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.
Many of us will spend more time with non-Christian family and friends this Christmas time than perhaps at any other time of the year. Some of us are looking forward to finding an opportunity to share our faith but most of us find it an intimidating thought.
My top tips for this Christmas
1. Plan in advance and plan in particular to pray. Decide that God can and might use you in a surprising way this Christmas time. You may doubt that anyone in your family could be interested in the gospel but don’t doubt what God can do.
2. Be wise in how you seek an opportunity to speak. For example it’s often easier to chat 1 to 1 rather than around a meal table as a group. Look to spend a little quality time with different members of family over the time you’re together.
3. Be a consistent witness. Don’t drink or eat too much. Be eager to serve and be helpful.
4. Make church on Christmas day a priority. Unless you’re in a log cabin in the wilderness plan to get to church.
5. Find someone from your church who might be in a similar situation so that you can agree to pray for one another over the festive season and maybe call or text each other a couple of times to encourage and support each other.
6. Give an appropriate evangelistic Christmas book.
7. When speaking think what Christmas means to you as a Christian and try and say something about your own attitudes to Christmas time and what it is that you are choosing to celebrate. Sharing your own experience often opens up conversation as does asking open-ended questions. The question might be different for different members of the family.
Here are a few questions or comments I think could work:
To parents, in-laws, Grand-parents…
- How has Christmas changed since you were growing up?
- What was Christmas day like when you were a child? Did you have any family traditions? Did you go as a family to church?
- A recent news item might be a good topic eg. Did you hear that David Cameron called Britain a Christian country. I’m not sure I understood what he meant by that do you?
- What was Christmas like for you growing up? Would you want to do it differently if you had kids? (have in mind how as a Christian you would want to do things differently eg. how you might try and engage with commercialism etc.)
To younger children
- Did you do a school ‘nativity’ this year for Christmas? What did you do in it? Do you know what the story was all about?
If you want to think more about witnessing to family and friends then help is at hand in the form of Randy Newman and his book Bringing the Gospel Home.
Randy has given a great interview on some of the themes in the book
For 10 tips on making the most of this Christmas time check out Ten Ways to Bring the Gospel Home This Christmas .
For the many of us who live with the reality that most of our family are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ it can be an emotional as well as an intellectual challenge to our faith and our lives.
Here are four practical tips adapted from a new book on witnessing to family Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
1. Recognise that there is something uniquely difficult about witnessing to those closest to us.
When it comes to family the relationship dynamic makes for a challenge. Maybe it’s their familiarity with our faith that means they stopped asking questions years ago that makes it hard. Alternatively it’s that they see our many failings because they see us up close that leads them to question the reality of our faith. Whatever the issue it makes it tough!
2. Find grace to move from fear to boldness
One of the things that stops us speaking for Christ is an underlying fear of a negative reaction of our family. At times it takes courage to speak for Christ and to stand for him.
We need to be clear about our faith and bold in our stand. But the secret is not ‘to muster up courage. That’s what many people try – with little or no success. Instead soak in grace.’ Newman reminds us that fear of our family and their judgment of us can only be overcome with a greater desire to live in the light of God’s judgment of us, his covenant love for us in Christ.
3. Deny the guilt.
There is a guilt which is decidedly not from God and yet many Christians live with a great sense of underlying guilt that those closest to them don’t believe. Despite faithful witness, love and prayer Christians are still tempted to think they have failed.
The appropriate emotion to feel in such circumstances is not guilt but sadness. Just as Jesus wept for unbelieving Israel so too we are right to feel pain but we are wrong to feel guilt.
4. Accept that truth divides.
However painful it may be, Jesus warned that his message would divide even family members.
We need to anticipate that our faith brings new loyalties, new priorities and new desires that may lead to a distancing of what was otherwise a close relationship. In some cultures truth divides even to the extent of being disowned by unbelieving family.
The temptation in the face of losing a relationship with those closest to us is to compromise. We need to anticipate that danger, seek God’s grace and the love and support of our church community to help us remain strong in the truth in a difficult situation.
In a later blog I’ll be bringing another 4 ideas to help dealing with issues of love, humility, time and eternity.
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.
I’m reading a great book called Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman (just one chapter to go and I’ll be blogging on it later this week).
At one point in the book Newman tells the story of how Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist, was persuaded by the Washington Post to busk in a metro station in Washington DC.
More than a thousand people walked by without glancing in his direction. A few paused for a moment, and several people tossed loose change into his open violin case. ( He collected a total of $32.17. Yes, some people gave him pennies!) Only one person recognized the star who, just a few nights later, would accept the Avery Fisher Prize for being the best classical musician in America.
Joshua Bell’s reflected in the Washington Post feature
“I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because, you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!”
Four possible lessons for the church
1. Feeling invisible?
We’re not exactly world-renowned violinists but I dare say we feel like Bell when we know that what is being offered is a glorious and beautiful gospel. Surely people will stop and listen. Surely people will recognise that this message is something to stop and consider.
The Washington Post adds:
Bell wonders whether their inattention may be deliberate: If you don’t take visible note of the musician, you don’t have to feel guilty about not forking over money.
Theologically speaking we shouldn’t be surprised that many people cross the road to avoid Christians! It’s noteable that the Washington Post called the feature ‘Pearls before breakfast’ invoking those words of Jesus ‘do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces’ (Matthew 7:6).
3. Context is as important as content
There are reasons why classical musicians don’t perform concerts in subway stations. The context is all wrong. It’s not a place conducive to stopping and listening it’s a place for passing through as you get to A to B.
So how about our meetings? How do we create space where people can be encouraged to stop and listen? And does that space invite contemplation and consideration of the beauty of the gospel?
Might that suggest we need to create new settings in which to ‘play our music’?
4. A context that doesn’t contradict our message
Imagine a situation in which Joshua Bell is playing but the music is drowned out by ‘musac’ playing over the Tannoy speakers, competing and drowning out his playing. You can’t even stop and listen to him play even if you wanted to.
Do we as churches compete with and contradict the music of the gospel creating a confusing cacophony of noise that no-one in their right mind would want to stop for? Newman suggests that’s what we might be doing.
We speak of measureless love, unmerited grace, and infinite goodness but our tone of voice, demeanor, and lifestyles convey the exact opposite. We want people to quiet their hearts so they can hear the music of the gospel, but we’re performing in a context of judgementalism. We want them to feel loved by God, but they fell unloved by us. We want then to be amazed by grace but they can’t get past the smell of condemnation.
Do our gatherings seem to say more ‘hey, come and listen to this – it’s incredible’ or do they say ‘why haven’t you given anything to this’?
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