3 Tips for Talking about Jesus and Avoiding an Argument

Two woman sitting and talking

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We might be pretty enthusiastic about striking up gospel dialogues with others, but it only takes a few difficult conversations before we start getting nervous about them. No one wants to get into challenging and argumentative discussions. 

But when we keep a few mindsets in place as we share the gospel, we’ll find we have more comfortable and fruitful conversations. We can disagree without getting heated and without anyone needing to feel defensive.

Here are three things to keep in mind when starting a gospel-oriented discussion. 

1. Avoid a zero-sum debate 

A zero-sum debate is one in which any advantage or ground gained by one party is lost by the other. For someone to be the “winner,” someone else is the “loser.” Because many gospel discussions are framed as zero-sum debates, they can go off the rails right out of the gate. Two worldviews are in conflict, and someone has to be wrong for someone to be right.

While of course there is truth to be shared in gospel conversations, you can help protect the discussion by not approaching it as win/lose. This means not feeling defensive when someone disagrees with you and not putting them in a position to feel embattled. 

The key is remembering where our job starts and the Holy Spirit’s job begins. We’re sharing the story of Jesus with others and giving them the opportunity to see the world through biblical eyes, but it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts and draws. This leaves us free to love others and share our convictions and experiences without bearing the full weight of convincing or coercing them into believing. 

The minute we stop making conviction our responsibility, we can have discussions instead of debates we need to win. This can help us relax and set a more comfortable and constructive tone. 

2. Don’t expect behavior you won’t model

We must understand what we’re asking from someone when we talk about the gospel. We are hoping that they will:

  • Listen to us
  • Reflect on what we’re saying
  • Demonstrate objectivity and thoughtfulness
  • Take us seriously

Unfortunately, we can be so goal-oriented sometimes that we don’t do any of these things for them. The conversation becomes strained when both sides expect objectivity and active listening from the other party but refuse to extend it. And a lot of this tension is diffused the moment that we demonstrate the respectfulness that we expect. 

Jesus tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated. Conversationally speaking, this means offering others the respect and genuine listening ear that we expect in any conversation. 

3. Refuse to take tension personally

Let’s be honest. These conversations can still go awry even if we are completely respectful and sensitive. When the topic of faith arises, people can get defensive and even combative. There can be any number of reasons for this. They might have had bad experiences in the past or have some preconceived notions or prejudices about Christianity that impact their openness. You might be a stand-in for someone unsavory they’ve dealt with in the past. However, not every lousy reaction from someone will be due to their experience. We also need to realize that supernatural elements are at play, too. 

If we start sharing the gospel, we can’t get upset if someone is skeptical and questions our assumptions. But sometimes, the tone can feel really personal. They might question our intelligence and say condescending or unkind things. This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to us. Peter explains it this way:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14). 

It shouldn’t be a complete surprise to us because we know there is more going on here than we see. One reason we’re told not to be surprised is so we can be mindful of our reaction. 

Not only can our calm, loving demeanor help de-escalate these discussions before they get out of hand, but how we treat others and react to complex interactions also confirms the truth of the gospel. So, as hard as it may seem, try not to take someone’s response personally—even if that’s how they intend it. The fact is that we don’t know what’s happening inside someone’s heart, and God can still use the discussion even after it’s over. 

Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers

People will have questions you can’t answer, and that’s alright. You don’t have to have all the answers—no one does. It’s helpful to have some tools in mind that you can suggest. Jesus Film Project® has helpful resources great for sharing alongside gospel conversations. 

On our YouTube channel and the Watch page on our website, you can access films about Jesus based on the Gospels of Luke and John. This way, you can share the story of Jesus taken directly from the Gospels. There are also other helpful videos for people with questions about Christianity, like the NUA series or the Do You Ever Wonder…? series. All of our films are free to stream, download and share. And on our Watch page, you’ll even find discussion questions recommended for each film.

All our available videos can also be viewed and shared on the Jesus Film Project mobile app. Our free app makes it easy to share Jesus-centered media from anywhere. You can download it from the Apple and Google Play stores. 
For more information, check out our blog post “Using the Jesus Film Project App to Share the Gospel.”