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Bottling Civility: Talking Tough Topics with Your Church Family

As iron sharpens iron,
so a person sharpens his friend. Prov. 27:17 (NET)

When I first posted this blog in 2017, I had no idea how much more polarization could impact our culture. So, I am posting an updated version in hopes that you and your church family can communicate in a God-honoring way.

I have frequently found myself in conversations where I disagreed with members of my church family. To my surprise and theirs, even when presented with the same issue or topic, we have come to different conclusions. I believe the ingredients to talking respectfully with your church family are similar to the ones that foster civility in your family.

What are the main ingredients that enable you to have a polite discussion with your own family on a controversial subject? Last month, I reposted about how to stir up a batch of Civil Discourse–Family Flavor. Mix equal parts of the following:

  • Love and respect. Keep focused on a persons’ good qualities and your history of positive relationship when you are talking with them.
  • The right time and place. Pray for wisdom and wait for the right time if you intend to have a tough conversation on a contentious topic.
  • A mutual desire to talk. Both parties in a polite conversation must share a desire to talk.
  • A commitment to learn and understand. Approach a person with a genuine desire to understand how they came to their viewpoint.
  • Common ground. As you learn and listen to people, look for common ground.

Did you take a swig of this recipe as you talked with your family last month?

These same ingredients are essential in talking with someone in your church. But Christian brothers and sisters are usually much more diverse than the people in your family. They will differ economically. They probably read different news sources and come from different political viewpoints. They likely trust different people.

How in the world can we to talk to our church family about a controversial topic? The truth is, in some settings it may not be a good idea. Does that mean that we are stuck talking about shallow topics like the weather? No, instead of going into more shallow waters, we need to go deeper into the biblical issues underlying a controversy.

Here are some additional ingredients to use when brewing a batch of Civil Discourse-Church Flavor:

  • Search underlying biblical truth. With our faith family, we can examine what the Bible says about the core issues underlying our opinions. What does the Bible say about gender, compassion, welcoming the stranger, truth, the role of government, freedom and obedience? We can agree that the Bible is true. Let’s examine what it says.
  • Investigate challenging paradoxes. Sometimes answers aren’t clear cut. Biblical values may seem to contradict. We ought to wrestle honestly with the balance between compassion and justice and acknowledge the difficulty of speaking the truth and speaking in love. We may come to the conclusion that our passionately held opinions, may be just that–opinions–and not the only possible viewpoint, when examined in the light of God’s Word. We may learn something from our brothers and sisters and they may learn something from us.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to apply biblical truth in our heart and in that of others. The Holy Spirit applies truth. If we usurp his role, we annoy our brothers and sisters and ignore our own heart; and at worst some of our church family starts to look to us for truth instead of to God. Let’s ask God to work in our own heart and in others hearts to own and live out biblical values in the 21st century.

Take a SIP of Civil Discourse: Church Flavor—Search biblical truth, Investigate paradoxes, and Pray—to examine hot topics with your church family. Like the Family Flavor, a sip of this recipe will open the door to future dialogues with men and women. And the ingredients will come in handy for your final batch of Civil Discourse—the Community Flavor. See you in May.

Note: To read the complete blog Bottling Civility: Engaging Politely about Controversial Topics which addresses talking about difficult topics with your family, see Bottling Civility: Engaging Politely about Controversial Topics – BlogsSearch Results for “bottling civility” – Blogs

Photo by Craig Kirkwood. Used by permisson.

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for decades, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and three grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston, attended Dallas Theological Seminary and is committed to life-long learning.

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