by Matt Erickson
“What are you thinking about?”
That’s one of the questions I most commonly use to start a conversation with someone on the topic of faith or spirituality.
Not too long ago I was sitting in a coffee shop preparing to meet with a guy who had reached out to me. I didn’t know exactly what he wanted to talk about, so when we sat down at a small table by the window with a cup of coffee in front of each of us, I simply asked, “What are you thinking about?”
Our conversation traversed a variety of things on his mind: the meaning of life, the existence of God, personal identity, and much more. As I listened, there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me to lay out the four spiritual laws in the hopes of sealing the salvation deal.
I call this the “canned evangelism voice” and I usually do my utmost to tell it to be quiet.
Instead, I began to listen to what was happening in this guy’s life with the aim of discerning what God was doing in him and how the Holy Spirit was leading me to address his personally.
“When I hear you talking, I can’t help but think of some things going on in my own life,” I said. He looked a little surprised and I began to share some of my own questions about the meaning of life, the nature of God, and personal identity. As I opened some of my own story by sharing what I was thinking about in relation to his life, a relationship began to form through trust. That trust has opened the door to ongoing conversations that continue to lead into deep places.
Sometimes, a probing question in combination with our own story can open doors for evangelism.
Recently, I saw the movie “Logan” with my son. I wasn’t really that excited to see the movie, but I was surprised by the depth with which the movie approached topics of relationships, aging, and the meaning of life.
I had some good conversations with my son afterwards about the movie which helped me be ready when someone else brought the movie up in conversation that week. An ordinary conversation I was having with someone turned a corner when I shared how the movie had made me consider my relationship with my own father and what it meant to have restoration in relationships.
A nod of affirmation from the other opened the door for me to ask, “What did the movie make you think about?” The person responded, “I didn’t expect a super-hero story to make me think about my life so much.” The conversation continued in that vein into a deeper engagement that allowed me to share about the redeeming power of Jesus Christ in our personal lives and relationships.
It was sort of a strange equation for evangelism: super-hero movie + self-disclosure + probing question = great conversation. Who would’ve thought it possible?
Then, there was the conversation I had with someone not too long ago about his depth of suffering in life. Last year, our church had walked through the Book of Job, so I mentioned that his story reminded me of the story of Job in the Bible. I took a few moments to overview Job’s story and asked the person, “When you hear Job’s story, what does it make you think?”
He responded, “I guess I’m surprised the Bible isn’t all about good and easy stories. Does God care about difficult stories too?”
It doesn’t take much to turn a question like that toward Jesus’ journey toward the cross and into the resurrection. I’m not sure the last time I used Job in an evangelistic conversation. I loved seeing a door open for engagement with faith through someone’s real suffering, the suffering of Job, and the suffering of Christ.
So, the next time you get into a conversation with someone, you may want to consider taking a pause to ask your conversation partner, “What are you thinking about?” You may find what I have discovered: a probing question opens a relational doorway that leads into a deeper engagement about what really matters in life.