Having good conversations seems to be getting more and more difficult in our culture.
From the rancour of our divisive politics to the difficult conversations you may be expecting around the Thanksgiving table this year, we all need to learn a lesson in generating more light than heat in our discourse.
I have found the well-known words of 1 Peter 3:15 incredibly helpful when it comes to engaging with non-Christians about faith:
“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.”
But the principles embodied in this verse could equally be employed in any of our conversations on politics, culture, life or faith.
Here are 5 lessons we can draw from 1 Peter 3:15:
“…to everyone who asks you…”
It is assumed in this verse that we will be asked about the reasons for what we believe. That means we have to be willing to listen. If we don’t genuinely listen to the questions and opinions of those we engage with, then they are very unlikely to listen to our responses.
Think your case through
“Always be prepared…”
Just as we need to be ready to give reasons for our faith, we also need to be well prepared in other respects. If you are planing to talk politics, then make sure you really know what the ‘other side’ believes, not just what you think they believe.
Choose to engage with the strongest point of view that someone has, not just a ‘straw man’ – an opinion or argument that is an inaccurate caricature of your opponent, which is therefore easy for you to knock down.
“But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The way we say things is just as important as what we say. I’ve often seen people win an argument but lose the person in the process. Our conversations should be about bringing people with us, not defeating them in battle.
Engage the person not just the problem
“…give an answer to everyone…”
We are called to engage with people as real human beings. Find out who you are speaking to and why they are asking the question. You may find that there is more to them than just their political or religious beliefs. Finding common ground can be a game-changer.
Make Christ part of the conversation
“…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.”
I have sometimes asked myself when engaging with non-Christians online: Would I be willing to spend as much time praying for this person as I am willing to spend debating them? In the end, our words and arguments will only take us so far. Christ is the one who makes the difference. Sometimes we need to stop talking, start praying and leave it with Him.
Whoever you are having conversations with this Thanksgiving, I pray you will find that those discussions are gracious, fruitful and make a difference.