A Framework for Navigating Difficult Conversations


I remember talking on the phone with a friend who I had gotten to know while we both lived in Manhattan. We had spent numerous lunch or coffee dates talking about every topic under the sun, yet we had never discussed our theological views on gender. When the topic came up that day, we were both a bit timid. We didn’t know where the other stood on this topic, or how the other would react to our view. Throughout the conversation, we realized we were on the same page, but also shared how we mutually struggled with discussing this topic with others because of how emotionally charged it can be. Have you ever felt this way?

It is no secret that in recent years, discussions around complementarianism have emerged with greater frequency, and often with great passion. So, what is complementarianism? In brief, it is the belief that scripture teaches men and women are created equal, but different. (I will suggest resources at the end if you want to dive deeper here). As you may have seen, conversations on the issue of genderedness in the church can bring up an array of views and feelings. For faithful Christians, it can feel difficult to know how to navigate.

What I’ve learned from that conversation with my friend, and many conversations I’ve had with others since then, is that it is helpful for me to have a framework for how I position my own heart while approaching conversations around complex and often contentious topics. Here are some suggestions that have helped me:

1. Know the Bible. 

It is our responsibility to know what the Bible actually teaches about a theological issue and to have convictions that are rooted in Scripture, not feelings, inclinations, culture or anything else. As we study the Bible, we should approach a passage in light of its context, and in light of what the Bible teaches as a whole. We must be cautious not to take passages out of context or add additional commentary that we state as absolute truth. The Bible says what it says, and it does not say what it does not say.

This may seem overwhelming – you might think that you aren’t a Bible scholar, but don’t fear! We all start somewhere, and there are great resources to help us as we study Scripture and seek to have a greater understanding of what God’s Word teaches on particular issues. Just like I don’t fully understand science and would never pose as a dietary expert, I still try to be informed about what foods are healthy. So should all Christians wrestle with difficult issues, rather than throwing their arms up while declaring ‘it’s impossible’ and eating nothing but a fast food version of Scripture for the rest of their life.

2. Humility and grace.

As I approach a conversation, I have to intentionally get my heart and mind right by recognizing that my value is not in being the most articulate, or in winning the conversation. My value is inherent as God’s creation. I find it helpful to remind myself of this truth and that I don’t have everything perfectly figured out.

When I was younger, I was happy to both watch and participate in contentious theological debates. As I’ve gotten older, I realize my own pride in the eagerness I had to disagree with others as an opportunity to prove my rightness. (Insert eye roll at my younger self here.) I now humbly enter those debates when necessary to stand for my Biblical convictions, but I also want to graciously recognize where we have common ground. Most people I was “debating” with were faithful believers who held high regard for Scripture and who desired to be faithful to live our what Scripture teaches. For that, I am grateful, even if we don’t wind up agreeing on exactly how that works itself out on every issue.

3. Seek first to understand.

As we discuss issues that typically have deep emotions and hurts attached to them, it is important to listen well and have empathy. Many people have had their views shaped by past hurts, or painful experiences. When we listen for those cues to uncover hurts that have shaped their view, we can have empathy for the person’s painful experience.

I also want to listen to find out what someone is really saying – because often we may believe the same thing at the core of the issue, yet we just have slightly different ways of explaining or describing it. Sometimes I may not be that far off from their view and we can connect on our common ground, understanding that we have some variation in the nuance. 

When we communicate about any issue, we are called to follow Christ’s example of walking in truth, and in love. I trust this framework will help us have healthy conversations about our convictions. What would you add? Do you have a story of a time you stepped into a difficult conversation that these framing questions could have helped you?

Helpful Resources for further research on Complementarianism:

For a great article for the basics of what complementarity is, check out this Gospel Coalition article Complementarianism for Dummies.

Knowing Faith Podcast with Jen Wilkin, JT English and Kyle Worley episode on Generous Complementarianism.

The Village Church spent a lot of time developing this paper and position statement that shares their view from Scripture on complementarianism.

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Meet the author!

Lauren McAfee is a PhD student in ethics and public policy from Southern Seminary. Lauren is author of Not What You Think, Only One Life, and Legacy Study. She also works at the Hobby Lobby corporate office as a project coordinator. She grew up in Oklahoma City and loves her church community at CRBC. Lauren and her high school sweetheart, Michael McAfee, have been married for over eight years. Connect with Lauren at www.laurenamcafee.com or on Instagram @laurenamcafee.


Lauren McAfee

Lauren McAfee is Corporate Ambassador for Hobby Lobby and PhD student in Christian Ethics and Public Policy. She grew up in Oklahoma City and loves her church community at CRBC. Lauren and her high school sweetheart, Michael McAfee, have been married for over eight years.