There are three little words we all long to hear and they are, “You are wrong”. Oh, wait. You thought I was going to say, “You were right”. What did you expect? This is a post on engaging social narratives.
Nobody likes to be told, or find out through a snarky blog post, that they are wrong. We can all relate to this dynamic. It is difficult to realize, and admit, when we are wrong. That phrase has a way of rattling the deepest core of our being. It reaches far into our past experiences digging up pain. As image bearers and ambassadors of Jesus, we need to acknowledge that faithfulness to Jesus requires us to communicate the gospel truth in a way that honors how Jesus modeled the great commission. What we say, how we say it, and when we say it all matter if we want to be an effective witness to the message and character of Jesus in our current cultural climate.
So how do we engage our culture with the gospel truth? Here are a few guiding principles for engaging cultural narratives.
Take a seat not a side
One surefire way to change the world one soul at a time is to engage in a debate… at a holiday dinner… office water cooler conversation… or favorite social media platform. Hold on. Before you reach for that unsubscribe button here me out. People who engage in debates know they are attending one before the debate takes place. No one tunes in to a debate and gasps in disbelief when opposing arguments and points of view are presented. Like the fight of the century, they tune in to watch the punches land on their opponents in the ring.
Fun fact. Ninety percent of those that tune in to Presidential debates have already decided on which candidate will receive their vote. So why do they watch? Their participation serves to fortify why they support the candidate of their choice. Basically, debates provide fresh ammo for the water cooler conversations at work, the highly anticipated holiday family gatherings, and the endless hours of scrolling in our social feeds. Ah, you gotta love ‘em.
There is zero tolerance in our algorithm, hallmark holiday gathering, or trendy workspace for anything that throws off our happy vibes. It has been said, “There is a time and place for everything under the sun.” It is important we choose the right time and place for the various approaches of persuasion. Debates have a time and a place, just don’t ruin mama’s Christmas dinner with one. Remember to relax at your next social gathering. Post some cat videos on social media. Talk about the last Broncos game at work. Who knows? You might be given a seat at the table with someone looking for answers.
Listen to understand, if you want to be understood
“Listen to understand, not to respond.” I first heard this from my wife, but I can’t remember what we were talking about. When people are looking for answers, they look for a safe and neutral space. They seek out a setting where they can process and gather their thoughts. A place where they know there is a low risk of feeling stupid. For most that search begins on the internet. As powerful as the internet is, it is limited in that it cannot fully deliver genuine community and algorithms lead us down the rabbit holes of our predispositions. What most of us crave is someone we can trust with our deepest questions. Through sincere listening we build trust and become that safe place people are looking for.
Without proper listening our instruction or advice is ill-informed, ill-timed and irrelevant at best. Nothing like pontificating on how to design and build a bathroom when someone is simply looking for directions to the bathroom. The information is good but not helpful in the moment. When it comes to people’s view of God, we need to listen and resist the urge to blurt out our point of view to ensure we understand what truth about God they need to hear.
A great example of this would be when someone asks, “Why would a loving God allow evil and suffering in the world?” If your first response is to give the theological case for sin and its effects on the universe, you might want to think again. To truly engage someone, I want to know why they are asking this question. So I ask, “Why do you ask that question”? If I discover that this person has been victimized; if they cried out for God’s mercy and the abuse continued, then my answer to their question would be very different and just as truthful. Yes, at some point I need to get to the foundational truth to frame up their worldview, but I need to start where they are and help lead them through the pain and lies to the full truth.
Understanding where people are in their understanding is essential to communication. When we do this, people find clarity and, not so surprisingly, trust us and ask more questions. It’s all about building trust, cultivating receptivity, and waiting for the teachable moment. Live for the “ah-ha!” moments not the mic drop moments.
Own your bias, because everybody has one
I am unbiased! Ummm, no you have a bias towards being unbiased. See how cultural narratives work? What came first, the narrative that shaped the culture, or the culture that lived the narrative? Figure that out and you will be able to easily answer the whole chicken and the egg question.
According to Charlotte Nickerson’s post on simplypsycology.org, “Social constructionism is a theory of knowledge in sociology that examines how individuals develop their knowledge and understanding of the world. There is no one precise definition of social constructionism, nor of the theories of the sociologists in the field.” My opinion is, and according to the internet my opinion matters, a social construct in its simplest form is how influencers ask and answer the ‘why’ questions of life.
Why are things the way they are? Why do we do the things we do? Why can’t I have it my way? Because! Because, why? Because I said so? Well, who are you to decide what others should and should not do? That my friends is a question worth answering. The real point of discussion in our clash of narratives is “Who should be holding the pen of our constructs?”
For me the answer is easy…it’s God. God should be holding the pen. That is my bias and my bias is based on a very good reason; I don’t trust you to hold the pen to the story of humanity. God should define truth, faith, life, and every facet of human existence. All of us are looking for answers to a few key questions that shape our lives. How did I get here? Why are things so messed up in the world? How do we fix it? What could life look like in the future? This is basic worldview stuff of which the Bible, well God, offers unrivaled answers.
Learn to share the gospel in context of worldview
See the gospel as a four-chapter account of how God wanted humanity to exist in the universe He created. In chapter one, God created us to be a perfect reflection of His character and to enjoy harmony with Him, each other, and all of creation. Chapter two begins with humanity rebelling against God and deciding they knew how to better define good and evil. If you are curious to how well that is going, look around you. Then we come to God’s surprising response to our mess in chapter three. Instead of bringing down the judgment we all accuse Him of, He responds by taking our punishment and offering a way for us to be restored in every relationship in heaven and on earth. In chapter four, we discover what our future, what the world’s future, could look like if we lived according to God’s ways.
The world expects us to be different. In fact, they love to point out our hypocrisy. So, let’s step up and really own the narrative of the gospel. Let every expression of your life be a reflection of it. Build relationships so you can skillfully know when and how to share its truths. Please drop the debate unless you have been invited to step up to the mic to do so. All of creation is literally groaning in anticipation of the gospel proclamation that reveals the sons and daughters of God. Let’s stop adding needless groaning because we have forgotten to temper His truth with grace and love.