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The last few years have highlighted how much we all need safe relationships, how much we each long to find belonging. Unfortunately, our charged societal climate rejects the gentle, relational way of Jesus that fosters safety and security, and cultural, racial, and religious divides can keep those who are curious about Christianity from bringing forward their questions.
So what can we do, as believers, to channel the Jesus who welcomed questions and doubt? We must choose Christlike love over judgment and fear, or else we close the door to conversation before the dialogue even begins.
There is a better approach to conversations with the faith-curious–and it starts before a single word is spoken.
1. Face Your Fears
Fear is one of the greatest barriers to a productive conversation between people who disagree with one another. For believers, fear can look like worry that the “right answers” will elude them in conversations with unsaved neighbors and friends. And for those neighbors and friends, fear of judgment can stem from past interactions that were less than loving or kind.
Psychiatrists have found that when the human “emotional brain” experiences fear, it looks to the “thinking brain” for answers. If the thinking brain concludes that real danger is at hand, it will signal to the emotional brain that it is time to run. However, if the thinking brain perceives that there is no true threat, that safety provides context for the emotional brain, prompting feelings like excitement or surprise instead.
We should acknowledge that fear, but it can’t drive our decision-making. Most people are bringing their own hesitations, doubts, and insecurities into conversations and relationships, and in sharing those together, we can find safety and acceptance. After all, perfect love casts out fear.
2. Do Your Homework
No one has all of the answers about Christianity—but some of the best conversations can happen when Christians can admit this and hold space for doubt. Research has shown that those who are unwilling to acknowledge, and therefore address, gaps in their own expertise are less likely to deal well with the questions of others.
When difficult questions inevitably arise, Christians have an opportunity to admit they do not have the answer, and they can commit to exploring the topic with their conversation partner. This can be done through reading a book together or independently researching and then meeting later to discuss.
Most people with genuine questions and doubts are not looking for a human encyclopedia of faith. If anything, saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out with you” communicates humility and honesty that may earn more trust than the answer itself.
3. Listen like You Mean It
Passive listening, which refers to hearing someone but not processing or responding to what they are saying, can be tempting when someone asks a question that seems to be hostile or to undercut Christianity. But passive listening cannot lead to engaging dialogue.
Active listening demands love and intentionality as it facilitates productive conversation and meaningful relationships.
Active listening is rooted in empathy. Rather than entering into a conversation intent on making a point, the active listener attempts to understand the other person’s perspective and position.
While active listening is about the posture of one’s heart, it can be communicated through physical posture as well. Eye contact, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues communicate someone’s willingness to truly listen and understand.
Honing this skill is especially important in conversations about faith because there are often deeper questions behind the initial one. For example, when someone asks how they can possibly believe in a God who lets bad things happen to good people, this is likely rooted in a personal, painful experience. The passive hearer may attempt to answer the question on a theological level without ever seeing an opportunity for a deeper connection. The active listener, though, will contextualize their theology in terms that acknowledge the impact of suffering. As they do so, they honor the humanity and pain behind the question, showing that their desire is not a victorious argument, but a kind and mutually beneficial conversation.
Welcoming Questions—and Those Who Ask Them
While these reminders can help us engage questions about faith with empathy and humility, they are not a magic potion or a simple step-by-step process that will inevitably lead to conversions.
Instead, think of these tools as a compass designed to orient Christians toward caring for those in their lives with questions or doubts—and let them see it as an honor that they can provide a safe place to seek the truth. With this framework in mind, the goal is not winning or convincing someone to believe just as we do. Instead, we engage with love in each word and gesture.
He Gets Us is built on this foundation. The campaign exists to make connections between people exploring faith and those who can help find the answers. Learn more about how you can welcome people who are skeptical about faith into meaningful conversations through this free bundle of resources created by CT Creative Studio.