If you’re a part of a church staff or other ministry and don’t live under a rock, you’ve likely come face-to-face with having to answer tough questions on morals and doctrine. Answering tough and touchy questions is just part of working for a counter-cultural Church.
After decades, even centuries of debate on certain issues, you would think we’d be pretty good at answering questions on tough topics, but we’re not. Because the truth is, it will always be hard. The good news is, you can still learn to do it effectively and gracefully. Here’s 5 important lessons.
- Build Trust
You cannot speak truth into a situation where there is no established trust. That’s because receiving truth is an extremely vulnerable position. You’re not just dealing with abstract “issues” but concrete persons.
The problem is, many staffs and congregations are not characterized by a foundation of trust, but by an absence of trust and vulnerability. Start there, even if it takes time. If you don’t have their trust, not only are they not inclined to listen, but you’ll probably just make matters worse.
- Balance Humor and Sincerity
Even a brief allusion to certain issues raises defenses. Do it in a homily and it may be the only time ever when every person in the congregation is actually focused what you’re saying. In those cases, it’s just as important how you say something as what you say. Even if not everyone agrees with the teaching, you can still keep and even earn their respect.
A small dose of humor can inject some relief into a message and lower defenses. Be careful – nothing too personal or offensive (do yourself a favor and get a second opinion beforehand). Sincerity, without being too serious, can go a long way getting your message across.
- Leverage Your Small Groups
Not every question requires an answer from the pulpit. In fact, most difficult issues need to be talked through at some length, which isn’t possible in a homily anyway. Where in your church is there space and time to do that?
That’s another hidden blessing of building a church culture of small groups. The mission of small groups is not to debate moral or doctrinal issues, but they do build the trust between people necessary to talk about the issues, and ground people in the Bible enough to begin shaping their worldview accordingly.
- Break It Up
If you’re discussing a thorny subject, don’t heap it all on at once. People need time beyond one homily to absorb or reflect one point at a time on what you’ve said.
Keep in mind that you’re not under a strict obligation to answer every question on the spot, especially taken off guard. Some people are just plain rude, and do not require an immediate response. If you’re not prepared, set up a time to meet or refer them to someone with more expertise.
- Remember the Rule of Grace
The truth can be very convicting and some people have a lot at stake personally and relationally. However the message lands, err on the side of grace rather than judgment. Be confident, but remember to be humble about what you really understand, which is less than we preachers usually assume.