We are all on a journey of faith. What many of us think as the beginning of a relationship with God is actually quite far down the road. For those who have grown up in a church or with a spiritual education, we have not had the struggle of that journey alone. Those who have taken steps into a faith in Jesus could also testify to having people who helped them to walk that path whether in person or by their written words.
When speaking to people about topics of faith, it can be quite intimidating no matter where along the journey you or the other person is. Let’s just assume for the moment that you are well on your spiritual journey, but the person you are talking to has little interest in the topic. How would you talk to this person about matters of faith?
In this situation which is more and more common in the United States, the topic should not be about God or about faith, and certainly not about your experience. Opening conversation so overtly will be a dramatic obstruction to any movement or open dialogue that could be there otherwise. Keep in mind that if the person does not care about matters of faith they probably have very decisive reason for that position. It may be that the person is either hurt or offended by what Christianity seems to stand for or be about.
The conversation at this stage is all about opening the discussion, just cracking the door open for further dialogue at a later date and time (and perhaps with someone else). Check yourself and see that you are not talking too much, in fact you should probably only be talking about 20% of the time. Any more than that may send signals of intrusion and disinterest in the topics. It should also give you an indication that this probably is not a good opportunity for this conversation.
Begin with questions. Ask about the person’s background, interests and hobbies. Share information about yourself especially when asked directly to help provide comfort in the connection. Listen for natural points where there are interfaces with faith, spirituality, meaning of life, and belief. Remember to ask questions and show genuine interest. For example, some questions could be:
- Where do you find meaning for your life?
- What do you believe in?
- Tell me about your experience with faith.
- What do think is wrong with Christianity?
When people really think you honestly what them to give you answers to these questions, they are usually willing to share. Be prepared to hear things that are startling and offensive. It may be difficult to hear what their experiences and perceptions are, but remember they are not talking about you personally and they are not necessarily speaking about God so much as their perception of Christianity, which has been managed by fallible human beings. On the other hand you may be getting valuable information about what has been blocking them from a relationship with Christ.
Authentic relationship is important and should never be imitated or forced. If you find that you are lacking genuine interest in the other person and are thinking about your “agenda” of sharing your faith, it is wise to end the conversation. Remember it is not your job to change the person, but being open, available and attentive to the other person and their place in their own faith journey.
Authenticity also means being open to being challenged. For instance if you find out that a friend has been hurt by a clergy member, take time to understand that pain and to ask yourself what you may have felt or how you may have reacted if it were you in his place. Sharing that authentic compassion for another person can be healing and challenging for both people. Having a relationship with a person who is a Christian and is open to hearing their pain may help to open their lives again to considering matters of faith where they were formerly closed off to even having the discussion.