What does an AWESOME discussion contribution look like?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

I am thrilled to see so many of us practicing how to engage in spiritual conversations with a diverse community! It is evident that we are enjoying one another’s friendship as we seek the Lord together. I trust that the incredible learning taking place here will inevitably transform the way in which we discuss similar questions with our family and friends. I hope you are experiencing joy and delight from reading posts and joining in yourself!

As we continue to grow, did you know that dozens - hundreds - even thousands of other people will benefit from the questions and conversations we’ve discussed together? It is so exciting to think that our conversations are steadily building a global, up-to-date, evangelism training resource!

As I’ve reflected on this, I believe it raises a question: How can we serve one another in love, adding as much value to one another’s lives as possible? In other words, what does an AWESOME discussion contribution look like?

I would love to hear your answers to this question.

For myself, I want to challenge all of us (and myself) to faithfully practice the habits of a mature Christian

  • Let’s ask great questions to spark amazing conversations…
  • Let’s commit, together, to giving the very best answers that we can…
  • Let’s stretch and challenge ourselves to be incredibly respectful…
  • Let’s do our homework and share deeply thoughtful, well-organized, particularly helpful answers…
  • Let’s give one another the benefit of the doubt and look for the good in one another…
  • Let’s be fervently prayerful and profoundly God-honoring…

And of course: I welcome your very best contribution to this discussion! I want to learn from you what specific characteristics make a post really valuable. How do you distinguish between an ‘awesome’ and an ‘okay’ post?

And a second question: how do we strive for the very best ourselves without intimidating anyone from participating? How can we define ‘our best’ in such a way that we remain welcoming, encouraging, hospitable, and friendly?

What does a great contribution to RZIM Connect look like?
(SeanO) #2

What a great question @CarsonWeitnauer! It is hard to answer since I am still striving to understand what an awesome discussion looks like in the Connect context myself. I think there are two types of discussions that I have seen so far - discussions for the sake of pursuing knowledge (discussing evidence for or against the Big Bang for example) and discussions that answer a direct question (a question about a troubling Bible passage for example).

In both cases, I believe an awesome discussion is one where we respond to one another’s opinions rather than simply stating our own and where we do so with respect and grace. With questions pursuing knowledge, I think a willingness to let iron sharpen iron and challenge one another in a loving way is important. With direct questions, I think it is important to address the questioner and not simply the question - or the question behind the question. I think it is always good if beyond simply answering, we can provide a launching pad for further thought and discussion - that is an area I am trying to grow in right now.

What are other peoples’ thoughts on this two fold breakdown of typical questions on Connect?

(Tim Ramey) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer @SeanO
Carson, it’s a huge subject that you opened. Even your final two questions seem so vast that it’s too difficult for me to deal with adequately. Because of the variety and subjects, I have to pick and choose which ones to engage in. Sometimes I feel that the weaker posts are ones that seem to have been already dealt with but I see the reason being that many have just hopped on board and they don’t know what has been discussed.

The intimidation issue is also complex because of the levels of scholars we have together in this community, it’s easy for me to feel that various individuals are “over my head.” They are not the problem but rather I can find it intimidating simply because I’m not as knowledgeable. But even here, I enjoy reading what is contributed.

Sean you have some great thoughts on your two fold breakdown. As usual, you are thorough and yet humble in your approach. I don’t know where you get the time to do all of the posting that you do! It’s amazing! I do feel that my devoted time is atypical because I center my time on the memorization community as well as the prayer group. I do engage elsewhere but I feel that where I post is in a land that is more on the road less traveled. I just wanted to add that this dimension exists that doesn’t always even deal with questions but is pertinent to apologetics.

(SeanO) #4

@Tim_Ramey I am always encouraged by your devotion to prayer and the memorization of the Scriptures brother - keep it up! :slight_smile:

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #5

I appreciate this post @CarsonWeitnauer. Personally in my posts, I feel that I still have many things to improve on for me to be able to be better in my contribution to the community. Most of the time I just read through the discussions and if I feel that it has been answered by someone else, or there is something I don’t need to add on to, I usually don’t comment.

The answers to both your questions may be only my opinions. I consider something as an “awesome” post if it primarily answered the fundamental need or question of the questioner. An “okay” post is if it answered merely the question, or something peripheral, but not the questioner itself.

Regarding the second question, I remember a friend in my private discussion group who gets intimidated in the discussions because she believes that it’s beyond her. Like she feels she needs to really need to read more before she could contribute. I believe it’s because of highly academic terms I use with other friends in our group. So I guess, what will help in encouraging others is for us to make them feel that discussions here are not merely for scholars, full-time apologists, or people with high credentials. Maybe as much as we are able, unless necessary, we use terms that all people could appreciate, or maybe adjust depending on where the other person is coming from, so that they’ll feel safe to join in the discussions. This will help us practice the priesthood of all believers. Aside from that, I guess humility in our seeking of knowledge will help in encouraging others as well. Through that they’ll feel that this other person in the forum does not know everything after all, he/she is like me. And we can do our best for the community in the mindset of serving others in love for the glory of God. We outdo each other in showing honor. :slight_smile:

(Anthony Costello ) #6


A very provocative question and definitely worth considering. I see some of my favorite interlocutors are also responding to this one.

