It’s nice when people ask questions; whether they are atheists or mature Christians. We all like the feeling of being asked, or the opportunity to “give an answer for the hope we have”.
But, before you answer, just ponder whether they are asking to understand or just asking to make a point.
It could be as simple as saying, “Yeah, that’s something I’ve put some thought into. If I tell you what I think, is there really much chance it will change your mind?”
This is particularly true when chatting to non-Christians. They may have many presenting questions… But they aren’t real questions; they’re just gap fillers, questions to ask to appear didactic. If you said to them, “if I answer that question adequately, will it really make a difference to you?” And if they say “no” (as many I’ve spoken to have), then all of a sudden the conversation had shifted from abstract hypothetical barriers to the gospel, to real personal barriers to the gospel. You can ask, “ok, then what is your real question? What would it take for you to really consider Jesus’ claims?”
Satan loves it when we keep the conversation abstract and impersonal, so don’t go there unless its really the issue they’re dealing with.
1. Think of a better (realistic not idealistic) alternative.
2. Assume the person you’re about to criticise has already thought of that alternative.
3. Assume that the person has some really good reason (or info that you don’t have) to have chosen against that option.
4. Ask them what that reason(s) is.
Then, please, please DO criticise!!
Most critics don’t even do the first. Some do come up with alternatives, but they assume you couldn’t have thought if it. Very few are gracious enough to ask why you’ve made the decisions you have.
I love those people ;)
Only rebuke when there’s not a conflict of interest; don’t do it because they’ve hurt your friend’s feelings, or to make someone else happy, don’t do it because it will give you an advantage.
Only rebuke when you’ve distanced yourself emotionally; don’t do it if you’re wrestling with forgiving them still, don’t do it if your feelings are going to be controlled by their response.
Only rebuke when you’re humble enough to admit you don’t know their motives; don’t do it if you’ve already decided that they intended evil or were malicious. You’d be rebuking something only God can know – and you’re not God.
Only rebuke when you’ve got the facts; don’t rebuke when you’ve just heard what they did, or when they’ve only told you snippets. Get the whole story from them first, prayerfully hoping that they haven’t sinned at all.
Only rebuke when your real desire is to please God.
They arrive, join in, seem to settle in well. They smile when you talk to them, they nod when you say Christian stuff. They talk about their last church in favourable terms.
There’s two opposing things you need to assume:
- Assume they’re Christian if they’re giving that impression.
Most people who are “seeking” or checking out Jesus will give some indication of that. If they don’t they either don’t want you to know or they are Christian and just haven’t said, “Oh… and just so you know… I’m a Christian”.
- Assume they’re not a Christian until they’ve made it clear
Just because they can go-with-the-flow and talk the talk doesn’t mean they’ve given themselves to Jesus. They might have been in churches for years! They might have hung around Christians and picked up the lingo. You just can’t tell.
The danger is assuming one over the other. Rather, there’s a tension there to manage. Again and again I’ve been suprised by new people at church… everyone else thinks they’re Christian… they come to so much stuff! But then you just ask them how they decided to first become a Christian… we’ve had people come straight out and say, “Oh, I’m not a Christian!”
So, don’t assume they’re all non-Christians, and don’t assume they’re all Christians either.
Leading, delegating, starting, serving… they all require a little bit of dreaming. Sometimes, they require a lot of dreaming.
What would you LOVE to see happen… don’t worry about “how” it will happen just yet… just imagine.
What would you love to see them do when you give them this responsibility? What are they dreaming it will look like? Is their dream big enough? Or is it bigger than your dream?
If you’re encouraging people to join with you in serving Jesus, do they have a big enough dream about what could be?
I can’t remember where we got this idea but it’s brilliant… our staff team has this phrase “umbrella of mercy”. It’s what we say before we say something that could be taken the wrong way, or something that might be offensive or touchy for other people in the conversation.
When one of us says, “umbrella of mercy”, we’re asking the other people to prepare their hearts and minds to hear something graciously… mercifully… ready to assume the best… ready to ask clarifying questions rather than make accusations.
It’s a little bit like saying “with all due respect”, instead it’s not a declaration like that. Rather it’s a request… “Please hear this as best as you can, because I’m not trying to hurt your feelings or attack your baby.”
I seem to use it a lot.
If there are two types of reasons “why” you might do something (see previous post) can you focus on one of those types of “why” too much?
If you focus too heavily on the “functional why” (because we want this result, because we hope this will happen, because this will help that, because they will be able to…), what might happen then? Some might tell you that you’re just a short step from simple pragmatism – doing whatever works – the end justifies the means. That’s a pretty catastrophic conclusion to make. Remember, this isn’t abandoning “whys of purpose”, we’re just talking about having a focus on one over the other.
What is more likely to happen is that you’ll drift into traditionalism. You’ll do what worked once before, and you’ll just keep doing that, because it worked. You’ll be reluctant to alter the methods – methods that really were built on solid theological reasoning and good intentions. But methods that don’t work any more because you’re not willing to re-think the principles.
What about the other way?
If you focus too heavily on the “causal why” (because God is like this and that, because the gospel gives us this heart, because this is our identity in Christ…), what might happen then? Some might say you’ll be out of touch with reality… that you’ll just preach the truth and not care about tailoring it to the people who’re listening. Again, that’s pretty catastrophic. More likely, (if it’s simply an over-focus) you’ll take risks and try things out, without being so hung up about whether they work perfectly or not. You’ll try things out and watch them fail a few times before you land on something that does work.
There’s good reason to lean in that direction, heh?