When a student is reluctant to believe

“Do you believe this message?” Elaine asked Rose upon completing their study through By This Name.

Rose hesitated. There were a few things holding her back. Her entire family was antagonistic to Christianity; she feared their derision. She also had some lingering questions she wanted to look into more. And since she wasn’t the type to make decisions lightly, she needed time to think.

For weeks, Elaine and Rose’s visits consisted largely of small talk, with only occasional discussions about the Bible. It was discouraging for Elaine. What should she do? Should she push harder for a decision? One friend even suggested that because Rose hadn’t believed in Christ right away, her hesitance exhibited a hardness of heart which meant that Rose wouldn’t ever believe. Elaine didn’t want to view Rose in that light, but the doubts niggled.

Many weeks later, Rose finally made a clear statement of her belief in Christ. It had taken time, but Rose’s decision was now clear.

In truth, Rose’s response is common. Most people don’t make life-changing decisions (whether a house purchase, marriage partner or becoming a Christian) without at least some reflection. We have found several weeks of consideration to be fairly typical in the studies taught by our staff.

Rose’s fear of derision from her family was well-founded. She did become an object of mockery, but she had taken the time to count the cost and still chose to trust Christ. More than 10 years later, she consistently walks with the Lord, despite scorn from her family members. Two other close family members have also recently become believers.

C.S. Lewis, famed author and thinker, also spent a long time wrestling with truths about Christ. On the night he made his decision to believe in Christ, he wrote that he was “the most dejected and reluctant convert … a prodigal who [was] brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”

Reluctance to believe should not be seen as a failure on the part of the teacher, nor viewed as a reason to give up on our student. We must not fall into the trap of pushing our students into a decision they are not ready to make. We must remember, it is God’s job to do the saving; we are merely the messengers. Our responsibility is to ensure the message is given clearly and accurately; the convicting is the Holy Spirit’s part.

So, what should we do when a student is slow in coming to a decision?

  1. More teaching. Some students get hung up on a particular topic. Often they need time and a little more information to work through their questions. Some may want to go through the material a second time as they work to put the pieces together correctly.
  2. Remain in touch. At this point, your friendship may feel a little awkward, but it’s crucial that you stay in your student’s life however you can. You want them to know that your friendship is not conditional on the decision they make and you want to be available for questions that may come up.
  3. Don’t push, but do gently remind. This requires some discernment. Remember it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. You want to stay out of his way. However, there may be a moment that naturally arises when it’s appropriate to remind your student that a choice does need to be made. Ultimately, you want your student’s faith to be an act of conviction by the Holy Spirit, not due to pressure from you.
  4. Don’t give up hope. When a decision isn’t forthcoming, we may be tempted to relegate a person to the “hopeless” list. How God works is as varied as the individual; sometimes it just takes time.
  5. Pray. And then pray some more.