Written by Shawn Naylor
We’ve come to a time in history where everyone must think, believe, and act a certain way. If someone diverges, they are considered the enemy. If you don’t believe me, just look at any controversial video on YouTube and read the comments section. (Don’t get involved in the anonymous debate chat!)
It seems dialogue, discussion, and debate have died a tragic death in much of the mainstream media. I remember observing debates between Christians and atheists over whether or not the Christian God created the world.
I was always left with a bitter taste because I felt neither one of the debaters addressed the relevant questions the other posed. They exchange loaded responses back and forth. Instead of cleaning out the mucky water, the conversations appeared to show two entrenched people becoming more entrenched in their views.
On the contrary, it can be refreshing when I speak personally with someone who has an opinion that differs from mine. This presents me with a chance to obtain greater understanding. To be clear, I haven’t always held this positive approach to opposing views, and I am still working on it.
I’ve observed Christian leaders who use loaded responses in their discussions—giving answers without actually listening to the other’s words. I’d like to remind us to read Proverbs 8:12: “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”
Now, I have a friend who doesn’t think the way I do. He believes all religions are the same and all pointing in the same direction. The old me would have argued and argued and argued right from the jump that this is not true. All faiths are not the same. Yet I have learned in our discussions that the more I listen (instead of responding without listening), the deeper the conversation goes and the more I see things that I never saw before.
This opened me up to question things that I haven’t thought about hard enough yet. One time, my friend asked me, “How much money do preachers need?” He was referencing televangelists. I knew the answer wasn’t in the tens of millions, but I didn’t know how much was “enough.”
I tried to work it out with him but I stumbled my way through and ended up asking more questions. Eventually, I told him it was a good question and that I would reflect on it and get back to him.
For a lot of us, that can be scary. But the beauty of questions is that when we pursue them, we find answers.
Questions can firm up our faith.
I have come to appreciate that there are other perspectives on the same problem and that sometimes there can be different solutions for the same issue. Imagine if we had this respect between fellow believers in stirring each other onto good works!
This reminds me of the tensions between two biblical leaders, Paul and Barnabas. Their disagreement arose regarding their differing opinions on the trustworthiness of another man, John who was called Mark (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas thought Mark was credible, Paul did not. They disagreed to such an extent, they both stormed off in different directions.
I have seen people have similar discussions, where opinions are so staunch that no resolution is possible—there is only separation. During tensions, it is best to sit back and take some time before reacting. Consider if there is any way for the situation to end in a righteous resolution.
Time is the great test. Time will test your opinions, character, and convictions. Paul’s opinion of Mark wasn’t changed overnight. But clearly, Paul had a shift in opinion, since he later requested that Mark come to him “because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
As for my friend and me, time will prove whether or not what I believe lines up with how I act, and I hope this will ultimately challenge him on his views that all faiths are essentially the same. But I’ve also learned other things because I’m willing to listen. As you lead, you will go further depending on your ability to listen.
Listening allows you to sit back in the driver’s seat and anticipate when is best to press on the gas pedal. If we want to impact those around us and our communities, we must genuinely pursue understanding the perspective of others so we can discover their actual hang-ups. Then God can use these hang-ups as launching points!