Enjoy this special guest post from my friend, Dave Anderson.
Yes, you do want to win the person.
In this emotionally charged age of liberal versus conservative; atheist versus believer, or pro-this versus anti-that, it’s easy to get so caught up in rhetoric, invective, and the belief that he who talks the loudest and longest wins the debate that you can lose sight of the what I believe is a more relevant objective than winning the argument; winning the person.
And I’m not just referring to the person with whom you’re having differences but also winning those who witness the exchange.
This is why, when watching a news show where there are “experts” on both sides of an issue interrupting one another— shouting out zingers and elevating a normal speaking tone to a series of hysterical shrieks—I change the channel so that whatever intelligence I have left isn’t insulted further.
To be a more effective proponent for causes you are passionate about when you come face-to-face with someone who believes otherwise, I’d like to share some wisdom gleaned from the book Hell? Yes! by Dr. Robert Jeffress.
Influencing vs. silencing
Remember that the goal is to keep the dialogue going with the other person, not to shut him or her down.
People with strong personalities and rhetorical ability think that if they can silence their opponents they’ve won the argument. But any married person knows that’s not the case. If you’re having a disagreement with your spouse, it’s easy through intimidation or insult to cause them to disengage from the discussion. But you haven’t persuaded your spouse of anything, except that you’re a jerk.
For too many people, silencing, rather than influencing has been a primary tactic when discussing sensitive issues like abortion, politics, religion, and the like.
But no one is really heard or understood. The debate diminishes into cheap shots and name calling and the lines separating two sides become a gulf.
Take steps to win the person.
1. Engage with those who hold opposing points of view.
This was a key principle Jesus Christ used for winning people instead of just winning arguments. Jesus went to some places where he was not particularly popular, because to “catch fish” He had to go where the fish were. His goal was not isolation but influence.
2. Listen to other people’s stories.
The way to influence others is not by cornering them and then dumping your own “stuff” on them. Rather than unload your spiritual or political dump truck of arguments and answers to unasked questions, carefully listen to the other person you’re trying to influence. It is only after they feel understood that they’ll be willing to understand.
3. Let your walk speak louder than your talk.
A debater’s goal is to win the argument. A disciple’s goal is to win the person.
Far too many people who share my own Christian faith have learned that they can win a war of words but still lose the war over someone’s soul by being unnecessarily harsh and judgmental. Many non-Christians have rejected the Gospel not because of the offense of the Gospel, but because of the offensiveness of Christians.
I might be persuaded to become a Christian…..if I ever met one. – Gandhi
Arthur Burns was a Washington power broker who served in prominent governmental positions from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. He was a counselor and confidant to a number of U.S. presidents during his career. Arthur Burns was also Jewish.
That is why his regular attendance at a weekly Bible study and prayer meeting at the White House in the 1970’s was a surprise to many. Although he was warmly welcomed, different members of the group who took turns leading the meetings never called on him to pray.
One week, however, a newcomer leading the group asked Arthur Burns to close in prayer. The other members shot nervous glances at one another, wondering how Burns would respond to this awkward situation. Burns never hesitated. Instead, he joined hands with the others in the group, bowed his head, and prayed:
Lord I pray that you would bring Jews to know Jesus Christ. I pray that you would bring Muslims to know Jesus Christ. Finally, Lord, I pray that you would bring “Christians” to know Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Samaritan woman at the well was ultimately drawn to a Person, not to a dogma. When she ran into the city to tell people what had happened to her, she did not shout, “Come and listen to these ideas that have change my mind”, but “Come see a Man who has changed my life!”
Winning an argument is a tactic. Winning the person is a strategy.
Tactics win battles. Strategies win wars.