I cannot imagine my 3-month-old son becoming a Buddhist. My parents would never have imagined me becoming an evangelical Christian. When I signed up for a discipleship program out of college my Dad thought I was being brainwashed. When someone shared the gospel with my wife at UNC-Greensboro and invited her to a Baptist church, she had never seen such joy and became a believer. Her parents thought she joined a cult. A few weeks after her conversion she was part of YoungLife.
Our parents, our sisters, their husbands, and their children do not share our faith. Marriage has certainly brought out the stark contrasts in our lives, and the arrival of children even more so. We are not experts on how to share the gospel or how to relate to our families now that we have believed in Jesus and been saved. Family scenarios are diverse, and there is no one shoe that fits all situations. Still, knowing that many hold beliefs in stark contrast to their families I offer these suggestions.
Adult Children Should Still Honor Their Parents
My wife and I shared our testimonies during our wedding ceremony. Our parents thought it was a repudiation of how they raised us. So the tension began! Yes, sometimes Jesus splits up families (Matt. 10:34-37), but that is not an excuse to dishonor your parents (Eph. 6:1, 1 Pet. 2:17). We are quick to teach young children to honor and obey, but turning 18 doesn’t mean the honoring should stop, for alongside Jesus’ words on the division of family we read in the Bible that we should be well regarded by outsiders (1 Tim. 3:3,7) and act as peacemakers (Heb. 12:14).
I am still surprised at how hard I can be on my family members, when by comparison I show grace and compassion to unbelieving strangers. Thank you Lord that I will not be like them, I would think to myself. Oh but for Paul, who asked, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, then why do you boast as though you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)
After years of judgementalism and personal anguish, we now try to simply serve them. When we don’t agree with some crazy view on life, we keep our mouths shut. In public we always speak well of them. We thank them for their love for our children and us and thank them for raising us in a stable environment. They made sacrifices for us, and we honor them for it.
Imaginary Conversations Always Go as Planned
I have led my family members to Christ 1,000 times, and it has always gone smoothly. I answer objections quickly, and my arguments are always accepted as superior. I am transformed into the greatest evangelist of all time and realize that I will now be able to write a book on how to lead family members to Christ.
This normally happens while I’m taking a shower.
Avoid such imaginary conversations. On one level, they are important, especially as you think through how someone might object to what you say. More often, though, a person never objects the way you expect. It’s good to plan for conversations, but it is a waste of time to spend emotional energy by letting your mind run. Spend the time asking God to save them.
Asking Questions Is Your Best Way In
I am a slow learner and a direct speaker. That is not a good combination when talking to my parents about the gospel. I have learned that it is best to let the conversations move slowly toward the gospel. You will never hear me talk about it directly, but you would probably notice me trying to angle the conversation in a certain direction. Some will call this being a coward. I call it wisdom. For example, “Mom, that’s interesting that you believe water crystals change when you think hard about them. Where do you think that power comes from?” “Dad, what was it like when your brother got involved in Campus Crusade?” “Mom, tell me what you thought about that book.”
I am trying to enter into a discussion of worldview in a way that does not directly challenge what they believe, but instead allows them to express how they see world. My family members rarely ask us any questions. We have to engage them. Eventually, the challenge must come, just not at the outset of the discussion.
Praying for Other Voices May Be Best
When I have counseled parents of teenagers, I regularly tell them to pray for “other voices” to enter into their kids’ lives to share gospel and disciple them. Most teenagers are slow to listen to their parents but quick to listen to other voices, even if they say the same thing.
So I pray for Christians who are peers of my family members to enter into their lives. I can say this prayer has been answered. I catch echoes of it as they share with me what their friends have said to them. I smile and thank God. They certainly seem to have much more open ears and hearts when others speak the truth.
Do Not Answer Mockers
My wife and I both have mockers in our family, and we made a deliberate decision a few years ago to no longer engage them or take the bait when they ridicule the Christian faith. There is certainly scriptural precedent for such a move (Psalm 1, Prov 9:7-8, Matt. 7:6). It drives my family members crazy when I don’t respond to an indirect insult, but I believe it is a kindness towards them. Their folly will be made plain to all, either in their own repentance or their eternal hatred for God.
Perfection Is Not Required
The salvation of my family does not depend on me. That is a good thing, because I certainly have not been the perfect witness. When I revert to childish ways, act out of anger, don’t respond properly, react poorly to my wife and children, undermine my credibility, and make a whole host of other mistakes, I sleep at night because I am forgiven. I don’t live in fear that if I make a mistake, eternity for my family is at stake. I need Christ because I make mistakes. They do too.