How to Talk About Jesus Without Being Weird (or a Jerk)

Joe Terrell

About a year ago, I was helping out at an event and one of the servers asked me if I was religious.

Earlier in the night, it had come up that I write stuff about the Bible. She was gay, and I

suspected she was posing a somewhat loaded question.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “I try not to be too religious.”

“Then what are you?” she pressed. “Spiritual?”

“That’s probably a better word for it,” I said. “I believe Jesus helps me connect with something bigger than myself, and I try to model my life after his teachings. I’m not very good at it though.”

She nodded and told me her parents were very religious and they kicked her out of the house when they found out she was gay. It’d been years since they’d had a cordial conversation.

I told her I was sorry that happened and that I thought she was the type of person Jesus would’ve loved to spend time with, and He would have definitely stood up for her to her parents.

And that was it. The conversation ended and we got back to work.

A few questions: Did this interaction make you uncomfortable? Did I go too far? Not far enough? Was this a “Gospel conversation?”

I’m asking because I don’t think the answers are as clear-cut as we would like it to be. And I think that makes some of us very uncomfortable.

According to a research study commissioned by Barna, fewer than 25% of Americans had a spiritual conversation in the past year. And only 13% of practicing Christians reported talking about their faith more than once per week.

And, let’s be honest, most of those conversations probably occurred between other Christians. How can we expect to share the Gospel if we’re unable to have spiritual conversations?

Listen, I am not — by any stretch of the imagination — an expert evangelist. I cuss too much, say a lot of things many would consider borderline heretical, and throw shade just as quickly as the next person.

But, I really do enjoy talking about Jesus with other people — especially if they don’t consider themselves Christian or religious.

In my experience, people are very open to spiritual conversations — as long as you don’t lead with dense theology or moral judgment.

So, what follows are my recommendations for having better conversations about your faith — without coming off as a total weirdo or insensitive jerk.

Be Fascinated With Jesus (the Person, not the Product)

Even people who don’t care for Christianity tend to think Jesus was a pretty cool dude.

And, honestly, how could you not?

He’s this rogue Jewish rabbi who stirred up a whole mess of trouble. He preached on nonviolence, enemy love, and serving the poor. He spent so much time with lowlifes at parties that some people smeared him as a drunkard.

Jesus washed his followers’ feet, spoke in complex parables, and violated cultural norms left and right. He was short on answers but big on flipping the question back around to you.

Following a rigged trial orchestrated by some jealous religious leaders, he was murdered by the state — a big disappointment to his followers who thought he was going to lead a military coup against the occupying Romans.

But after his death, some of his disciples reported seeing him again. And this ignited an entirely new community of people marked by their love for another and care for the marginalized. And, in spite of intense persecution, it spread like wildfire.

Jesus was a badass, but you wouldn’t get that impression listening to how some Christians talk about him.

In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancy writes,

“Two words one would never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable. How is it, then, that the church has tamed such a character — has, in Dorothy Sayers’ words, ‘very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies?’”

Our conversations tend to treat Jesus as a solution to a theological issue. He’s a ticket to Heaven, an answer to a spiritual formula, or a blood sacrifice for our sins.

Instead of an invitation to fall in love with an actual historical figure, sharing the Gospel becomes a sales pitch to use Jesus for our own benefit.

I think this is why a lot of us are hesitant to bring up Jesus outside of church settings or Christian social circles. This transactional view of the Gospel turns us into salesman trying to convince other people our religion is the best one on the market.

In Speaking of Jesus, Carl Medearis writes,