By Lisa Liou

How to Talk About Jesus Without Being Awkward

In the past year, I have found myself in more conversations about Jesus with people outside the Christian faith than in any other year since college.

During my college days, conversations flowed freely over snacks and late-night study sessions. Now, my new life stage as a mother to two elementary students gives me a natural community to live life around. And since I work for InterVarsity and my husband is a pastor, spiritual questions naturally come up with other parents on the playground, at birthday parties, and during sports practices. 

Though I once thought people in my life stage were destined to be dull and strange, I still find myself wanting to talk about Jesus without looking awkward or irrelevant. This is why I work really hard to live an authentic life of faith in the midst of my friendships—spiritual conversations and all. Here are a few things I’ve learned lately. 

Listen.

If you only become an expert at one life skill, make it listening. I’m not naturally good at it, but it seems to be the key to every relationship. Make sure you are listening at least 50 percent of the time. More would be better.

Seize the opportunity to ask good questions.

I recently realized my friend had no interest in Christianity whatsoever, but I had never found a way to ask her about it. It dawned on me that all I needed was the right starter question and a natural opportunity. When she talked about her husband’s spiritual background one day, I knew it was an opportune time to ask about her own background. After that conversation, I had a much better sense of where she came from spiritually.

Avoid clichés.

Nothing is more confusing to people outside the faith than hearing how you have been “washed by the blood of the Lamb” or “saved,” or that you are “having Jesus time.” They don’t know what it means that you had “really good fellowship” or that “you felt led to talk to someone.” You will be awkward if you use these terms and phrases outside Christian circles.

Instead, learn to use simple language—for example: “My faith is important to me,” “I find Jesus’ teaching to be true and worth following,” or “I give God the credit for the good things in my life.” 

Be honest and authentic.

While you’re talking about Jesus, be honest about what you don’t know or what has been hard for you as a believer. A conversation with a friend about Jesus is not the time to stuff your doubts, your pain, your disappointments, or your anger. Friends should know that a relationship with God has similarities to a relationship with anyone else—it can be confusing.

Your friends may find your humility and authenticity refreshing, and it might create space for them to feel like they can have imperfect faith too. One newly believing friend recently told me, “I’m so glad you said you have doubts. I was afraid to admit it because it seems like everyone else’s faith at church is so certain.”

Do not have an agenda for your friends.

The Lord holds your friend’s life in his hands. People feel uncomfortable when you place an agenda on them instead of walking alongside them on a journey. If, in your heart, you are trying to lead someone to Jesus for your own sense of accomplishment, you are making it too much about yourself. Your friend will sense this. Just be yourself and share Jesus. Don’t be pushy. 

I had a professor in seminary remind me that people need to move in a God-ward direction, but that it may not always look the way we think it should. We cannot possibly encapsulate in our expectations all that God is doing in someone’s life. 

Let Jesus surprise you.

The fun of practicing these tips is that Jesus keeps surprising me. I’m not the only one in my community of friends who is actively working on this. Together in the past year we have had many conversations about Jesus and have seen a few friends begin coming to church. There have also been some surprising stories of new faith.

Have some of us shared awkwardly along the way? I’m sure we have. But when we are at our best, there is something compelling about an authentic and natural friendship. If you can lessen the internal tension and ease into that sweet spot of sharing the most central part of your life, then sharing Jesus doesn’t have to be awkward at all.


Image by Matt Kirk.


For more help on having authentic spiritual conversations with friends, check out these resources:

“How NOT to Speak Christianese”

“Care, Questions, & Creativity: Evangelism as an Alumnus”

Faith Is Like Skydiving: And Other Memorable Images for Dialogue with Seekers and Skeptics

Holy Conversation: Talking About God in Everyday Life

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Lisa Liou has served with InterVarsity on campuses in Michigan, Illinois, and California since 2002.

Comments

I heartily agree with these suggestions! We miss many opportunities and mess up many conversations if we fail to listen. And if we start from our agenda, we likewise miss some important issues and concerns our friends may need to discuss in order to clear the way to let God in. We have an agenda of sorts--to be used of God to reach the people we meet, but we can trust God to direct the conversation as we listen closely to Him and to the other person.

Thanks for your comment! It's true. Simply praying that we would be used by God is foundational perspective to have.

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