10 ways to keep talking
What makes witnessing to non-Christian family so difficult? For some of us it’s awkward family dynamics (maybe you live in a home where you just ‘don’t do God’ in conversation) for others it’s that we’ve talked a fair bit but that was in the past, in the early days and now you’ve reached some kind of stalemate.
How do you keep going in witnessing to family?
For some of us we need a two-stage approach to get conversations onto God. The first battle may be to move any conversations from trivial to ‘serious’ ie. a conversation in which ideas, values, are discussed and world-views open up. It is a whole lot more natural to move on to issues of faith and spirituality, even Christ, once a conversation gets more serious.
2. Listening well
If we are to ever gain a hearing for the gospel then we can do no better than demonstrating a genuine interest in the lives of family members. So make sure you listen well. Learn to be interested in them. That might even mean taking an interest in something you have no interest in to build common ground and strengthen a relationship. From a growing trust may well come more opportunity.
3. Asking genuine and open questions
People find it easier to open up about themselves and their own thoughts. As you ask questions you gain new insights and build trust and understanding in a relationship.
4. Easy does it
The wisdom we need in long-term relationships is to know when to speak and when to be silent. Knowing ourselves will help us to think are we being too quick, too direct, too aggressive, too confrontational in our attempts to talk of Jesus. Talk it through and pray it in with other Christians to gain a better perspective on how you’re doing.
5. Working the angles.
The more you’ve talked with family about Jesus, religion, the Bible, etc., the harder it seems to re-visit conversation directly on those issues. When you’ve been a Christian for some time it might be that a new, less direct approach will get you further. So how can we open up spiritual conversations using a less familiar path?
6. Speak personally of God’s grace in your life
Not every time or you’ll soon never be asked but why not try when asked ‘how are you?’ or ‘did you have a good summer’ including God in some way in the conversation. Eg. ‘It’s been a tough year this year. I don’t know how I would have coped without my faith’ or ‘I’m really grateful to God for a great bunch of work colleagues who make life a whole lot easier.’
7. Speak of common grace
Common grace is God’s goodness to all humanity as seen in creation (c.f. Matt. 5:45) e.g. good health, natural gifts or talents, the world God has made, etc. We can talk of our thankfulness to God in so many ways as well as in our witness to Christ’s death on our behalf.
8. Share in struggles
CS Lewis said – The Christian has a great advantage over other men, not by being less fallen than they nor less doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing he is a fallen man in a fallen world.
Often the very best thing we can do is acknowledge our weaknesses, inadequacies, fears and anxieties so that our non-Christian family see that we are in so many ways just like them but then talk about how the gospel and our relationship with Christ aids us in our struggles with falleness and brokenness.
9. Understate things.
One author suggests ‘try some shorter, incomplete, statements that point your family toward the gospel.’ Provoke discussion, raise questions, don’t give the ‘full’ answer, learn the art of being ‘interesting’ in comments you make.
10. Connect with gospel truth in our culture e.g. Hillsborough
Over the last couple of days the revelation that police-officers colluded to cover-up failings in the policing at the Hillsborough tragedy have led to repeated claims in our press and tv media for justice to be done. Such a story allows us to (with due sensitivity) raise questions about justice in a god-less world or an expression of confidence on our part that God will one day ‘right every wrong’.
As we look for common ground and shared values we can show that the God of the Bible stands behind such ideas.
Don’t give up on your family. Continue to pray, after all if God brought you to life in Christ why not them! Remain focused and faithful.
For more ideas and a helpful overview of the issues can I suggest Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
I’ve just started a 3 week seminar track at City Church on relating to family. Last night we began with relationships with our parents.
Here’s the section on relating to Christian parents. I grew up in a loving home but not a Christian home in which Christ and his priorities governed our lives as children. It’s easy for me to think that growing up in a Christian home has all the advantages and should be very easy compared to others. Well that’s not necessarily so, as a number of friends at City and elsewhere have highlighted.
A. What makes it so hard?
1. Them being disappointed in us
Some Christian children have the sense, as they enter adulthood, that they have not lived up to the expectations of parents.
a) Do they feel perhaps that we have not made the most of the privileges and opportunities they did not have ( if they were first generation Christians and we grew up in a Christian home). The thought that we should be further on in our faith or more committed to Christ. Maybe they think we should be in Christian work as they are/were.
b) or perhaps they think we are taking them for granted (because we are busy, maybe busy doing Christian things) and not honouring them into adulthood
c) or perhaps they struggle with our failings and lack of wisdom. Parents can fail to remember how immaturity impacts our living. They think back to their earlier selves and suppose they wouldn’t make the mistake we are about to make (job, relationship,etc.) forgetting that wisdom is learned over a lifetime.
2. We being disappointed in them
a) Seeing sin in their lives
Maybe we think they are not living
As consistently, as radically, as faithfully as we think they should given the gospel.
Here’s one comment from a friend:
‘Another challenge can be when you see un-Godliness in your parents. As an adult you are more aware of your own sin, and many of your attitudes are often passed down. When the Spirit highlights these to you, it can be difficult when you see them in your parents too, and easy to get angry and frustrated with them. As children you don’t consider that your parents are sinful and are battling sin. As now fellow adults we must remember that as much as we still sin and are a work in progress, so are they. We have to give them as much grace in their sanctification as they have given us for 18+ years!’
