Our current cultural climate has sparked many a heated conversation. If you utilize social media, no doubt you’ve at least witnessed, if not engaged in, an online debate that at one point or another turned ugly.
As representatives of the Gospel to our students and the world, we must frequently ask ourselves: How can I reflect Christ Jesus in all of my interactions?
In this week’s blog post, we want to offer encouragement and some simple suggestions for navigating conversations in a healthy, God-honoring way. Rather than simply disengaging, we want to interact in ways that will show people the heart that Jesus has for the world.
1. Seek to reflect Jesus Christ.
This may be the most simple and obvious suggestion, but it is no doubt the most difficult. It involves challenging ourselves to operate beyond our natural tendencies, personal opinions, and cultural assumptions.
The best way to reflect Jesus is to know Him, so starting each day in the Word and prayer will help to orient your thoughts and attitudes toward Him. Before engaging in conversations, ask God to give you words to say that will bring Him glory, and ask Him to help you treat each person like an image bearer. This simple step can help rein in a heated response or gut reaction and cause us to refocus on what truly matters.
May we remember that the advancement of the Gospel is more important than anything else we may hold dear.
2. Avoid making it political.
Issues within our culture are often assigned a political bent, and based on where we fall politically, we will see these issues differently. But before an issue is a platform, it is something that affects human lives and hearts. As a representative of the Gospel, may we challenge ourselves to care more about other people than about our political leanings.
Instead of looking for ways to spark (or win) a debate or argue a political point, seek to emulate God’s heart for people. Demonstrate His presence, His care, and His ultimate solution for all humanity’s problems–salvation through Jesus Christ.
May we win more hearts to Him than political debates.
3. Meet people where they are.
For the daily issues we encounter, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. People will experience and deal with problems differently. Rather than assigning the same cookie-cutter solution, or writing off someone’s struggles, seek to meet people where they are and help them in that place.
This is especially important when interacting with your students. It can be easy to lump students all together, and therefore think that they should all feel the same way and deal with their issues similarly. However, things like personal experience, home life, and mental health, will cause students to view the world and their problems very differently.
This is why it is extremely important to invest time into understanding others before we seek to help them or offer solutions. Some ways to do this are outlined in the following points.
4. Ask questions, and don’t assume you know the answer.
The only way to get to know someone is to learn about them, and the best way to uncover their needs, hurts, and life experience is to ask questions. Don’t assume anyone has had the same life experiences you’ve had, and don’t assume they respond to problems the same way. We are each complex individuals, and even though we may have similar life experiences or beliefs, we are all different.
In fact, to make assumptions is to cheat yourself out of knowing someone else, and to rob them of the opportunity of being known. Assumptions cheapen relationships, and cause us to miss out on the gift of knowing each other. Even if you think you know the answer, ask. Allow others to open up, to share about themselves, and to get to know you, too.
May we seek to know each other, rather than assign labels and assumptions.
5. Listen to understand before responding.
Many of us have experienced this type of conversation: no matter how many times you try to explain something, the person you’re talking to is more concerned with their response than what you are actually saying. This leaves you feeling frustrated, unheard, and ready to give up on the other person. And unfortunately, these types of interactions frequently happen in a church context.
Let us do whatever we must not to become the person who responds without listening. You may have the Sunday School answer, but to do this is to ignore the person and focus on making a point, which is ultimately dehumanizing. Instead, challenge yourself to pay attention to others, to think about what they are saying as they are saying it, and to ask clarifying follow-up questions. Active listening demonstrates your care and regard for others, and shows that they are more important to you than simply winning a debate. It can also show that you hold them as more important than yourself.
Seeking to understand others is a way of building bridges between us, rather than walls. Bridges are a way to connect not only with each other, but to introduce others to the God whom we serve. May that be our ultimate goal in these days and the days to come.