Have you ever wanted to start a conversation about spiritual things but didn’t know how?
Whether with people you have known for a long time, or with someone that you’ve just met, are you able to initiate spirtual conversation? I often meet new people and, for starters, I try to learn about them in a general way. But I know that, eventually, I will need to be intentional about the conversation moving toward spiritual things. This transition is usually something that I want to put off for a bit. I always think that I need to wait for the perfect time to bring up Jesus; that I have to know everything about this new person in order for them to know that I care. After all, I don’t want them to feel like I’m just using them for my religious experiment.
This way of thinking (perfect timing in a perfect situation) is really more fearful than wise. The truth is, it is always the perfect time to bring up Jesus. I’ve learned that a wise approach for conquering this fear is asking a great question. In as natural a way as possible, asking a question that intentionally directs the conversation to spiritual things will ultimately provoke a response that gives you a perfect opportunity for deeper discussion. I am by no means an expert in these matters, but I have found a few things that have helped me to be intentional. And if you can be intentional by asking a great question that really fits into the conversation, it can open huge doors to talk about the saving grace of our Lord.
I am sure there are lots of great questions, but I like to start by asking people, “What is your spiritual background?” I like this approach because you are asking about them personally instead of telling them something you think they should do. Shift the focus from the usual and comfortable talk of physical things. Allow casual conversation to transform into a deeper spirtual discussion that will have a much greater and more meaningful impact. Experience tells me that, by asking a question, I can approach a spiritual topic in a very non-threatening way. This helps me to both learn about the person (which is my goal when I meet someone) and to also begin to be intentional about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How do you get from a “getting to know you” type of conversation to an intentionally spiritual question, and still be natural about it? Make a logical progression from one question to another. Start by asking about where they grew up, or what they have done previously in their life; or ask about their geographical background, work or school history, or how long they’ve lived in the community – their spiritual background is just adding another category to the conversation. You can expect that a spiritual question will be best received if you first have a true desire to get to know the person.
Make your conversation count. Skip the talk about a current news situation or their favorite restaurant, and focus on the balance between your intention and your natural progression towards it. In a society that is always on the move, where meaningful conversations become fewer and farther between, it is important to find a way to quickly shift gears to spiritual matters. Look for logical connections inside the conversation (initiated by you with an intentional purpose). And, above all, listen.
Be a Good Listener
Listening is so important, it is crucial to being intentional. I used to have memorized progressions of questions that I would lead people down. I would engage people in conversation, but I wouldn’t always hear what they were saying because I was too busy trying to remember the next question in my series. I found that to be a very disconnected way to communicate; no one appreciates the feeling of a planned conversation. When I really pay attention to what someone is saying, I am in a much better position to logically connect their words with truth about who God is and what He has done. But remember the importance and greater impact of a conversation, as oppossed to a lecture. Be sensitive to listening as much, or more than, you speak. I choose my questions much more wisely when I am truly listening. I am able to ask questions that are in the context of the conversation, making it a more relevant and engaging discussion.
Whenever you try to be intentional in a new way, it is going to be… well new, and perhaps even a bit awkward. I think as we try to listen and be intentional in conversations, we will get better and better, but we have to start somewhere. Start by listening, and then commit to your intent.
If you’re a good listener and ask questions that keep the conversation engaging (all the while learning more about them), you will find opportunities for good transitional, spiritual questions that are both nuetral and natural, like “do you attend a church in the area?” Either way they answer, there are more questions that you can ask. If they say “yes,” then ask them “where?”, “what do you enjoy about it?” and/or, “is it similar to how you grew up?”, etc. If they say “no,” you can ask if they are interested in attending a church, and if not, how come? Did they have a bad experience, what is their view about organized religion, what is their view of Christ?
This April, I am teaching a 4 week Faith Community Institute class called Nuts & Bolts of Community Ministry. The goal is to walk through the basics of serving others at the community center; we will discuss and pray about being intentional in our conversations with the people that we meet in the community center (and every day, everywhere). I hope you will be intentional and check it out!
There is nothing more exciting than being intentional about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have a unique platform to ask great questions…let’s answer the call to use it to the glory of our Savior!