How do you approach conversations with others? It is one thing to have the information you need, but what about having the right attitude? Jesus instructed his disciples to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), and this instruction is still applicable for disciples today. The question then becomes: How do we best live this out in today’s cultural climate?

It’s easy to jump into online conversations blood boiling and guns blazing, but we might find ourselves regretting things we said in the heat of the moment. Jesus instructed his followers to think before they acted. He was not only concerned with truth but also in how his disciples treated others and represented God. He prepared them for obstacles and threats they might run into. The difference between then and now is that we don’t have to look very hard or far to see similar situations coming at us. Here are some things to consider when engaging others about God.

First, listen carefully to other voices in the conversation. This will help you understand how others are approaching the discussion, and you will see what has already been said and how. In my opinion, you don’t want to be just another voice in the crowd. If a thousand people are all shouting the same things, one more voice is not going to make anything more effective. Bring something additional or unique that hasn’t been mentioned yet.

Second, gauge the intentions of others. We often look at the opposing side with disdain, already judging their hearts and motives. Stop doing this. There are just as many with ill intent on your side as there are the other. Instead, seek out the people who seem genuinely interested in the conversation and try to engage them, whether tagging them publicly or messaging them privately. Always make sure to keep your motives pure, no matter what others might say. The trolls will be easy to spot if you take the time to listen before latching on too quickly (Luke 20:1-8).

Third, be prepared to walk away peacefully. The conversation may reach a point where you don’t know the answer to a question, the person you are talking with has become hostile, or you find yourself losing your cool. Be ready to admit it if you don’t know an answer. Let the other person know you feel they are getting overheated. Listen to the other person if they think you are getting out of line. Any number of things can happen within a conversation, and sometimes it is best to walk away, whether temporarily or permanently.

Having better conversations requires trial and error. Some people are easier to talk to than others. There are some you know you shouldn’t engage, either because of their motives or how they affect you personally. The whole point of apologetics is to give reasons for the truth of Christianity, and sometimes this requires engaging others wherever they might be. Let’s make sure as followers of Jesus we remain wise as serpents and harmless as doves.