I was talking with a friend about church planting. This should be funny to anyone that knows me and my record as a church planter. Anyway, I was telling him about a thing I used to do in Starbucks that I called “Coffee Shop Theology.”
At one point in the conversation it occurred to me that there is more conversation that can occur if we don’t feel like we have to defend God. In other words, I don’t have to be a brilliant theologian. I just have to be willing to listen and remember that the person talking with me thinks they are right, too.
I have been impressed, by the number of questions people have about God. It can be pretty staggering. One of the biggies is along the lines of “How can a loving God allow so much suffering in the world?” This can be categorized under “Theodicy” “Pain” and “Suffering”. It could also be categorized under, “OMG!” “Yikes!” and “How about those Red Wings?”
But people ask other questions, too. Some questions have to do with gay marriage, capital punishment, abortion rights, politics, or the proper Bible translation.
If you try having conversations like this, and I recommend this for every Christian, you will realize that some folks are angry at the church for simple answers to complex questions. When a person is dying and their loved one asks “why” perhaps an answer isn’t needed…get the idea? People have also gotten the cold shoulder when they dispute the answer given.
The challenge of being on the receiving end of these types of questions is that our rehearsed or prepared answer only goes so far. In other words, a conversation will often lead to an uncomfortable realization that we don’t know more than the scripted answer. Scripted answers are great for books and magazines where there is no talking back. They are more difficult when a person challenges us with a follow up question.
So, in the coffee shop, I give my thoughts, respond thoughtfully and appropriately and then hunker down for the discussion. What I’ve discovered is that people really like being listened to. People do not like to be discounted.
Here are some tips for having a discussion with people that may not share your faith convictions.
- Ask them about what they believe and how they came to those beliefs.
- Tip: Don’t roll your eyes and sigh as they are answering your question. It doesn’t set the mood for a good discussion.
- If the person is a Buddhist, Atheist, or whatever, ask them to explain their faith. What do they believe? What are the challenges of their faith? Where do they struggle? How do they practice their faith?
- Tip: Don’t use alienating phrases like “That’s a false religion” or “When I was a child I thought like a child…but I’m grown up now” this will only shorten the conversation and make it harder for someone else to have a similar discussion with them.
- Find the beautiful things in their faith and affirm it.
- Tip: A religious system can have true and beautiful things in it, even if it isn’t Christian. You don’t have to destroy the whole system to make Christianity look good. Read about Paul in Acts 17.
- When in doubt say “I don’t know…but I can find out.”
- Tip: It’s okay not to know an answer, to struggle with an answer to difficult questions. In fact, it might even help the person to listen to your side of the discussion or idea.
- Be honest about how you are and your struggles.
- Tip: If the person knows you, they know you. Don’t act like you haven’t been insensitive or a jerk. If they don’t know you, they will. Don’t be someone you are not.
I know this doesn’t sound like much. Maybe it doesn’t even sound right. But a big part of sharing our faith is letting other people share theirs. Besides, if what we believe is true we are not alone in the conversation.
Are their any conversations coming up that this might be helpful to you?