There are a few things that I am struggling with regarding making really solid contributions. First, I think any good piece of writing simply takes time to formulate and then produce. Unfortunately, there are so many interesting discussions on Connect, and I have so little time (as a husband and father of three, very young, boys) that I feel like I often rush my posts. More time, I think, would equal better posts. However, blog posts are also not meant to be research papers, so at some point you just have to hit the “Send” button and get on with it.

Another challenge, and I think @SeanO has made the right distinction here, is engaging in conversations that are more academic and ones that are more direct, or pragmatic. The more academic ones also take more time as we tend to want to cite other works or explain more difficult concepts with greater accuracy. The direct ones are hard, because there are so many different types of believers involved in this forum. There are new Christians and more mature Christians (however one wants to parse those terms out), but there are also believers who have more education and some less, and then there are the varied cultural differences. These gaps can be hard to bridge in a mere blog format. Differences like these are easier bridged when one is face-to-face.

So, in sum, I think there are two, maybe three challenges to creating a really great blog post (at least for me). First, one needs the time to do it. Second, one has to hit what I call the “pedagogical sweet spot” where the discussion is moving the ball forward with regards to intellectual depth and rigor, yet where no one is getting “left behind” (no pun intended). Third, and especially on the more practical or pastoral questions, the culture gap needs to be bridged somehow…but this is hard to do in a written interaction.

Finally, with regards to how we interact. I have, for example, already enjoyed some robust discussion with SeanO for example, even though we disagreed on some things. As it pertains to the more academic discussions, I do think it is good to push each other in the hopes of each interlocutor coming to a more fine-grained understanding of their position, or, if the arguments demand it, an actual change of view on the part of one party. A charitable format would probably consist of making as many affirmations about your opponents position as possible, obviously avoiding any logical fallacies (especially fallacies of relevance), and asking good, clarifying questions. Finally, if no change in belief is achieved by one party or the other, an agreement to disagree, yet remain open to the possibility of changing one’s beliefs should more evidence be produced, should be expressed. A cordial thank you for the discussion itself might round of the whole thing quite nicely too. Hope this helps.

God bless,

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi friends,

Great comments! Thank you @SeanO, @Tim_Ramey, @omnarchy, and @anthony.costello for your thoughtful, caring responses!

One of the tendencies that I have noticed in myself is a consumeristic approach to life. The question, “What’s in it for me?” is a habitual instinct. I notice how this is formed by how much effort is put into explaining how various resources, programs, etc. would be valuable and relevant to my life. I think good marketing is an expression of servanthood - working hard to clearly and accurately state the benefit of a program or resource so that people can benefit from the experience. I think there can be a very honest expression of discipleship in the marketing of products and services.

At the same time, there is a tension between the consumer and the disciple. Since RZIM Connect is an environment where we are seeking to grow to maturity in Christ, we want to keep the challenge on the side of “how can you serve others?”

There are many ways to do that:

  • Asking a question that opens up a conversation many can benefit from,
  • Starting a conversation with a thought-provoking reflection or devotional,
  • Providing a great answer to someone else,
  • Introducing yourself to the community so we can know the questioner behind the question,
  • Warmly welcoming others into the community
  • Etc…

Whatever the means, the heart is to consider the needs of others. For instance, even if I have a question that needs resolution, I can serve others by writing a clear title to the post, expressing the question concisely but clearly, and thanking those who contribute to the answering of my question. There is a mature way to combine genuine self-interest with other-centered concern.

My belief is that as we come into Connect to serve others, we will find ourselves growing as disciples. Perhaps the question is difficult for me! Rather than a hasty answer, I might take the time to research the answer and provide a thoughtful, personal, caring answer. This might include praying for the person who asked the question, thinking of questions to continue the conversation, and checking my post for respect and clarity. That’s a lot of work!

Similarly, each time when I go to the gym, my trainer has a new workout planned that helps me get stronger. Because I am pushed beyond my current limits in the gym, I am stronger to play with my kids or do chores around the home. My goal is to push us to make the best contributions we can in Connect, even involving a level of sacrifice, so that we can make better contributions to conversations outside of Connect. By researching the answer to a new question, you’re prepare for a new range of conversations in the rest of your life. The harder work you’re pushed to do here is designed to strengthen your capacity for spiritual conversations everywhere else. This is a safe, encouraging place to practice and get honest, loving feedback about how your tone and approach sounds to others.

