Family disagreements are rough, and arguments over faith are even worse. Handling those kinds of disagreements IS possible by using some general guidelines. What’s trickier is when parents demand some action—or inaction—that you strongly feel is a sin.
For example, a clear command from Christ is to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19). So what do you do if your parents tell you you’re not allowed to follow that command?
Long story short, Scripture teaches that “obedience” and “submission” are not quite the same thing. Yes, the Bible tells children to “obey” parents (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20) and that Christians in general are to “be subject to” authority (Romans 13:1). However, “obedience” is always in the context of instructions that honor God first and foremost.
The best example of the difference between obedience and submission is in Acts 5:17-29. The apostles were thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, beaten up, and told not to tell anyone else about Jesus. They took their punishment as the law commanded—then went right back out to evangelize again. Peter’s response in verse 29 is the key to this whole problem: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
So if you have to choose between obeying God and obeying parents, the Bible makes it very clear that obedience to God comes first. But keep in mind that that doesn’t include resisting punishment—AT ALL. It means accepting whatever consequences come your way as part of the cost of faith (Luke 14:28; James 1:2).
Now, this is NOT a free pass to tell an adult “Sorry, but I need to follow the Lord” whenever you disagree about something—even evangelism. The best explanation for WHY the Bible tells us to honor parents is because they have a LOT more “been there, done that” experience than you do.
That doesn’t make them automatically right, but it does mean there’s at least a chance your parent(s) or guardian(s) may see something going on that you don’t. That's why it's important to have open communication with them to remove any confusion.
It’s very important to understand why you’re being told not to share the gospel. This is going to require you to ask—politely and respectfully. Having a conversation about their reasoning and motivations behind not wanting you to share Jesus with others will provide the best possible understanding. Having such a conversation gives you a chance to explain your reasons too (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Maybe your parents openly hate Christianity and don’t ever want anyone to hear about it. Maybe they don’t really care either way, but they’re worried about your reputation. (Then again, 1 Peter 4:16.) In those cases, it’s still important to be submissive and respectful (Matthew 19:19). But if, with much prayer and careful consideration, you still feel God is calling you to witness—despite your parents' resistance—then that’s what you should do.
Just remember that there may be consequences, and you don't get to complain about or resist those consequences.
Another possibility is that your parents are believers in Christ who are nervous or unsure about being an active witness—whether at that time or with certain people. Having a good talk about their concerns may help you find common ground. Even better, maybe they have some advice on another way to go about evangelism. You might work out a plan together. And, hey, they may actually have good ideas!
Even Jesus said there are some people who we shouldn’t try to evangelize. When someone responds with total disinterest, we need to move on (Matthew 10:14). When it’s clear a person is hostile and will probably just get angry, we should save our efforts for others (Matthew 7:6). New Testament writers tell us the same thing: make an effort but be smart about how you do it (Titus 3:9-11). Time and emotions wasted on someone stubborn could be spent on someone who actually wants the truth.
If your parents are Christians, and they say, “Don’t witness to that person,” there may be good reasons that you had no idea about. Again, this is a great time to ask questions, be teachable, and keep an open mind. You may find out the person in question going through something your parents know about—and you don’t—making this an awkward moment to preach or that they always respond hatefully when people talk about religion or they love to bait believers into arguments.
Their disallowance may be for your own physical protection or to keep you from wasting your time with someone they know to be an unresponsive individual. Take into account their wisdom and experience, carefully considering all the facts before you.
In the end, only you and God know all the details. And all details matter. What, exactly, are you being told not to do? Why are you being told not to witness? Do those reasons seem to make reasonable sense? Have you talked to God about what you’re doing? Is this a situation where telling others about Jesus fits the patterns shown in Scripture?
When in doubt, it’s better to obey than to disobey. The only time it makes sense to blatantly disobey your parent(s) is when you KNOW—beyond any shadow of a doubt—that obeying them would be an actual sin against God. And part of that choice means knowing, in advance, that you’re ready to submit to whatever punishment your parents are going to give you for disobeying them.
No, this whole process is not very fun or easy. But it’s a raw, real part of being a true believer in Jesus.
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." —John 15:18-21
Jeff is a staff writer with Got Questions Ministries and used to be a mechanical engineer. When he's not accidentally setting things on fire in his workshop, or petting strange dogs, he loves helping people better understand God’s Word and how it applies to our lives. Jeff's calling is to untangle the "big picture" of Christian faith, making it easier to understand.