Let’s face it. Talking to others about controversial things isn’t easy—and issues like God and Jesus and the Bible and morality and sin and salvation and Heaven and Hell are about as controversial as they come.
I know the concern. You don’t want to get in over your head. You don’t want to come across odd. And you don’t want to get into a fight. I share these same sentiments with you, and these are all noble concerns…unless they secure our silence. If they keep us on the bench, they’ve gotten the best of us, and that’s not good.
Over time I’ve discovered some ways to make the task less troublesome, though. I’ve worked out a few principles I think will make a tough job easier, and I’d like to pass them on to you. The first one is the most important, and you’ve probably heard it from me before, but it bears repeating.
Ask Questions. Lots of them. Your first step in any encounter should be to gather as much information as possible. It’s hard to know how to proceed—or even if to proceed—unless you first get the lay of the land. You need “intel,” so to speak, and friendly queries get it for you.
When you need to buy some time to catch your wits, ask a question. When you face a challenge you’re not sure how to deal with, ask a question. When the conversation bogs down and you think it best to move in a new direction, ask a question. Whenever you’re in doubt about how to move forward, ask a question.
Slow Down and Simplify. On a flight back from the midwest I listened while a Christian brother in the row directly behind me vigorously shared his faith with passengers on either side. I was glad for the effort (my wife and I both were praying for him), and he made some fine points, but his conversation ranged from young-earth creationism to Armageddon. That’s a lot to have to swallow to get to Jesus.
Remember, your goal is to put a stone in his shoe, not a boulder. If controversial issues don’t come up, don’t bring them up. Major in the majors. Don’t try to move too quickly or cover too much ground when tackling tough topics. Take complex concerns step by step and piece by piece. Break them into smaller parts and try to make headway on only one part at a time.
Contextualize. I always look for ways to frame my points in terms of the other person’s interests, discipline, or profession. For example, once when an attorney asked me why he needed Jesus, I used a courtroom scene to make my point. This move made the point more persuasive because he saw it in light of things he already knew or procedures he was already familiar with.
Contextualizing your points by tying your comments or explanations to relevant parts of the other person’s world establishes common ground—and is an important tactical skill of an effective ambassador.
Be Nice. Solomon reminds us of something we already know, but still need to be prodded on…often: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Later he adds, “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (16:21). Obvious stuff, but easily overlooked. Start out brash and thrashing about, and things will turn sour in the end. Start sweet, though, and you’ll probably end sweet.
Do everything you can, then, to help friends feel comfortable with the process. Don’t get mad. Don’t show frustration. Don’t look annoyed. Keep your cool. The more collected you are, the more confident you’ll appear and the more persuasive you’ll sound.
Trust God. No matter how clever you sound, everything you say will turn to dust if God’s Spirit is not in it. No matter how poorly you think you’ve acquitted yourself, even the most meager effort can turn to gold if God decides to move. Never presume on God either way. Be faithful in the moment, then let God do His part—which is all the rest. I’m not saying you need to “tune in” to the Spirit. Encounters don’t usually work that way. Rather, simply do what you can, then trust in God’s sovereign control.
The very first time I ever shared Christ was less than 24 hours after I’d committed my life to Him. It was a long conversation, I felt entirely inept (I was), my close friends were fuming, and I thought it was a complete wash. It wasn’t. Four years later, out of the blue, I discovered what God had been doing that afternoon, and it was something I never would have guessed. It happens all the time.
And because God is at work in the hearts and minds of people you meet, you need to be ready. That’s why I want to send you my special talk, “The Columbo Tactic: How to Maneuver with Grace in Any Conversation.” It gives you a two-step plan you can use to launch spiritual conversations and engage with grace and confidence no matter how aggressive, powerful, or educated your opposition.
It’s the simplest tactic imaginable, but a true game-changer. This talk on CD is my gift to you in warm appreciation for your generous gift this month.
Can I count on your donation today to equip and mobilize more Christian ambassadors like you? Your gracious support is especially needed now as we enter the lean summer months.
Be sure to request “The Columbo Tactic” as you make your gift. Your friendship means the world to me . . . and is making a real difference in the lives of many.
On your team,