How Do We Talk Without Yelling?

Do people in your congregation struggle to be like Jesus when they have challenging discussions on Facebook, in family gatherings, or in your church? Do you?

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[This article excerpted from HARD CONVERSATIONS: Reflecting Jesus While Facing The Issues, a new booklet for church congregations from Vineyard Resources.]

In a cultural moment like this one, the church is faced with a challenge. Do we reflect the divisions in our world, or do we challenge, transcend, and overcome them? Do we run away from hard conversations, or do we believe in the uniting power of the Holy Spirit to help us find our way through them?

Jesus’ Prayer For Unity

Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17:20-21 points the way.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one — as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

Jesus believes the unity of the church serves two purposes. First, it reflects the trinitarian nature of God in relationship. It demonstrates an aspect of who God is. Second, it witnesses to the world and will inspire belief. It would be harder to come up with a better summary of the central purpose of the church than to reflect God and to encourage faith in Him.

The unity of the church...witnesses to the world and will inspire belief. Click To Tweet

There are 5 affirmations we can use to help us think well about both reflecting Jesus within the church, and making Him known beyond the church, as we engage in difficult conversations with family members, co-workers, Facebook friends, and other Christians.

Here is one of them.

God Has All Truth…

AFFIRMATION 1: God has all truth, but we don’t have a perfect understanding of it.

1 Corinthians 13:12

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

We are swimming in a culture of relativism. Often, everyone’s point of view is considered equally valid. This is also a time period when someone’s claim to know truth better than someone else might lead to accusations of being arrogant.

Understandably, in response, Christians have often emphasized the unique claims of Christ and proclaimed the Lordship of Christ above all earthly powers. This is right and good.

However, we need to make an important distinction between God’s perfect knowledge of truth and our ability to know truth perfectly.

Imperfect Recipients Of Revelation

God has graciously revealed Himself through the coming of Jesus, the giving of Scripture, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. But humans are imperfect recipients of revelation. We bring our own weaknesses, biases, and cultural blind spots to our understanding of God’s revealed truth.

One doesn’t have to look very far into church history to find examples of enormous groups of faithful, Bible-believing Christians subscribing to ideas that were later shown to be false. Think of the examples of the religious wars in Europe after the Reformation, or the justification of slavery on biblical grounds. Enormous human suffering occurred because of some people’s quite sincere belief in what Scripture “clearly” taught.

We bring our own weaknesses, biases, and cultural blind God's revealed truth. Click To Tweet

Being aware of these historical problems shouldn’t lead us to refuse to hold onto the importance of pursuing truth because we are afraid that we might be getting it wrong.

Instead, it ought to humble us and make us more gracious with our sisters and brothers when we disagree. It doesn’t mean we will simply acquiesce to other points of view, but it might bring a gentleness to our responses (Prov. 15:1).

How Do We Talk Without Yelling?

So how do we talk about political and cultural issues without yelling at each other?

  1. First, we realize the goal is not necessarily to convince the other person that we are right and he or she is wrong. It’s very possible we are both partly right and both partly wrong. Or perhaps the other person is wrong about this issue from a theological standpoint. But that doesn’t make them a bad person, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t have any connection to Christ.
  2. Second, we sincerely try to imagine a world in which the other person is right. This might take considerable willpower, but if we are humble enough to realize that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12) just as the other person does, perhaps we can manage to do it.
  3. Third, we choose not to believe that someone’s opinion about politics is the entire story about who he or she is as a person. Perhaps we cannot arrive at any other conclusion than that the other person is tragically misguided. This might be true. But it doesn’t mean that there needs to be irreparable damage to our love for each other in Christ.

In some ways, this can give us hope for the present. While the church has never handled conflicts perfectly, it has continued to be a faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And over time, many of the divisions and conflicts are resolved or put to the side. We are not the first ones to face questions like these.

Four other affirmations can help us walk this journey together well in such a difficult time as this. But starting here, we can all begin to make progress.


This article is an excerpt from HARD CONVERSATIONS: Reflecting Jesus While Facing The Issues, a new booklet for church congregations from Vineyard Resources.