I was sitting in my small group discussing Week One in Why Do You Believe That? when I realized that apologetics is an emotionally charged topic. Every woman in my group seemed to have specific people in mind that had been antagonistic towards their faith—whether they were family members, friends, neighbors or co-workers.
An emotional and articulate person who loves to argue makes for an intimidating opponent and a heated discussion. If the person has a chip on his or her shoulder about the Christian faith, the potential for discomfort is even higher. Confrontational encounters with others can leave us feeling timid about engaging in future faith conversations.
These kinds of difficult interactions could cause us to avoid discussions about our faith altogether. However, assuming that people are going to be antagonistic causes us to miss out on some great opportunities. Yes, there are people who are hostile towards Christians for a variety of reasons: a negative experience with a church in the past; a painful circumstance that they blame on God; or a lack of understanding about the precepts of the Christian faith. If we can listen without feeling personally attacked, we may learn that their issues are roadblocks that can be removed through ongoing conversations in the context of a caring relationship.
For every hostile person we encounter, I believe there are many more who are neutral or even favorable to having faith conversations—they just don’t know whom to ask. I have encountered people who have been turned off by religious institutions, but are still very interested in learning about God and the Christian faith. Through our conversations, their negative views towards all things associated with God slowly begin to change as their understanding of Him grows.
If we can see our faith conversations as part of God’s bigger plan, it can take a great deal of pressure off. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we can plant seeds that enable people to take one step closer to God. We can share what we know and trust that the Lord will bring others into their lives to help continue that process. It becomes less daunting when we realize that we play one small part in sharing what we believe and why we believe it. The apostle Paul gives us a perfect example of this in his first letter to the church at Corinth as he examines his role in comparison with a fellow teacher, Apollos. He shows how each of us plays a different part in the process of sowing seeds of faith, but it is God who ultimately causes the seeds to grow:
“For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-10, NIV)
All followers of Jesus are co-workers, serving God by sharing with others. And each of us should take the part we play seriously so that we can build on what others have shared with the wisdom and knowledge God has given to us.
In her Bible study, Mary Jo Sharp often references conversations she’s had with strangers on airplanes and after speaking engagements. It might be difficult for those of us who don’t have those kinds of interactions regularly to picture where and when we could engage in faith conversations. I’ll share an example that might help you figure out how it could look in your life.
A few years ago I was sitting in the bleachers with another mom watching our boys play little league baseball. As we chatted, she mentioned her desire to send her older son to summer camp and wondered if I knew of any good ones. I took a risk and suggested she connect with a mutual friend who was sending her son to a camp with a solid biblical foundation.
Two years later, my friend from the bleachers was sending both of her kids to the same Christian camp and allowing them to attend youth group at the church that sponsored it. They were starting to ask questions about God and the Bible and she felt uncomfortable. She had no faith history and no idea how to answer them.
Eventually I had the opportunity to invite this mom to attend a Bible study I was starting. She was hesitant, but intrigued. Ultimately, she decided to give it a try. Over the course of that year, her eyes were opened to God and the Christian faith in a way that she’d never experienced. She was able to ask questions that had nagged her for years and to experience the joy of Christian fellowship. However, at the end of the year, her schedule changed and she decided not to continue with our group.
Each time I’ve encountered her since she stopped coming, our conversations have been warm and friendly. Her recollections of the group have been positive. I don’t look at her choice not to continue as a failure. Seeds were planted in her heart and she learned foundational truth about God’s love for her. She heard the gospel message and knows Jesus paid the price for her sins. She continues to have ongoing friendships with other Christians who are praying for her and loving her well. Each of us has played a role in planting seeds and engaging in meaningful faith conversations with her. Never once has it been scary, tense or argumentative. Yet, we’ve been able to explain clearly and lovingly why and what we believe. She’s heard the truth and we will continue to love her and pray for her as she decides how she wants to respond to it.
Looking at Paul’s passage above, it’s clear that the Christians surrounding her have been “co-workers” who have each played a part in building a faith foundation for her. Paul encourages each Christ-follower to “build with care.” That is why we must never stop learning and growing. We must never treat our faith lightly or become apathetic or careless about it. Learning the foundations of what we believe and why we believe it enables us to bless others and help them begin their own journey of faith.
Let’s not allow those hostile to our faith to deter us from sharing with others who are more open. And instead of giving up on people who are antagonistic, let’s pray and ask God to bring a fresh voice to speak His truth in a way they can hear and receive. Remember, the apostle Paul was one of the most vehement enemies of the Christian faith who God transformed into one of its most impactful leaders. (Read Acts 9:1-31 if you need a reminder of what happened to him). There is always hope, even with the most difficult people.
The band NEEDTOBREATHE has an inspiring song that reminds us sowing seeds of faith multiplies praise to God. The song describes the love of Jesus as “radiant diamonds bursting inside us we cannot contain.” It reminds me that having faith conversations is the most exciting and important thing we can ever do. Click on the link to enjoy the song.
Sharp, Mary Jo; Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation; Lifeway Press; 2012 & 2014.