Question: My in-laws don’t share our Christian faith, and this has sometimes led to awkward or difficult situations at family gatherings. Can you give me and my spouse some tips for handling this relationship with a greater degree of grace and understanding?


The challenge you’re facing is not essentially different from that of living out your faith while maintaining meaningful relationships with non-believers in any area of life. If this has become a serious point of conflict, we’d suggest that you and your spouse sit down with the in-laws and make it clear that, while you may have different beliefs, you still value the relationship and want to find ways of spending meaningful time together. Then see if you can’t work together to plan out some family activities that will be acceptable and enjoyable for everyone concerned.

Keep these principles in mind

As you work your way through this process, make it your goal to be guided by the following principles for responding in a God-honoring way to in-laws who are not Christians.

  1. Pray for them. Hudson Taylor is credited with the statement, "When we work, we work. When we pray, God works." It’s no small thing to put God to work in the lives of family members who aren’t yet Christians. So keep bringing your in-laws before the Lord and asking Him for wisdom about how you can touch their lives.
  2. Beware of having a critical or judgmental attitude. Judging the behavior of in-laws is one of the surest ways to push them away from God and the Church. In any case, Jesus makes it clear that it’s not our place to judge anyone for any reason (Matthew 7:1). Instead, we’re called to love one another (John 13:34) and to win unbelievers by our gracious behavior and good works (I Peter 2:12).
  3. Be open and real about your own faith. The words of the apostle Peter are relevant here: "But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). It’s possible to be clear and candid about your values and principles while caring deeply for and being respectful to your in-laws. But don’t push your faith on them when they make it clear that they’re not interested.

If you need help working through these principles and applying them to your situation, Focus on the Family Canada has staff who would love to discuss your questions with you over the phone. Feel free to call us Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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