Sharing the Gospel with the People Who Changed Your Diaper

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.

  • JY

    Thanks for this, Darren. I’m struggling to be courageous enough for the Gospel in my family.

  • Des

    Thanks for this post, in one way it is comforting to hear of another brother in this situation, even though it is always grievous to hear of people without faith.

    I think that the most important thing that can be done in this instance is to pray, pray, pray that the Holy Spirit will work to soften the hearts of your family members to the gospel. There’s a great story within Augustine’s Confessions of his mother Monica praying with tears day after day for her son to come to Christ. Eventually he did just that, and Christ lived in him. I pray the same thing will happen with my family members, and it may well already be happening.

    One difficulty I’ve found is that as my heart overflows with love of God I continually want to talk about him with my closest relatives. Yet I have to be very sensitive about their thresholds for this. I agree that asking questions and listening is very important. This helps them to air their beliefs and be conscious of them. There are many people who would naturally focus on other things, TV shows, sports, work, study, cars, you name it. The question of eternity is often shoved into the background. A good work is to bring it into the foreground.

    Family members know us best. They see the good side and they see when we’re not dealing with things very well. A massive part of Christian witness to family must be unspoken and through the way one lives. As Paul says to the Christian wife, we must win our family members over through, how does he put it? Quiet diligence, or something like that.

    Good on you for not taking the mockers bait, maybe a gentle response that acknowledges the intended insult and yet offers them the other cheek too would help soothe your family? No doubt this would be difficult to do.

    Those of us in this situation have an strong reason to continue praying and leading Godly lives that we may see our loved ones saved.

    One final thing. I believe that we must present the gospel to our family members and like Moses, to put the options of life and death before them. Pray for opportunities to do this, and pray that they choose life through Jesus.

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  • Lore Ferguson

    Goodness. I needed this today. It has been a rough, rough 24 hours with my family. I spent an hour on the phone with my 17 year old brother last night just weeping and praying for him as he tries to navigate these waters while still living with our dad. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this timely article. I take comfort in these words everyday, “The salvation of my family does not depend on me.”

  • hsl

    Your words are very important to those of us who often feel guilty because we have the flip side, adult children who do not yet share the faith. (Guilt because we have failed to “train up a child…”) Thanks for your wise counsel.

  • Heather Campbell

    Thanks so much for this post. I find I am my most selfish around my family, and that really hurts my ministry with them. They are extremely lost, and I’m realizing after 17 years that it is NOT my responsibility to save them. I’m their child. It IS my responsibility to display Christ in every action, to respect them, and to give them grace.

  • Lamar Carnes

    I remember distinctly how my mother (now passed on) became real angry when I was saved and then called into the ministry. That was heartbreaking. She tried hard to convince me to go into some other profession, etc.! I was so naive at the time I thought my parents would be so happy to see how I had been changed by Christ. But no, just the opposite. Jesus let us know that many times our enemies will be those of our own household and that those who leave all (including friends, relatives and family members) for Jesus and follow Him where He leads will be blessed and inherit the kingdom of God, which shows true saints “follow Jesus” regardless of the cost.

  • Greg Forster

    Thank you for this! It’s comforting to know we’re not alone, and it’s helpful to see that others have come to the same conclusions we have about the wisest course.

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  • bob

    I have a different yet similar issue. Most of my family is not hostile to Christianity. However, they seem to be self deceived. My parents say that they are believers, but they have not been to church in 30 years. There is no visible fruit in their spiritual lives except the gold cross necklace that my mom wears. What is a son to do with this? Other siblings think the rituals of Catholicism and praying to Mary have saved them, yet they live reckless and abusive lives. Of course I pray for them, but nothing seems to work.

  • Jenny K

    Thank you so much for your wise post. It really reasonated with me, as I also have non-believing family members. I especially appreciated the comment on “imaginary conversations” – how much time I have wasted arguing in my head with family members instead of just praying for them!

  • Tara

    “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.”

    YES. You mean I’m not the only one who sometimes becomes a basket case, even though I know better? Thanks for the reminder that we all make mistakes, and my occasional meltdowns with my unsaved father don’t mean I’m flushing his eternity down the drain.

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  • Aaron Armstrong

    Really grateful for this post, Darren. My wife and I are the only Christians in our family as well and we tend to see apathy from one side and hostility from the other (even questions tend to get brushed off). As we’ve continued to pray, it’s been interesting to see God bring different influences into our parents’ lives. Lord willing, they’ll be used to bring them to repentance.

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