3. Theological differences
Consider the following three testimonies
1. ‘When I moved church it did create a fair amount of tension with my mother. She saw me as abandoning my local church, turning my back on the things I was involved in at my ‘home’ church and moving to a church whose theology she didn’t agree with and, indeed, vehemently opposed with regards to some issues.’
2. ‘I’ve seen people bulldoze in when they ‘discover’ a different way of doing things and really insult their parents with their new-found way of doing church etc. This can also have an effect on younger siblings still at home. If their older siblings start being openly critical about your church and so on, this can be very hard to handle if you are still at home.’
3. One of the challenges can be when you take a different line on something e.g. your ecclesiology, views on baptism etc. I guess this can be particularly difficult if your parents are very sure and thought through. A change in view can understandably be taken as a verdict on your up-bringing and your parents’ current beliefs and practices. The thing is, it is in a way a judgment! There is never an easy way to disagree with your parents.
How we honour our parents in such situations is a vital part of our Christian lives. Whatever we might think of our parents’ faith, home church, etc. we are not to stand in judgment over those for whom Christ died (c.f. 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14-15).
For some children of Christians the battle can be parents who want us to go on in our faith but they also want us to succeed in ‘worldly’ terms.
One person’s said:
Their normal desires as parents for their children (go to uni, get a good job, get married, buy a house have kids etc.) clashes with God’s desires for you. these don’t necessarily have to be different. Let me give an example, if a child express an interest and feels called to overseas mission but the parents advise, focus on getting a good job, house family and then you can go
Why would that be so?
a) Worldly Pride: They want us to be seen to be succeeding as they talk with friends and family about us
b) Human Fear: In some cases, the risks that we are willing to take ourselves are risks our parents struggle to let us face as their children, in case things don’t work out.
c) A parent’s instinctive concern: Sometimes they love us too much to let us go!
Conclusion – When it comes to Christian parents..
1. It can be pretty short-sighted, not to say ungrateful to God, if we choose to focus on what is ‘wrong’. Is it all we can do to criticise God for giving us parents, however imperfect they may be, when they have served us well and sought to raise us in the faith?
2. Christian parents are a powerful testimony to the providential grace of God.
One very helpful comment from a friend:
‘Did we choose that family? Did we pick faithful parents? The fact that God placed us there to receive the gospel is a powerful picture of his election before we were even born. 5 year olds who get converted (like me) are very clearly pursued by God, not the other way around!’
3.Christian parents are a reason to thank God
‘I often hear Christians talk about being brought up in a Christian home with a sense of embarrassment.’ It shouldn’t be so.
4. Honouring our Christian parents gives them a great opportunity to grow in their own faith
As our parents see us living out our faith before them in a humble yet godly way, knowing how and when to challenge the wisdom of parents and how and when to submit they are blessed.
One father and grand-father said:
A Christian can have a very positive effect on their parent, just by their example and can often be a release for them from their rigid ideas…I am amazed when I sit and listen to my children’s wisdom and spiritual understanding. Parents need to let go and earn the respect and love of their children.
(With special thanks to those who offered their wisdom – you know who you are!)
Dricoll’s tips I want to remember 2,4,6,11
Driscoll’s tips I need to remember 3,9,10,15
Randy Newman waited a long time to see his 75 year old mother come to faith in Christ. That’s what makes him the ideal author of Bringing the gospel home – sharing your faith with family and friends. From his personal experience he writes;
I’ve seen the value of patience, the significance of prayer, the marvel of grace, and the power of love.
Most Christians find sharing their faith a challenge at the best of times but sharing faith with family as Newman testifies ‘seems infinitely more daunting.’
The book is a great resource to help all of those who like myself have the responsibility and challenge of being Christians in a family who are mostly not Christians. The book isn’t about technique or methodology but about how the gospel meets the unique challenges of witness to family. So Newman begins the book saying;
How we think about our family while telling them the good news is almost as important as how we think about our message.
So here are 8 take homes from his first chapter to help us think a little more about a tough topic.
1. Family is at the heart of God’s purposes.
It is designed to be a special place with unqiue ‘family dynamics’. We should have a special concern for family. When it works well it is a real blessing.
Families were instituted by God to foster intimacy, to build trust, to be the springboard from which all relationships should work.
2. Families are often where we feel the effects of the fall most acutely.
The closer the relationship the greater the pain when sin spoils or even fractures relationships that are designed to run deep. Nowhere is the consequence of sin greater or more disturbing than in the home. When we have been hurt by members of our family through arguments, divorce, abuse and so on it has profound effects.
3.When family works well it makes witnessing hard.
If our family is a truly happy one then who wants to be the person to break it apart? When we come to faith it adds a new dynamic. There is a new person in our lives, we now have a relationship with Christ, not shared by our family.
