Holiday gatherings and office parties are great for teams and groups to come together…  sometimes.  But for all the fun and excitement, these events can also bring us together with people we may not know or people we know well but don’t enjoy engaging in conversation with. Or, for that matter, we may not even want to be in the same room with for any length of time. They may have different world views, personalities, or lifestyles that make these gatherings challenging. Usually, we either try to avoid those uncomfortable subjects or don’t show up at all. As Christians, just the fact that other people know our beliefs can put up barriers without a word being spoken – and not speaking always leaves us even more uncomfortable.

So how do we bring a new experience to gatherings this year?

First, be observant.

Family and social engagement rules can’t be avoided, so go into them being mindful. Past gatherings may still have baggage that will take some time to unpack. We live in a world of customized truth. Instead of challenging people’s worldviews, start by asking questions or telling personal stories when the right opportunities appear. Watch and observe the conversations before you jump into them too quickly. Be kind and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s direction, and let that guide you to the right person and into the right conversations. Jesus instructed us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matt. 10:16.

Second, don’t get preachy.

People aren’t looking for lectures. They’re looking for conversation. No matter how much you feel, someone could use a good Bible lesson, spend time listening than talking. Christian principles and values have become a kind of language that most of our culture doesn’t get today. Words like atonement, justification, or fellowship can easily sound weird, foreign, and sometimes even threatening. Psalm 119:105 clearly says that God’s Word is a “lamp and a light.”  So, any conversation about spiritual issues should be enlightening, encouraging, and not condemning.

Finally, ask questions.

People are looking for answers, but bringing in your truth and certainty can cause barriers to be put up. So, don’t feel the obligation always to have the answers, but instead, bring questions and trust God to bring the answers through the Holy Spirit. I’ve always felt the best media projects are ones that tell compelling stories and leave us with important questions. Ralph Winter, the producer of the X-Men movies, Fantastic Four, and many others, said recently that he wants Christian filmmakers to produce films that ask the big questions and be willing to walk away. Movies shouldn’t be about pushing people to the answers. The best movies make us think.

So, at any awkward gatherings this year, change your approach. Start by letting them see how much you care for them and others. Take time to listen to their problems, and don’t dwell on your own issues. Then trust that God will be there to answer their deepest questions. After all, Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me.”

Will you be observant enough this next holiday season to speak the language of the culture and be ready to pose questions and tell stories of how God has impacted your own life in positive and loving ways?

Make this holiday season the most memorable yet. Be a catalyst for Jesus’ redemptive love that brings the gift of eternal salvation.