Since there are so many false connotations and misunderstandings about God, starting spiritual conversations with unbelievers can be difficult and frustrating. Like a car spinning its wheels in the snow, great energy is invested and you feel completely stuck.
How can you begin to have a meaningful spiritual conversation? How can you gain traction in your discussions instead of turning them into heated debates?
It starts by understanding that a person’s response could largely be based on how they perceive God rather than how God is revealed in the Bible.
I have learned to never assume that an unbeliever will be on the same page of understanding when I use common biblical terms like grace and redemption. When these words are not clearly defined, conversations can easily turn a different direction. The seeds of impatience, anger, and frustration can turn a good spiritual conversation into a heated debate that nobody wins.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
When you feel like you are spinning your wheels or anger starting to simmer, it’s best to call a time out and begin to think of questions to ask rather than counterpoints to an argument. We could ask, “When I say, ‘God’s grace’, what does that phrase mean to you?”
These are suggested mechanics of having a good spiritual conversation, but I would say there is a need to dig deeper.
Typically, there are hidden layers of misperceptions about God that will get in the way of having a meaningful conversation about God. Unbelievers form opinions that are not based on rejecting biblical truth, but largely influenced by how they see the church. These influences include hypocrisy, secular media, politics, or bad personal experiences.
Since sin dominates the world and sadly infiltrates the Christian church, begin a spiritual conversation with an unbeliever by uncovering perceptions about the church. Listen carefully and compassionately. If necessary, ask for forgiveness on behalf of the sinful actions from those who profess the Christian faith or represent the church. Forgiveness provides a clean slate – a chance to start again — and digs into the heart of why a person may reject the church and close their ears to the Truth.
Asking for forgiveness may even start with my poor responses from the past.
I remember feeling the passion when the evangelical church entered politics to solve our nation’s problems back in the 80s and 90s. I enthusiastically supported the “moral majority” agenda. I was tempted to think when the AIDS crisis first appeared, that it was a deserving punishment from God rather than considering extending a hand of mercy. I favored groups protesting abortions clinics rather than offering a hand of grace to a woman in a crisis.
And I was not alone.
Thirty years later, the seeds of political activism to advance God’s kingdom has produced bitter fruit. Combined with regular reports about trusted clergy preying on children and women, there is a growing public sentiment that feels the church is no longer relevant. People are no longer coming to church to find Truth during these troubled times.
Those who profess Christ and desire to share the God News with others need to understand that for many people the concepts of “God” and “church” are intertwined.
When the church is seen as a place of judgment rather than a house of grace, people can perceive God as an angry, vengeful, temperamental jerk rather than a God who is full of grace and mercy. How can we change the perception? Perhaps we can follow the example of the early Christian church.
In Acts 13, the followers of the Way did not refer to themselves as Christians. This term was given to them by an unbelieving public. The word “Christian” was meant to be derogatory. Despite persecution and ridicule, faithful believers responded by stepping out with confidence to share their faith with others. They spread the Word of God and they lived it. They verbally proclaimed the Word and the power of the Word was unleashed. By God’s hand, the church exploded in number despite the name-calling.
The Word still works today as it did two thousand years ago. We seem to be entering a time in history where believers need to go into the world to verbally spread the Word rather than waiting for people to come to church.
There is too much noise in this world for churches to be heard. People are too busy, distracted, and isolating themselves to bother going to church on Sunday morning. Instead, believers in Christ are being asked to scatter into the world to verbally proclaim the reason for the hope they have in Christ.
He lives! Believe what Christ has already done for us!
Jesus provides a model on how to engage the world and proclaim his name.
He embraced the judged. He sought the lost. He provided a safe oasis of hope. He treated all people with love and respect so they can clearly hear the Word with open hearts.
God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. During this time of grace, he is not a cold judge without a heart, but he is a safe oasis of hope.
I believe people are not necessarily rejecting the Truth but rejecting what they perceive to be true. They are turning away from God because they have never heard the Truth in a clear, concise way.
Begin a conversation about God by clearing away false perceptions. Be willing to ask for forgiveness. Be ready to point to Christ and what he has already done. Instead of trying to win arguments on behalf of Christ, win souls through the power of Christ that is present in his Word.