by Lon Allison
(Editor’s note: With this post, we begin a new series, One Question to the Gospel. We asked, “What one question has helped you begin a gospel conversation?”)
It’s true that the toughest aspect of sharing faith in Christ is getting a spiritual conversation started. Why? Because it is a very personal and important issue to many people and in my opinion not something to be infused immediately into a conversation. Also, the question I use when I’m in dialogue with a stranger is different than when I’m talking with a colleague, friend, or acquaintance.
My response in this brief blog is to deal with the question I most often use when sharing with a stranger. For me, these occasions occur often while in airplanes, taxis to the airport, or with a server in a restaurant.
First, I have a general principle to avoid bringing up spirituality with a person (stranger) until I’ve been in conversation with him or her for at least 10 minutes. After 10 minutes or so, a conversation has generally moved from the peripheral toward the personal. It starts with something like, “It sure is cold, isn’t it?” After several minutes, the conversation usually moves toward family, friends, career, and other such meaningful things.
That is when I ask my spiritual question, “Do you have any spiritual background or interests?”
This question usually reveals whether the person is interested in such a discussion. If he or she is not, both the tone and brevity of his or her response tells me whether there is no interest. I never push the topic if I sense there isn’t interest. When there is interest, however, the responder usually starts by telling part of his or her spiritual story and especially his or her spiritual background.
This is when the Christian must listen with two ears. First, to listen closely to the person sharing an important part of life. Second, to listen to God, asking for guidance as to how to respond. Quite often, the opportunity arises for me to share my story of how I met Jesus as a response. Even when I don’t respond with my story the deep listening to the person and God almost always guides me toward the next questions.
I remember my acting professor suggest that great acting only occurs when the actor is actively listening. Only then will the response be authentic and true to both the heart and mind of the person speaking.
Oh, may God make us extraordinary listeners and questioners of life’s most important issue: faith in Jesus Christ.
Bless you as you listen and speak the gospel!