by Ken Baker
(Editor’s note: With this post, we continue our series One Question to the Gospel. We asked, “What one question has helped you begin a gospel conversation?”)
Where to start? This seems to be the most difficult aspect of sharing our faith with those we encounter. As we are enjoying a lively conversation with someone we have met, there is a subconscious nagging about how to nudge the exchange in a spiritual direction. Once a spiritual discussion is flowing, we tend to gain confidence and insight. How to get to that point is what brings anxiety.
Often, we have opportunities to engage people in conversation when there is sufficient time to invest in wide-ranging interaction. Over the years, I’ve discovered a question which allows me to nudge a conversation in a gospel direction with those I’ve never met before or only know through passing acquaintance. It is not a question which is appropriate for just any situation. And it is not a lead question to begin a conversation. Instead, I show genuine human interest in the other person by settling into a comfortable rhythm of interchange about life, family, occupation, travel, etc. When the moment seems right, I pose this question…
“I’m curious, what is your spiritual heritage?”
It may be that I already have an idea of what someone will say due to what has already been shared, or not. Either way, it provides an opportunity for the person to continue to share about his or her life, experience, and especially about family. Since I am involved in global mission, my spiritual heritage and testimony may likely have already entered the conversation…fueling it, or killing it!
Since I am usually in international or multicultural settings, I find that the above question fits well in that it’s an invitation to reflect on the spiritual or religious context in which a person grew up. In such situations, the above question is more appropriate than, “What is your spiritual journey?” which is more individualistically-oriented.
Naturally, once the ‘spiritual heritage’ threshold has been crossed, it is an opening for all sorts of follow-up questions, such as, “What was that experience like?” or “How did that teaching make you feel?” ou will be surprised how open people are. People crave human connection and understanding. Besides, who else really cares to this level and takes the time?
The ‘spiritual heritage’ question is a “no pressure” or “no agenda” inquiry which provides an opportunity for my conversation partner to take the narrative where he or she chooses. More often than not, it leads to where he or she is currently. Through continuing questions, a spiritual tapestry emerges into which we can weave the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, go ahead. Try it. And may our Lord give you courage and discernment…
Ken Baker (@KenJBaker) is the international ministry training facilitator for SIM, an adjunct professor of cross-cultural ministry at Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College, and currently teaching missiology at the Institut Missiologique du Sahel, in Burkina Faso.