By Doug Pollock
It was early November and Bill and Sue carved out some time for a much-needed date night. Sue couldn’t wait to talk about their plans to see her family over Thanksgiving and Bill’s family over Christmas. After finalizing their travel plans, they began to discuss how they were really feeling about visiting their families over the holidays.
Admittedly they both were not looking forward to it as much as they wished they were. Why? Because they often felt like they were either annoyingly present or awkwardly silent during the conversations around the table. You see, not only were Bill and Sue the only Christians in their family system, they were also on the wrong side of the political issues frequently discussed.
As Bill and Sue began to imagine what this year’s conversations might sound like due to the polarizing political issues of recent months, they felt hopeless and stuck. They wanted to see their family and be good witnesses for Christ, but they had no idea how to enter and stay in the room when polarizing points of view were shared.
Their predicament raises an all-important question all Christ-followers must wrestle with at some time or another. How do we have constructive, respectful, redemptive conversations in an increasingly polarized culture?
If the church is going to leave the building and share the good news of the Christmas season, we must be prepared to engage in the real conversations going on around us. If not, we will end up inside a sound bubble talking only to ourselves. In 1 Peter 3:15 (NLV) we are instructed to “Always be ready to tell everyone who asks you why you believe as you do. Be gentle as you speak and show respect.”
Bill and Sue obviously need some help and they are probably not alone. Here are some timely truths drawn from Colossians 4:2-6 to guide you as you seek to cross the difference divide.
(1) Talk to God about men and women before attempting to talk to men and women about God.
(2) Be wise about how you engage in conversation. Be quick to reflectively listen and slow to speak (See James 1:19). Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.
(3) If others are not ready for the good news you’d like to share with them, ask questions instead. Great questions help to jump-start great conversations. They serve as a backdoor into hearts that may be heavily guarded. Questions linger around long after they are asked and allow the Holy Spirit to do what he does. Good questions also invite others to think in ways they have never thought before.
Ravi Zacharias, a role model for engaging in these delicate kinds of conversations, puts it this way: “True dialogue happens when we’re able to understand each other’s differences and discuss them. If the truth we attempt to share when we dialogue is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive.”
Let’s give the gift of great conversation this holiday season. Below you will find some practical, doable, and authentic ideas to help you pull that off. Just remember this: There’s a good chance others will remember how we handle the conversation far more than what we say.
An early holiday gift for the Bills and Sues of this world: We often spend a lot of time picking out the right gifts for our friends and family. I wonder what would happen if we spent just as much time thinking about the right questions to ask them. We are often just one great question away from having a significant conversation. Here are 99 questions you might find helpful over the holidays.
If you are looking for some new inspiration to help pull off these kinds of conversations, check out the book God Space. It was written to help you increase the quantity and the quality of your spiritual conversations. If you are a part of a small group, the Activating God Space kit was designed to help your whole group grow a new sense of confidence and competence in engaging in these kinds of conversations.
Another special Christmas gift from the author: If you click on the following link you’ll get to listen in as Doug challenges students at the University of Oregon with ideas on “How to have constructive, respectful, redemptive conversations in an increasingly polarized culture?