Most people don’t like being put on the spot. That’s why people dread job interviews, first dates, and starting spiritual conversations. Each of these have the potential for a stressful moment where you’re asked a difficult question and don’t know the answer. In fact, this fear is one of the top reasons for Christians not sharing their faith.
So what can you do when put in this situation? And how can you make sure this understandable fear doesn’t prevent you from sharing the amazing gift of a relationship with Jesus? To answer that, Indigitous recently met with Tyler Ellis, director of a ministry called Let’s Talk Story, based in Hawaii.
Tyler recently gave a TEDx talk (watch it below) where he told the story of a conversation he had with a man at a wedding. The man shared about his life of abandonment and abuse and asked Tyler, “How can anyone believe that God exists?”
Tyler was put on the spot, but instead of trying to come up with an answer that would satisfy the man, he said “I don’t have an answer for you right now.” Tyler then invited the man to have a future discussion examining his questions about faith. “Never give a ten-cent answer to a million-dollar question,” Tyler told the audience.
Instead of trying to come up with something to say on the spot, Tyler decided to build a relationship that would allow deeper discussion in the future. “There’s a different kind of anxiety we feel when we’re put on the spot by someone who doesn’t share our faith,” Tyler tells Indigitous. “And I wonder how many missed opportunities go by every day because Christians avoid these conversations.”
It’s okay to not know
So where did we get this idea that we need all the answers? Does God expect us to all be theological and Biblical scholars? Tyler points to 1 Peter as the closest Scripture to this idea.
“Set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.”
“At first glance, this passage might cause us to conclude we’ve got to have all the answers all the time,” Tyler says. “But thankfully it doesn’t say, ‘Be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the latest church scandal, or slavery in the Old Testament, or quantum physics, or whether Adam and Eve had a belly button.’ The answer that we should be ready to give is in specific regards to the hope we possess. … Our hope is in Christ, whom we are to set apart as Lord.”
Be right about Jesus
You don’t need all of the right answers, but you do need to be right about Jesus. Later in the TEDx talk, Tyler showed that even a lot of people who were raised Christian misunderstand salvation, thinking they are saved by works and that Jesus’ purpose was as an example to follow.
Tyler has memorized five truths about Jesus so that they are always on his heart. Our response to any question about God would flow from one of these truths:
- God loves us.
- We sinned.
- Death is the consequence of sin.
- Jesus came to save us.
- We must trust and follow Jesus.
“The more those truths sink in for me, the more readily I’m able to share them in a natural and discerning way that continues to mature with experience, stories, Scriptures, and illustrations,” Tyler says.
What to do when put on the spot
So keeping in mind that you don’t need all the answers, but do need to understand who Jesus is and what He did for you, how should you respond when put on the spot? Tyler has three suggestions:
Saying “I don’t know” is an answer. “This communicates humility and honesty. Not to mention, it will likely drive us to search for the answer,” Tyler says. “Why not invite the other person to search with us?” Tyler recommends Mark Mittelberg’s book The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask.”
Asking a question in response to a question is an answer. “Jesus did this a lot and we’d do well to follow his example,” Tyer says. A great book on this topic is Tactics by Gregory Koukl.
Postponing your answer is an answer. “Regardless of who initiates the conversation, our goal is to have conversations that actually accomplish something,” Tyler says. “And from my experience, an off-the-cuff conversation around the proverbial water cooler isn’t nearly as effective as meeting up for coffee.”
It’s okay to feel nervous about having a faith conversation. That’s totally normal. And it’s fine to not want to be put on the spot; no one really likes that. “The next time you’re put on the spot, if it’s an option, try transitioning that spontaneous conversation to a scheduled conversation,” Tyler says. “You might say, ‘I don’t want to offer a ten-cent answer to a million-dollar question. What do you say we grab coffee next week, my treat?’”
You can use the time in between to prepare for that meeting. “Devote yourself to prayer, do some research, talk to friends and church leaders, and pick up a couple copies of a book that deals with the topic at hand,” Tyler says.
We pray that your future spontaneous and planned conversations are fruitful.
You can watch Tyler’s full TEDx talk below.