Would you like to know why people don’t listen to our answers? And do you want some ideas for changing this situation? Then this post is for you!
Let’s start by understanding the problem a little better. There are at least three reasons why people are not always interested in our answers:
- For one, sometimes we are offering an answer when no one asked us a question.
- Two, sometimes we seem to have only one way of answering questions: by giving a lecture. People start to doze off, frustrated that their mild curiosity has been taken advantage of and that they are now subject to a rambling theological discourse and a full-bore presentation of, say, the gospel message. It is like asking to see a movie trailer and being shown the extended Director’s Cut version.
- Finally, the mismatch between our lives and words – this is called hypocrisy – means that others don’t really care what we think. They see our lives, they are unimpressed, and they decide they aren’t interested in what we have to say.
So today let’s break out of the box and look at five different ways to answer a question!
Option 1: Answer The Question With A Question
This is the method that Greg Koukl recommends in Tactics and that Randy Newman recommends in Questioning Evangelism. There are excellent reasons for responding to a question with a question. Here are four reasons you might choose this route:
- To understand the original question better
- To understand the person who asked the question better
- To avoid answering a loaded question (e.g., “Have you stopped beating your wife?)
- To humbly prefer listening to speaking
And here are some great questions:
- What got you interested in this?
- What’s your perspective?
- Would you judge me if I gave a different answer?
- How did you arrive at your decision?
Option 2: Answer the Question With A Story
Have you ever thought about how Jesus answered questions? There was this one time (see Luke 10:29ff) when a man asked Jesus who his neighbor was. Have you ever asked that question? Have you ever wondered, “Who am I obligated to help?”
Anyways, Jesus told the man a story about this traveler who was robbed, beaten, and left half dead. What happened next is that all the religious people who came by and saw the problem avoided helping the victim out. Maybe they were on the way to an important conference on economic problems in the first century or didn’t want to experience ritual defilement. But someone from a different culture – a culture that was looked down on by everyone else – “had compassion” and made great sacrifices to help the traveler out.
Then Jesus asked the questioner a question: which man ‘proved to be a neighbor’ to the traveler?
Hmmm. Even more interesting. How would you answer Jesus’ question?
And wouldn’t you like to be able to tell stories like that when people ask you a good question?
Option 3: Answer the Question With an Experience
Sometimes a ‘factual’ or ‘intellectual’ answer is not the best choice.
For instance, when someone asks me, “Why are you so passionate about apologetics? What’s the big deal?” I have found that sharing stories of friends coming to faith in Jesus is more powerful than reciting 1 Peter 3:15 or quoting William Lane Craig. What people are really asking me is this: is apologetics practical and worthwhile?
Sharing your experiences connects you with your friend at the heart level.
Very often, this is far better than discussing abstract sociological trends or dry philosophical justifications.
Here are some additional reasons to share your life experiences:
- It communicates authenticity – a personal story can show the link between your beliefs and your experiences
- It communicates trust – opening up your life demonstrates you trust your friend and want a deeper friendship with them
- It communicates reality – anyone can spout off some ideas, but actual decisions show what you really believe
Option 4: Answer the Question With A Community
When a student asks me, “Why should I go to church?” I often answer “why don’t you come and see for yourself?”
Maybe a theological defense of church isn’t what they need to hear. Perhaps ten Bible verses on the importance of church will bore them. Maybe not – I’m prepared to explain that, too, if they are interested.
But inviting them to connect with new friends, have an experience of a warm and loving church fellowship, and open their lives to a holy encounter with God is far more relevant.
What questions should you answer with a community? All kinds of questions! Here are some others:
- Is there a God? Why not come to Bible study with me? Maybe you’ll meet God there!
- Why is there so much evil in the world? We are going to serve at the soup kitchen this weekend – want to come?
- What is the meaning of life? We are taking our vacation time this summer to do business training in Haiti. Would you like to join us?
But sometimes these responses feel like you are dodging the question.
Sometimes people really just want answers. In that case…
Option 5: Answer the Question With A Conversation
Let’s say you are wondering: should I give a lecture in response to this question? This looks like my big opportunity!
Here’s a checklist to consider whether or not to give a lecture:
- Are you an invited guest at a formal event?
- Did they give you a microphone or have someone introduce you to the audience?
- Did you prepare a lecture in advance and are people expecting you to give a lecture?
If those conditions are met, then by all means, give a lecture!
Otherwise, I think you will find far greater success by having a conversation. I’d like to introduce you to the idea of “conversational tennis.” Here’s how it works:
They ask you a question (the serve).
You give a brief answer and ask a question back (you return the ball to their side of the court).
They give an answer and indicate an interest in your opinion (they hit the ball back to you).
Playing conversational tennis can be fun. Once you get into it, you’ll notice that some people hog all of the conversational tennis balls on their side of the court. Other people play up at the net and aggressively hit balls back into your side of the court – very rude. There are all kinds of styles for playing conversational tennis, so try to find one that makes for a pleasant game.
This is important: You only win the game if the other person feels like they won the game as well. You’ll know you play conversational tennis well when people want to set up a regular ‘conversational tennis date’ with you.
(Some people call this evangelism. I call it having friends who talk about what really matters).
If you are really passionate about giving people answers – so they can know, with you, that God exists, and experience the joy of following Christ – then you absolutely have to do more than give people answers. Let the answers you have motivate you to:
- Ask great questions
- Tell great stories
- Share your life
- Include others in your community
- Participate in open conversations