The other day, I wrote an article about not trying to sneer people into the kingdom. The argument wasn’t exclusive, by any means, to our evangelism and preaching. It really holds regardless of what it is we’re trying to convince people to believe. Sneering at people and holding them in contempt is rarely a good way to convince them to adopt whatever view it is you are espousing.
But, of course, that article prompts another question: how do we helpfully share the gospel with people? How do we try to convince people of what we believe to be true? If sneering isn’t going to help, what will?
Here are a few things:
Whilst a lot of sneering comes from a place of assumed logic, presenting a logical case is still important. Whilst talking to people like their idiots won’t convince them of our position, let’s not swing the pendulum so far in the other direction and reckon that articulating things like imbeciles ourselves will help either. At the end of the day, if our position is neither logical, cogent or coherent there really is no reason for people to believe us or listen to what we say. We do need to show people that what we are trying to convince them to (in our case, the gospel of Jesus Christ) is a credible, logical thing to believe.
However, as I argued in my earlier article, cold logic alone won’t cut it. If we are to be persuasive, we need to treat people with respect. That is, enough respect that we don’t make out like they are sub-human because they don’t share our views and the courtesy of treating them (whether or not it proves to be the case or not) that they might have at least thought about their position even a little bit. Assuming that nobody else has possibly thought about these things, or that because they don’t share our position, they can’t have thought very much about it, does not show great respect. We need to give people enough respect to at least let them share their own view, on its own terms, without treating them like an idiot. Few people are going to be won to our position through cold logic alone. Some might, but most won’t. We need to give people the respect they deserve as image bearers of God and give them enough credit as to believe they may have thought about the things they believe.
We need to go beyond just not pulling a face like we’ve just downed some rancid sushi when people share their views with us. We need to actually understand their position. Not only should we assume they might have thought about what they believe, but we should seek to understand why they have come to that conclusion. What assumptions and beliefs underpin their position? If we don’t understand these things, we might engage with the presenting issue but get nowhere towards addressing the heart of the matter. Unless we manage to understand that, we don’t have much chance of convincing them of anything else.
Coupled to understanding, we need to properly listen. In fact, if we don’t listen properly, we won’t understand. If we are entirely unable to relay a person’s best position back to them, it suggests we haven’t been listening properly. The only way to understand somebody’s position is to ask them about it. Ask them what they think and why they think it. Ask them whether you have understood them properly. If you haven’t, apologise and ask if they can explain it again so you can understand it better. If we are too quick to jump in with our response, too fast to address whatever the presenting issue is in the latest sentence, we’ll probably never make it to understanding what the actual position is at all. Part of respecting somebody is to let them speak, in their own words. Let them explain to you. If you don’t grasp what they’re saying, don’t assume it’s their bad explanation, but accept it could well be your poor understanding or that you aren’t listening so well.
No doubt there are some other ways we might effectively seek to persuade people too. But here are four things that might well be a good start.