I love reading about Paul and his missionary journeys into some of the most pagan areas ever. He was the master at always finding ways to engage the locals in conversation about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
In Athens, Paul is taken to Mars Hill where the Areopagus, the council of Greek aristocrats, met to discuss ideas. From what I know about Paul, I imagine he wasn’t a bit daunted about this change in his circumstances. In fact, I bet it “jazzed” him, as he would have known that it was one of the best places to get any conversation going! And we all know what—and who—he wanted to talk about!
In Ephesus, after trying to reason with the Jews in the synagogue, Paul rents out the hall of Tyrannus and leads daily conversations about Jesus. These go on for two years until most of the city is exposed to the gospel.
Paul was not one to miss an opportunity. It seemed his goal was to engage in conversation.
PRESENTATION OR CONVERSATION?
Most people think of evangelism as a presentation, as in presenting our story in a couple of minutes or sharing the BRIDGE Illustration or another formulaic approach to introducing someone to the gospel. (We love the formulas because they make us feel like we’re more ready to share our faith and get it “right.”)
But formulas don’t honor an individual’s personal journey. Formulaic approaches fail to consider where each person is coming from. I’m not saying that we totally throw out those “tools,” but I am saying that these approaches won’t work as well in a world where the Christian worldview is not the authority or the narrative of many people’s lives.
What are some of the characteristics of a great spiritual conversation?
- Curiosity. Being sincerely curious says that you care about the other person and what they believe rather than just demonstrating that you have all the answers.
- Safety. People need to know that you don’t have your “judge and jury cap” on while they share what they’ve sincerely come to believe. You need to make a safe place.
- Questions. Try to dig deeply, with that sincere curiosity I mentioned before. Rarely will any of us help someone open up to a new way of thinking about the world through argument or clever apologetics. Ask yourself, How did they come to believe what they believe? And get to know them more!
- Challenge. A good friendship will allow you to ask a question back when you truly don’t understand something. Jesus lovingly challenged and so can we.
- Being alongside. In his book The Ways of the Alongsider, Bill Mowry sums up an approach that is compelling when he says, “Alongsiders do not give instructions from a distance. They intentionally come alongside people in the classroom of life, demonstrating how to love God and live on mission. Alongsiders don’t tell people the way of Jesus; they personally show others how to live like Jesus.”
- Acknowledgement that you are not in control. Take the pressure off yourself! Only the Spirit of God can move someone to understand the gospel—it’s ultimately a revelation that comes through the Spirit. Acknowledging God’s control will allow you to walk alongside others without feeling the pressure to “make something happen.”
~ Jeff Klein
Jeff Klein is the former National Church Partnership Director for Q Place, a ministry whose mission is to mobilize Christians to facilitate group discussions with spiritual seekers so they can find God as revealed in the Bible. A pastor and church planter, he is currently walking the way with and walking alongside the leadership at Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church in Elmhurst, IL.