Life as a pastor can be fascinating, demanding, confusing and confounding. In the end, I can say with confidence: It is also profoundly rewarding. At the very center of my work is the opportunity to speak into people’s lives and walk beside them through the journey we all take towards eternity. As a pastor, I’ve had to respond to some of the questions people have along the way. Tough Questions.
- “Pastor Adam, our family is headed out on a long-anticipated vacation. My daughter and her husband are considering not going with us because my son recently came out as gay and is planning to bring his partner. My daughter says she doesn’t want to expose her kids to this situation yet. What should I do?”
- “Pastor Adam, does God really have control over everything? If so, why did he let my teenage son die?”
- “Pastor Adam, now that pot is legal, is it okay for a Christian to partake in moderation?”
- “Pastor Adam, would God really send someone to hell if they have never had a chance to hear the Good News about Jesus? If he would, how is that fair?”
- “Pastor Adam, I hear voices in my head and have felt physical pains. Is it possible for a Christian to be demon possessed?”
These are just a few of the real-life questions I’ve heard over the years and there are many, many more.
The truth is, pastors are not the only ones who face tough questions. If you are out in the world, seeking to be a witness, then you have probably felt like me at certain times: Pulse quickening, palms clammy, mind racing, heart praying: God help me give a good answer here!
Question: How do you approach tough questions? I think many people fall into one of four traps when it comes to seeking answers:
- Avoid at all costs: Many Christians don’t want to deal with tough questions because we think they can destroy our faith. But we cannot avoid them. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) The truth is, wrestling with tough questions will actually strengthen our faith if we approach the process the right way, with faith seeking understanding.
- Confirm my preconceptions: Let’s face it, some people approach questions without any real curiosity. All they really want is to feel comfortable in what they already believe. This approach will prevent us from growing and refining our understanding.
- Keep it easy: Some people throw up their hands and walk away if truth is not easily explainable. On one hand, it is true that some of the most profound truths are very simple concepts. On the other hand, just because something is simple does not mean it is easy to explain. Try explaining the color blue to someone who is blind. Try explaining love to someone who has never experienced it. Try to tell someone why a sunset is so profoundly beautiful.
- Move the goalposts: This is an approach I have encountered many, many times. Sometimes, people pose a question without really wanting an answer. They always seem to move the goalposts once an answer has been given. In my experience, this usually springs from a realization that a person would have to change something about their lives if they accepted the truth. That is never easy.
In 2019, I am looking forward to addressing some of the tough questions I think we all will probably face at one time or another. While we will not delve into the theological base underlying each question (this is far beyond the scope of this newsletter), we will attempt to equip you with sound strategies to use in response to general categories of questions while pointing you to some good theological resources to help you get to the nitty-gritty of the specific issue at hand.
These questions were given to me by real people searching for relevant answers. You could say they’ve been “field tested.” They are questions that Christians and non-Christians alike would find interesting. Most importantly, they are questions that can either rise up as a barrier, or stretch out like a bridge, helping people move closer towards a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. Working through these questions will help you share your faith naturally. I hope we can enjoy this journey together!
Adam T. Barr (MDiv, ThM) serves as senior pastor at Peace Church near Grand Rapids Michigan. In addition to his work in the local church, Adam speaks and writes on Christianity and culture, helping followers of Jesus understand and apply God’s Word in an increasingly post-Christian society. His most recent book, Compassion Without Compromise, is available through Bethany House. Adam is also a contributing writer and adjunct teacher on the Organic Outreach International team, serving as the Director of Cultural Apologetics and hosting our Organic Outreach Podcast.