Witnessing is understandably hard if we love our parents. We are desperate not to upset them or disappoint them. When a particularly close relationship with a sibling is suddenly altered by our new relationship with Christ it threatens to drive a wedge between you. No wonder if our first attempts to witness are not met with an enthusiastic reception, out of love for our family, we begin to want to hold back.
4. When family goes wrong it makes witnessing hard.
If we have been hurt or betrayed by our family, because the pain runs so deep, we might well run from family. Maybe we cut off connections with certain family members or choose to spend less time at home or simply emotionally disconnect. To protect ourselves from the pain we seek independence from our family.
How helpful to be reminded that Jesus was rejected by his own family only to see them come to faith later. Most notably, James, his own half-brother who would become a key leader of the church in Jerusalem.
5. For those blessed by a loving family the gospel teaches us that family is not ultimate
In becoming Christian we find new reasons to thank God as we see for the first time that a loving family comes from his hand in order to bless but we also learn that we have to stop idolizing family relationships as we serve God.
Jesus said in Mark 3 ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’
Jesus’ placing of family underneath kingdom relationships serves as both a rebuke and an encouragement.
6. For those saddened by broken family relationships the gospel teaches us that family is redeemable
The Bible also teaches us to not give up on even the worst of families.
Remembering how Christ in the gospel refused to give up on me and continuing to rely on the love of God that first changed me is crucial to empowering .
7. Evangelising family will feel like hard work
Newman wants us to recognise that witnessing to our family is going to be hard and it’s probably best to acknowledge that up front.
When you know the difficulty of running a marathon, you train for it, eat the right foods, get proper rest, etc. If you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll probably drop out of the race early on.
8. Evangelising family is emotionally charged
Two emotional struggles need to be highlighted – guilt and anger. Both seem to attack from within and without.
It might be guilt that we have not done more to seek the salvation of family members. We’ve not particularly prayed or we’ve stop trying to speak to them about Christ.
It could be guilt that comes from within because we are conscious about the past.
Our family, in other words has seen us at our worst, and the guilt we feel for losing our temper or any other display of sin immobilizes us in our witness.
It could be guilt from without as family members demonstrate their disappointment & disapproval that we have become a Christian or even a threat to disown us. Parents who have sought to control and manipulate their children are unlikely to stop when we reach adulthood.
Anger often rises in the frustration that comes from not being understood as a Christian or when the gospel is not understood no matter how clearly we have explained it.
Several people I spoke to expressed frustration from lack of objectivity. This seems to be in short supply when we’re around our family.
Maybe, Newman argues, objectivity is not only an unrealistic goal but an undesirable one too. Love rather than dispassionate objectivity is a better goal. It is when love is our motivator that
we can let go of the anger, disengage the guilt, and share the gospel so that it truly sounds like gracious, attractive good news instead of haughty, condemning bad news.
A. Why we need to think about this topic
Lots of churches and Christians avoid discussing this ‘hot-button’ topic in the church. It’s one accompanied by strong opinions (and emotions). There is also a real danger in discussion of a polarising parties in the church and wounding other Christians. But here are 6 reasons why we have to talk about it;
1. It might be a difficult conversation but it’s one that the whole church needs to have together. The alternative is individual women seeking to resolve their theology and their feelings in one to one conversations between friends.
2. It’s an issue that involves the men too! Husbands have a responsibility to lead. For them to opt out is for them to abdicate their responsibility to lead as heads of the home. Whether or not wives return to work is the primary responsibility of their husbands. A whole church conversation helps the men and reminds them of their responsibility.
3. It’s an issue that needs to be worked through in advance. It’s not just a topic for couples who already have children but for those planning the future. For example, the key factor in whether or not a wife returns in my experience is economic. Can the family function on one income?
For some couples, the decision is made for them in the house that they buy and the mortgage that comes with the house that locks a couple in for 20-25 years. Some bills can’t be deferred but must continue to be paid. Couples with kids can help couples without to anticipate where they might be in a matter of a few years.
4. It’s an chance for the church family to learn how to listen better, discover how it’s possible to graciously disagree and an opportunity to put into practice practical support and encouragement, one couple to another.
5. It’s a discussion in which all sides feel guilty. One author has written
‘One interesting trend I have noted as a pastor, counselor, husband, and friend is that in general, whether mothers choose to work or stay home, they feel a level of guilt associated with the decision. Moms that work feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and moms that stay home feel guilty about not using their college degree or their professional skills to contribute to the family finances.’
6. It’s an issue in which surprisingly little has been written to help us think it all through. The quote above is from a short article – literally the only piece I could find on the topic. Unless we shed light on the topic together individual couples we will be leaving couples to think it through on their own.
In future posts we’ll answer the following;
1. Why do women return to the world of work after their children are born? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
2. Biblically speaking, should women return to work and what criteria should we apply is assessing that decision? Are some reasons biblically justified and others not? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
3. What part should husbands play in this debate and in their role as parents? How should they do their paid work differently when the kids come along? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-kG)
4. How do we support mothers who do go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
5. How do we support mothers who don’t go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
Purely for the purpose of this discussion we will use the word ‘work’ to means ‘paid work’. Wives who stay at home work extremely hard but it’s too complicated to keep switching terminology.
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