It should come as no surprise to Christians that the people we might want to influence through social media do not care about what we have to say.
Certainly some are atheistic, even antagonistic, but most are practically rather than thoughtfully agnostic, more apathetic than anything else. We are entitled to our opinion, but it has no more weight than theirs. Or anyone elses. This is frustrating to us. We believe there is a right answer.
Ask better questions
And I have said we should be bold. There is truth to know and truth matters. But sometimes we get to the truth too quickly, providing answers to questions no one has asked. As it turns out, however, the most powerful and subversive way to get them to ask questions is to ask questions ourselves.
His encounters with His enemies and His disciples are notable for how he asked questions that revealed their hearts. These questions pointed at the truth, and almost always proceeded it. We fail to do this with our quick and ready answers to practically everything.
If people don’t know what they don’t know, as is often the case, then we have to probe before we preach. With practice and patience we can learn how to awaken or uncover felt need or deep hunger by asking better questions. And in those moments the Gospel can flourish.
But when we are online those conversation require more care and more time than they might if we were face-to-face. They may in fact actually require meeting for coffee or making a phone call. Even in an online “debate,” a thoughtful question probably goes further than a declaration. Such questions are not for the purpose of argumentation, but clarification.
Tell better stories
Of course the Gospel can also flourish when we tell—or link to—compelling stories. Jesus did this too, with parables that provoked more thought and more questions. Our questions and stories also have the potential to point to truth. Our proclamations may be off-putting, but everyone loves a good story.
Think about how powerfully movies shape the conversations and the values of our culture. They are simply stories. But you don’t need a big budget film to tell a story. You just need an audience, one that can be wooed and convinced, with gentleness and good-humor or with honesty and hope.
Ultimately our stories should point to His story. But this takes time, so we are tempted to go straight to the moral, prepared with our facts or our verses to prod people into the Kingdom. Or pound them into submission.
It doesn’t work that way.
How witnessing works
Here is how it does work. Questions and stories create the tension where important conversations begin. What do they need? What’s missing? Why are they hurting or angry or bitter? Are their own answers satisfying?
In this conversational space, our responses become less mechanical and more meaningful. In the context of this tension we can “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The most important question for any Christian who hopes to engage others with the gospel through social media is this: how do we get them to ask?
Usually we just have to wait. Let them struggle with the uncomfortable truth they have revealed about themselves. Or to themselves. Just wait. Don’t jump in with the answer. Don’t solve the problem before they have recognized it. Wait until they ask.
And even then, when they finally ask, remember our defense is a lover’s defense, not merely an intellectual one. We are describing with conviction and passion the One our soul loves, not trying to win an argument. And perhaps in that moment His own Spirit will woo them as He wooed us: patiently, faithfully, gently and persistently.
After all, He is the answer.