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.
When it comes to leading people, it’s helpful to think about two aspects of every leadership conversation…
First, there’s the (horizontal) aspect; who makes the decision at the end of this conversation? Is the final decision way over on your side as the leader, or is it way over on the team member’s side? Or do you want the decision to be somewhere in between?
Second, there’s the (vertical) aspect; how much discussion takes place between you and the team member? You might have heaps of discussion about an idea or option, or you might have very little discussion at all.
The diagram below presents four possible alternatives when leading. We call them the four leadership styles. They follow a particular path where the more you want a mutual decision, the more discussion is required.
If you’re in that situation when someone talking to you starts to “vent” about someone else… it usually starts small about how hard things are at the moment… but in order to explain how they’re feeling, they feel the need to share how this person has wronged them and that person was mean to them… and before long you’re hearing things that you ought not to hear… what should one do?
It’s a difficult moment, because you’re hoping that at any moment they’re going to recognise what they’re doing, you’re hoping they’re going to realise they didn’t mean to go into all that, and stop all by themselves. But… I think that’s very rare.
You should politely ask them to stop. Maybe…
“Can I stop you there for a second? I wonder if you’ve started talking about people in a way you wouldn’t like people talking about you?”
“Can we just press pause on this conversation for a minute? It sounds like you’ve got a lot of feelings rolling around at the moment and you might not have thought hard about what you should and shouldn’t say?”
But stopping it is only part of the response. Ideally, you want to help this person work out WHY they came to you in the first place… Did they really just want vengeance (and thought you knowing might help)? Are they simply trying to process what happened to them and their feelings and facts are getting all muddled up? Do they want you to go and fix their problem? Have they already had the same conversation with 5 other people (who didn’t tell them to stop) and now their just in the habit of talking that way?
Once again… it’s very rare that the presenting issue is the real issue. So try and treat the cause, not the symptoms.
Venting is that thing people (like me) do when something bad or annoying has happened. It usually involves someone else and how they made your life much harder and now all these things are going wrong (read “not like I wanted them to go”). And it normally coincides with some other significant life event and feels too much.
So you go and “get it off your chest”, or “vent”. You might even call it “processing”.
But what you’re really doing is either grumbling against God, slander or gossiping. Possibly all three.
Do you really need to get it off your chest? Really?
Well, have your tried telling God how you feel? Actually how you feel? No? Might it be because what you want to say isn’t very godly?
If you wouldn’t say it to God, don’t say it to anyone.
Paul sets a pattern of pastoral ministry for Timothy that includes “teach, correct, rebuke and encourage” from the word of God. So there will be times when we are to lovingly and encouragingly rebuke people’s actions and decisions.
Sometimes, we know those people and we can be quite confident they will take it well – some people I know love a good rebuke!
But if you’re not sure how someone’s going to take it, it’s probably better starting with that conversation before you raise the sin with them… the conversation that goes like, “Hey, how do you reckon you’d respond if I challenged you from the bible about an area of your life?”
Now, sure… that’s going to ruffle some feathers. But it’s still an hypothetical discussion. You can still talk about it and talk about how God shapes us and challenges us through other people spurring us towards Christlikeness.
If that conversation goes well, there’s a much better chance the following conversation will go well too. If that conversation goes bad… well… you’ve raised an even deeper issue to work through. :)
If you’re going to ask someone to take on a responsibility, make it short. Not the responsibility… but the “ask”.
If you make the “ask” long and wordy, it will communicate that this task you’re offering them is so huge, so massive, so immense, that you have to take a long time to ask them. Instead, make it short.
“Hey Bill, could you lead a growth group night in a few weeks?”
Don’t say anything else. Just stop there. Let them answer. If they say no, that’s fine, all the words in the world probably wouldn’t have changed their mind anyway.
If they say, “Maybe” you can ask them what their concerns are, and you can address those concerns.
If they say yes, you can then go through the details they need to know.
If you make the ask BIG, then you’ll only freak them out by the apparent BIGNESS of the task.
People cite all sorts of reasons why our culture is resistant to the gospel, individualism, consumerism, sexual-ethics, so on. But for the day-to-day Christian hoping to talk to their friend, these are rarely the stumbling block.
Rather, the reality is that most people like living on the surface. They like talking about the game, about work, about surface things. Just chit-chat until we’re too drunk to know what we’re talking about. And if you run out of surface things to chat about, you can always turn to gossiping about people.
But the gospel sits beneath the surface. It is, by nature, deep. It’s about you and God, you and guilt, you and shame.
So what might we do?
How about training our Christians to own the deepness of the gospel?
Saying, “Hey I know we usually chat about pretty surface things, but I wanted to ask you guys a deeper question… What do you really reckon about this idea that Jesus will judge us?”