“What’s your opinion on abortion?”
“The end times?”
There they are, standing in front of you, casually chatting about their upcoming weekend plans until, BOOM, out of nowhere, the question drops. Suddenly, it’s you and them in uncharted territory, with nervous eye contact and weight in every word.
Perhaps it’s the question you dreaded. I have no idea what I think of that; I’m still figuring it out. I don’t want to look like an idiot right now! What am I supposed to say?
Or maybe you love those questions, and you excitedly try to summon all your theological wit, all your communication skills, all the hours you spent winning theoretical arguments against friends. This is it! This is why I’m a good Christian. I’ve got this. I researched this exact question all last year. I have my elevator pitch memorized.
Folks. Prepared or not, worried or excited, can we be honest for a minute?
Are you really going to try to change their mind in one conversation?
I mean, when you put it like that, ahem.
Here’s the thing. Often, when others ask your opinion on something, they’re masking a question that’s below it. Am I enough? Will you still love me? Will you love my family? Will you understand? Are you safe?
“What’s your opinion,” is a code that, if understood properly, can unlock some of the most meaningful conversations you’ll have. You can be right, and do wrong. Be careful with the soul in front of you.
Ask yourself: what is the question behind their question?
We can often be so eager to see people transformed, that we skip some of the important first steps of establishing credibility in relationship. Jesus did this beautifully with people, over and over again.
To that end, here’s a few things to remember when a friend or spouse or neighbor or coworker or family member drops a bombshell question out of nowhere:
1. They trust you.
(Or, they’re trying to decide if they can trust you.)
If someone is broaching a big conversation with you, they most likely care about the question and are looking for safe places to process. Hold that trust carefully. Thank them for sharing, and mean it. Remember that this is a conversation and not a lecture hall. Play within their comfort zone of trust. Don’t push “good theology” or “social stances” too much at first as you get to the heart of what’s going on in their lives.
Jesus models this so beautifully in John 4 (among many other places!) Over and over again in His conversation with the woman at the well, He had opportunities to point out why she was in the wrong or ways she could change. But He didn’t—yet. Instead, He kept engaging in conversation with her and building a relational bridge that could handle the weight of what was to come. He got to know her better than her sin.
- Respond, don’t react.
Perhaps this is better phrased as shepherd, don’t soapbox. As a Christian, you’re supposed to make disciples, not minions. It’s okay if others don’t think exactly like you. Don’t forget you’re holding a fragile trust, and you need to express care, not a perfectly crafted theological stance.
Be slow to speak and quick to listen, and try to understand where they are coming from. You probably didn’t form all your opinions or convictions in one conversation, and neither will they. Take a deep breath and be willing to say something like, “Wow, that’s a big question. Give me a minute to collect my thoughts so I can respond well to you,” or “Could we meet up next week to give this conversation the time it deserves?” Don’t rush to fill silence. An intentional pause to form your words or sit in the weight of something shared shows genuine concern. Take your time.
In Mark 10:35–45, James and John approached Jesus. With an impertinent attitude, they said, “Jesus! We want you to do for us whatever we ask!” You would think they would have learned a few things from hanging out with Jesus by now. You would think Jesus could have had a license to fly off the handle just a little. “Come on, guys, we’ve been over this. It’s not about you; pull it together!” But He doesn’t.
“What do you want me to do for you?” He lets them go a step further in their foolishness. The other disciples, interestingly, become indignant, but Jesus doesn’t. He patiently runs the course of the conversation and then gathers all the guys for a teaching moment. What a response! He turned what could have been a knock-down, drag-out fight into a chance to learn.
3. Ask good questions.
Get out your gospels and take a cue from the One and Only, who did a masterful job of dodging opinion questions by asking another question. Thereby He helped His listeners to think instead of react (or get the reaction out of Jesus that they were hoping for!). Good news: Jesus had tact in abundance in responding to alarming situations, which means it’s something we have access to through Him. You can ask God to help you grow in this area of Christ-likeness. His ability to ask poignant questions is, well, divine.
Here’s a few questions He asked:
- “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt. 20:22)
- “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matt. 20:32)
- “Why do you put me to the test?” (Matt. 22:18)
- “Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matt. 19:17)
- “Why do you question these things in your hearts?” (Mark 2:8)
Jesus used 307 questions in the gospels. Three hundred and seven! We, in studying His questions, can find responses to use ourselves. Here are a few of my favorites responses to controversial issues:
- “That’s a big question. What makes you ask that?”
- “Is this something your friends/family bring up very much?”
- “Wow, that’s a really controversial issue.”
- “Are you nervous to ask about this?”
- “Thanks for trusting me with that question and being willing to ask it. That’s a big deal, and I appreciate your vulnerability.”
- “Have you chatted about this with your parents/spouse/friends? Why not/what did they say?”
- “Have you been thinking about this for awhile?”
- “Have you asked this question to other people?”
- “What do you think I’m going to say?”
- “What do you think?”
- “When do you remember first starting to really think about this?”
As a bonus, I’ve found humor to be so liberating. It settles the nerves and helps establish a common ground. While not always appropriate, when it’s fitting, I’ve found something a little teasing to be really valuable: “Wow, this is a big question. Are you trying to start a fight with me? Where’s the hidden cameras and secret microphones?”
Please remember, when you hear a big question from someone, it's probably not a casual question. It’s probably also not a one-and-done conversation; make sure to follow up over the weeks and months to follow. Have you still been thinking about ___? This is probably something that's deeply personal to them or their loved ones. Value their trust, respond well, and ask good questions. Take your time. If you fly off the handle and speak harshly, bridges can burn. If you listen and show care, even if you disagree at the end of the day, you establish yourself as a safe place. That’s crucial in relationships.
And there’s my opinion, on opinions. You’re welcome.