaning of words, you should also strive to find the word with the precise message you intend to convey.
French novelist Gustave Flaubert provides helpful advice: “Whatever you want to say, there is only one word that will express it, one verb to make it move, one adjective to qualify it. You must seek that word, that verb, that adjective, and never be satisfied with approximations, never resort to tricks, even clever ones, or to verbal pirouettes to escape the difficulty.”
How could one accomplish such a task?
Read, read, read, read, read!
That may not be good grammar, but it’s good advice! Read after others, talk to more people, find out how they are using words, discover when you are using them incorrectly, etc.
This one piece of advice will drastically alter the effectiveness and outcome of your conversations.
5. Press for Deeper Conversations
This final piece of advice is meant to take number’s one and two a bit further. Namely, how to have more meaningful conversations.
It’s good to put yourself out there. I recommend, at first, talking to anyone about anything! It’s amazing, as alluded to above, what you can learn. And yes–you should stop talking so you can hear what others are saying.
But the need goes deeper than that.
In order for regular conversations to become gospel conversations, you will need to press deeper into one’s convictions about reality. You will need to ask questions that will not only cause you to learn more about others but will cause others to learn more about themselves.
Consider Mike Bechtle’s advice in his book Evangelism for the Rest of Us: “No matter how many conversations we have, there could always be one more. But it’s not the quantity of the conversations we have; it’s the quality of the relationships we build.”
When we build deep relationships with people, we build a bridge into their hearts and lives. These relationships give us “relational capital,” so to speak–the “right” to ask deeper questions.
I have a buddy that I met in the break room at work (it’s a shared break room for the entire building). He worked on a different floor. At first, our conversations were light and casual. Over time, we realized that we had many things in common, not the least of which is that we’re both Bible-believers!
What I am saying is that our first conversation together was not about the Bible–but different areas of life. I showed a genuine interest in his life, and he showed a genuine interest in mine.
From there, a bridge was built, and today, he tells me things he has never told anyone else.
Here’s what I’m saying: Go deeper. Start with sports, kids, etc., but be intentional about moving past that point.
Bechtle reinforces my point: “We build relationships because we genuinely care about people, not just as a method to get them saved. Genuine care involves more than just their salvation. If we truly care about people, that care involves more than just their salvation. It involves every part of their lives, of which their spiritual health is one important part.”
Whatever you do, don’t become stagnant. Get in the game. Talk to others–show them how much you care, and everything else will follow naturally.
May I offer one last piece of advice? Pray.
Pray for the opportunity to witness and lead someone one step closer to Jesus. Pray for the opportunity to build deeper relationships with your friends and co-workers.
Ultimately, God will honor your request because you will be honoring His (Mark 16:15).
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!
- According to Mike Bechtle, “Charles Simmons, a motivational sales trainer from the 1950s, wrote a small booklet titled “How to Get a College Education Every Six Months.” He suggested that other people have knowledge and experience we don’t have. If we can set aside our agendas and actively listen, we’ll learn something new from each conversation. Seeing other people’s perspectives helps us understand them better, providing more opportunities to explore common ground in conversations.”