One of the biggest obstacles to personal evangelism is this question, “What if they ask a question that I don’t know the answer?” The feeling of terror, the strong impulse to say something so as not to appear stupid. What do you do?
Before we proceed, we need to be reminded that none of us are expert at every question that may arise, but take heart, God is, and He has given us everything we need for faith, doctrine, and instruction for how we ought to act. [cf. John 20:30-31; 2Tim 3:16-17]. The following are some suggestions on how to handle a question for which you don’t know the answer.
FIRST; Never let what you don’t know stop you from telling what is certain. If we did that, there’d be no personal evangelism whatsoever. Our efforts will become more productive as we mature, but we’ll never mature if we don’t put what we know into practice.
One way to look at a hard question is as an opportunity to learn and to grow. You may not be able to answer it this time, but you’ll be ready the next. [Heb 5:12].
SECOND: When asked a question for which you don’t know, resist the temptation to make one up. That’s much more dangerous for it may pass along error. Silence is a much better answer than giving a bad one. Look at Job’s friends, they were in a much better position when they said nothing at all. If you are asked and you don’t know just say, “I don’t know.” What’s better, not giving any answer or giving a bad one and needing to go back to the person for correction? Here are 3 things you can say instead of making up a wrong answer:
- Compliment them: Say, “That’s a great question, I don’t know.” This will make the person feel like you’re really listening and respect them. Admitting that you’re human demonstrates humility, a most valuable attitude as we go about teaching others.
- Ask for more information: By asking them to clarify the question you may discover that you do know the answer, or it will give you clarity as some people ask a question seeking direction for a different underlying issue.
- Ask if you & they could look up the answer together: By doing this, you show them how much you value the truth and that you’re willing to learn. This also affords you an opportunity for another study. Here’s a tip from my experience, SET A DATE & TIME for when you will come back together to discuss the answer. Otherwise, you may never have the chance again.
Here’s how this might sound;
“That’s a great question, you may be the first person to ever ask me that question. I have no idea what the answer might be, but you’ve piqued my curiosity. I don’t know the answer, but I know who does, God and He’s written so many answers to our questions in the bible [2Pet 1:1-4]. Why don’t we write this question down and study it? Then we can meet again, same time next week over coffee, to see what we can learn?”
Following are some helpful ideas about this situation;
Not knowing the answer is not a problem, it’s awareness and an opportunity. None of us knows everything and people dig deep to try to stump us. See it as an opportunity for more personal study and a way to set up a regular home bible study with this person. Here are 2 more considerations:
- This may be a topic you’ve never considered and now see why others are struggling with coming to the knowledge of the truth.
- Hard questions sometimes show us how folks are thinking about things that other underlying issues, ie Authority, how God communicates, defining words biblically etc.
The ramifications of faking an answer can be devastating. You may be wrong and teach a lie. Your friend may see through it and not trust you for any spiritual advice. Lastly, they may see it as an attempt at hiding something which never helps at developing trust.
May all our connections lead to more finding & obeying the truth, just like God wants [2Pet 3:9].