Also, I am inviting each of us to challenge one another to elevate the quality of how we discuss topics here. We can train and support one another in a journey to better contributions. We are a community on mission together. This isn’t a top-down approach but a side-by-side journey. I have a great deal to learn too!

To be clear: We’re doing a great job!! I am incredibly grateful and delighted by the community! It is outstanding. But the way we grow is not by saying, “Hey, good job lifting 20lbs, let’s stay there.” A good trainer says, “Can you handle 25lbs? Let’s give that a try.”

Last week I had the opportunity to ask Ravi what advice he gives to younger apologists. In addition to emphasizing their character and faith, he said there are three key points for how to answer a question. They are the following:

  • State the rational case
  • Illustrate the point
  • Practically apply it

If you listen closely to his talks, you will probably notice that they follow that same structure. For shorter talks, he goes through that structure a couple of times; for longer talks, he simply adds additional points that are beautifully illustrated and applied.

By prayerfully and respectfully addressing each questioner in this way, we will be speaking to the whole person. It isn’t just the rational answer, but it is thinking of how to illustrate the point through stories, art, personal examples, as well as the practical difference it makes to approach the question from a Biblical point of view. That is one of the most powerful ways we can go from an intellectualist approach to answering a question to a personal way of opening a new friend to see reality more clearly - and to want to live according to the good and beautiful plan God has for us.

I welcome your further thoughts on this approach to discussions here!

(Tim Ramey) #8

I sure appreciate your hard work which is always presented so humbly. The amount of discussion is really amazing and hard to keep up with. I am really surprised that there are not more knock-down -drag-out discussions as we all come from different levels of schooling as well as different interpretations of scripture. What I long for is that we all keep being honest with our impressions and not afraid of disagreeing or being disagreed with. I feel that disagreeing really challenges us and gives us more to consider than adding our agreement. There are so many in Connect now that I expect the discussions to get really rolling. I would encourage us to remember that we are the body of Christ and so an ear needs a leg, whether it thins so or not. We really need each other. I am grateful for how this group expresses itself in a variety of ways.

To show you what Connect means to me, my son just walked by and said, “On RZIM again…”

(Olivia Davis) #9

I think that everyone has made some really great points. I think that this has been said already, but the idea of being a servant on this forum is the key to its success. Everyone serves in a different way, but every servant is valuable and important!

I also get intimidated when I see highly erudite discussions (whereas I just had to google the correct spelling of erudite) – but I also remember that these scholars were once beginners, and it’s not really a bad thing to be intimidated when we use intimidation as an impetus to grow deeper in knowledge and stretch ourselves! It helps that the tone of these discussions has been overwhelmingly full of grace. I’ve seen that sometimes my best contribution will be a heart – and that’s perfectly okay because while my gifting doesn’t happen to be in theoretical physics, I have others!

I think, also, that we can investigate our intimidation (or whatever we should call it). Sometimes we’re intimidated because the information was presented too quickly, or just geared toward a questioner who just thinks differently than we do. In that case, maybe our most insightful and helpful contribution would to ask be a specific question – think about where we got lost, or maybe ask for a single suggestion for beginning to understand the body of knowledge presented. Intimidation can be a useful starting point – but don’t let it end there!

Finally, I think that vulnerability is always the key. Sharing a personal example of one’s own struggles always establishes a connection and makes intimidation less likely. I’m automatically more interested in a discussion about physics or something hard (haha) after I’ve heard a story about how learning about science made someone realize something about God. And I think that’s the key – if we make the post about God, and what he wants to do with us, and how we can glorify him through serving, it should ultimately not leave us looking at the questioner, the question, or the discussion contributor – but upward. Indeed, an awesome discussion contribution should leave us in awe of God!

This is going to take a lot of practice – so I’m glad that RZIM Connect is here to help us!

(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi @Tim_Ramey, thank you for the encouraging words! I think we have built a culture of profound respect for each individual. Let’s keep praying for one another, allowing the Scriptures to guide us, and investing in an empathetic, supportive, and loving approach to each post and interaction. As we grow in those habits here, I believe they will increasingly be the way we treat others in the rest of our lives. Including your son - go spend some time with him! :wink:

@Olivia_Davis, I am so grateful for you highlighting the importance of serving well. I do think that simply hitting the ‘heart’ button to encourage someone for the time and love they invested into a post is a great way to serve someone else. And when we do feel intimidated, what a great idea: “maybe our most insightful and helpful contribution would to ask be a specific question” - I love it!!

I’m grateful for how you also encourage us to provide authentic examples and the hope that these conversations will lead us to be in awe of God. :100:

(Nthabiseng Machedi ) #11

I appreciate the invitation for candid discussions. I believe that so much that is disorderly among us is due to this simple practice; truthful talk.