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After two years of COVID concerns, people are beginning to look forward to reconnecting in groups. This Fall, many churches will offer some kind of group for people who want to explore faith through conversations.

5 Thoughts About  Engaging People in Conversations About Jesus

In preparation for preaching on the weekend, I reflected on the value of questions, listening, and openness. I think the effort made me a better speaker, if not a better minister.

1. Embracing questions is as important as giving answers.

Sharing my faith in Jesus used to be mostly about helping people find answers. But, often, in the process of getting people to an answer, I would fail to embrace or honour their question. Increasingly, that’s a massive mistake.

Almost no one likes going into a store and asking a question only to have a customer service person blow past your question. In fact, your most positive experiences have likely been those in which someone listens to your question, takes it seriously, and then tries to respond to it thoughtfully and helpfully.

Too often, Christians rush past the question to get to an answer.

Church leaders who embrace people’s questions will be far more effective in the future than leaders who don’t.

Listen to the difference:

“So when I die, will be in reincarnated?”

Answer: Christians don’t believe in reincarnation. So no, not at all. You’ll be resurrected in Christ. 

or

Answer: That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. Actually, the Christian experience focuses on resurrection. Would you like to talk about that? 

Which answer would you rather hear?

2. Steering the conversation is better than pushing for a conclusion

One of my favourite environments is Alpha, a small group experience for people who are new to Christianity, new to faith, or returning to church after an absence.

The best Alpha leaders are not the people with all the answers or the leaders who are always trying to “close the deal”.

The best leaders are people who can steer conversations.

They don’t stress at people’s questions, no matter how strange they might be. They listen without judgment and affirm a person’s intentions.

The best leaders listen, don’t judge, thank people for their input, and then gently steer conversations back toward truth.

3. Being open is more effective than being certain

When talking to seekers, coming across as certain is far less effective than coming across as open.

Leading with conviction can be counter-productive. The person who is always certain thinks they’re being convincing when the opposite is often true. You’re less convincing because being perpetually certain makes you appear anti-intellectual, closed, and a bit arrogant.

If you’re open to people and their views, they’ll be more open to you.

4. Arrogance, smugness and superiority are dead

For too long, Christian apologetics has carried a tone of arrogance, smugness, and superiority. If you want to repel anyone under 35, lead like that.

Arrogance is so ingrained in many Christian cultures that Christians don’t even see it or hear it anymore.

Humility is attractive. Humility is what made Jesus so much more attractive to people than the Pharisees or religious leaders.

Humbly love God, love your community, and love the people who don’t know God.

5. The timeline is longer.

Ever notice that people who come to faith when pressured often leave it after a few years? And the people who come to faith on their own timeline tend to be flourishing years down the road?

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself, and he will. But he didn’t promise to do it in three minutes, or during a 75 minute service or even an eight week class.

You need people and leaders who will take the time to go on a journey with people.

It took the disciples three years to figure out who Jesus was, didn’t it? Why do you think people in your church will be any different?

We need to give people space. And we need to give the Holy Spirit space to do His work.

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Bob Jones

Happily married to Jocelyn for 43 years. We have two adult sons, Cory and his wife Lynsey and their son Vinnie and daughter Jayda; Jean Marc and his wife Angie and their three daughters, Quinn, Lena and Annora. I love inspiring people through communicating, blogging, and coaching. I enjoy writing, running, and reading. I'm a fan of the Double E, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Pats. Follow me on Twitter @bobjones49ers

6 Comments

  • Laura Hum says:

    What an awesome blog post! This is one of your best. As I read it, I thought of a conversation that I had recently and wished that I had been more open and embracing of his questions rather than being so certain. I will tread more carefully next time.

  • Wayne Loe says:

    A family member who has taken a very strong stand concerning the pandemic and the view that it was a lie, has continued to move along to a place of such distrust for all current institutions that she is now ready to embrace a flat earth.
    I reacted oppositely the other night to the insights and counsel above. I didn’t listen but reacted angry to what I consider the downward path to absurdity. My reaction was not at all helpful. I still feel the embarrassment of my own over reaction, and can only hope that God can grant opportunity to turn this around someday. Laurie and I will be facilitating an Alpha table this Fall. Perhaps the lesson learned, together with the additional insights offered today, will yield positive fruit!

  • Julie MacKenzie says:

    Loved the blog this morning. Thank you for sharing it with us Pastor Bob. Great points on engaging in conversation. I have been told that I am a great listener & that I give great advice…& I don’t judge people. I am very proud of myself…that people offer that opinion of me. I try my hardest to listen to what people confide in me & know that it takes great trust & vulnerability for people to open up in that way. It is a skill that one learns as we age & get more life experience. Plus, things have to remain confidential….I always have that in the back of my mind. No one respects a person who gossips. ❤️ The “Art of Conversation” is just that…it needs to be practiced & perfected. It’s not easy for everyone. Plus, honesty is the best policy. Something that my Mom & Dad ingrained in us as children. You will never worry if you always tell the truth.

  • Bob Jones says:

    I am appreciative of your attitude, Laura. There will be good conversations ahead for you.

  • Bob Jones says:

    That’s a good perspective, Wayne. Its interesting that we are encouraged to talk and tell our witness of Jesus. Often listening can lead to deeper, redemptive conversations. Listening is loving.

  • Bob Jones says:

    So true about confidentiality. It is a sacred trust.

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