By Aaron Earls
Talking with a non-Christian can be intimidating for many followers of Jesus, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Recently, I took a trip to the Grand Canyon and ventured out on to the Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the rim of the Grand Canyon.
With a mostly clear glass floor, you can see 4,000 feet down to the canyon floor below. It’s awe-inspiring, but a little nerve-racking.
As you can imagine, many people walk very gingerly across the bridge and don’t breathe again until they’ve reached the other side amidst sweaty palms and weak knees.
Unfortunately, we often treat conversations with those who believe differently from us in the same way.
We know it’s an amazing thing we have the privilege to do, but we want to just get through it as quickly and safely as possible.
Instead of viewing talking with a non-Christian as a life-risking endeavor, keep these eight steps in mind.
1. Value them as people.
We need to see those who disagree with us as people. This helps us to not be so frightened of them that we never start that conversation.
It also keeps us from seeing them as a project or task on our to-do list.
Your neighbor, cousin, barista, or person you pass on the street are created in God’s image, have inherent dignity, and were created to worship.
This is an easy next step, but one we often ignore and miss how important it can be. Just listen to what they have to say.
Often times, you can stand out simply by paying attention when they talk. In a noisy world full of loud voices, sometimes a listening ear can speak the loudest.
This not only affirms their worth but allows you to better understand them and move to the next step.
3. Find points of connection.
As you listen to them, you will find some common ground—a shared experience, a sports fandom, a favorite book or movie, a fun parenting story, a heartbreaking tragedy.
Any of these can form a bond between you and the other person. Those bonds allow the relationship to grow deeper and move to other topics, including faith.
4. Understand their perspective.
As you listen to them, hear why they are a non-Christian at this point in their life.
Maybe they grew up Muslim or converted to Hinduism in college. Perhaps they used to go to church but left because of a theological disagreement or damage to a relationship.
Don’t instinctively judge them or their current position. Try to understand why they arrived at the point they did, so that you can better show how the gospel will reach them there.
5. Avoid using Christian jargon.
Christians use phrases and lingo that can either mean nothing to a person outside of the church or it can raise unnecessary questions and concerns.
Don’t stress out about every word you use in the conversation. But when you move to spiritual matters, think about how you can describe those things in ways that will bring clarity, not more confusion.
6. Welcome questions.
Instead of trying to avoid questions, welcome them. It means the other person is listening and engaged in what you are saying.
Even if they are hard questions or misleading ones, it at least lets you know they’re thinking through the conversations you’ve been having.
If they haven’t asked questions, bring it up yourself. Ask if they have any questions. Maybe even bring up some questions they may have but haven’t asked.
7. Admit ignorance.
When they ask questions, they may well ask something that you don’t have the answer to right off the top of your head. That’s OK.
If your neighbor is a top-notch scientist and he asks deep questions about the relationship between science and faith that make your brain hurt, don’t feel like you have to address those issues yourself.
Feel free to say, “That’s a great question. I don’t really know the answer, but I’ll work to find something for you.”
You’ve shown humility and you’ve already primed them for an additional conversation on the topic.
This could lead to inviting the other person to speak with another Christian who has expertise in the subject matter or reading a book on the topic with you.
In reality, this shouldn’t be the final step. This should be part of every step you take before, during, and after your conversations with the other person.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will work in their life. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give you the words you need to say and help you remain quiet when that would be best.
Regardless of how long the conversations go on, continue to pray for the other person that one day they will respond to Christ and will be thinking about how they will have conversations with their non-Christian friends and family.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.