How to Start a Conversation About Jesus
A friend of mine likes to say, “The best gospel presentation is the one given.” That’s true. And convicting. Many good books, sermons, and seminars can help us prepare to share our faith. But none of these resources can do for us what we often find the hardest thing to do: just start the conversation.
We often feel helpless when it comes to our friends and their eternities. We justify the self-centeredness that ignores our neighbors. We subtly, maybe even subconsciously, question the truths that would loose our tongues and break other peoples’ chains—all in favor of maintaining a more comfortable silence. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we’re content to avoid our fears, accept our obstacles, and nurture our self-centeredness. So, we tell ourselves that someone else will share the gospel; or that the potential awkwardness, rejection or persecution are not worth it; or that God is not likely to save those people anyway. God help us.
Thankfully, he does help us! We need God’s help to lift our eyes and see we are surrounded by dead people who desperately need us to preach the gospel and live out the life of Christ in their midst. When we focus on what’s really real—the facts that God exists, his wrath against sin is coming, his gospel is the only way to eternal joy, souls are precious and perishing and the lost sheep will hear their Shepherd’s voice—then evangelism becomes utterly exciting.
Your Forever Neighbor
Evangelism will not happen forever. It is a means to one great end. Human beings—every single one of us in history—are created in God’s image for eternal purposes and one immense goal: to bring glory to God. When we read C.S. Lewis’s words about the eternal significance and destiny of our neighbors, we get a sense of the weightiness and joy that come from sharing the gospel:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” —The Weight of Glory, pp. 45–46
History, and everyone in it, is going somewhere. That means that, while no two conversations, no two train rides, no two lunch breaks and no two walks at the park are the same, they are all filled with infinite potential. And time is literally running out.
Like the wind, we do not know where the Spirit might blow on our ordinary days (John 3:8)—and that is exciting. Vertically-challenged Zacchaeus climbed a tree because he felt he needed to see Jesus for some reason (Luke 19:1–8); the Ethiopian eunuch was “randomly” pondering Isaiah 53 during his commute (Acts 8:26–40); Sergius Paulus, a highly educated official, asked Paul to bring him God’s word (Acts 13:7–8); and a Roman jailer was set free after he begged Paul to tell him what he must do to be saved (Acts 16:25–34). How would these people call on him in whom they have not believed unless someone tells them (Romans 10:14)? Could it be that the Spirit is already at work in the lives of the people around us in ways we haven’t noticed yet?
Embrace the Awkwardness
If we want to take advantage of opportunities to share our faith, we have to learn to embrace the so-called awkwardness. In some cultures, it is deemed awkward to raise the issue of spiritual matters in conversation. But take heart: in whatever culture you live, God has already raised the issue. If he has raised your soul from the dead, the conversation has begun.
You sit next to your coworker as the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
You stand among other travelers in the queue as a sojourner whose citizenship is in heaven.
You interact with people in this age of intolerance and virtue signaling as one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at God’s word alone.
You supervise children at the park as one who has been born again to a living hope.
You drink water with your hiking club as one whose heart overflows with rivers of living water.
You lay on a bed in the hospital as the recipient of a spiritual heart transplant—your stony, dead heart for a living heart of flesh.
Your family members watch you live out a thousand deaths to self (and eventually death itself) as a new creation in Christ.
If our chief concerns are about avoiding awkwardness, it would be more awkward not to talk about eternal things. You and I never know those who have been, who are, and who will soon be wrestling with these weighty spiritual issues, waiting for someone to bring them God’s word. Believe that God is both willing and able to give you what you need in order that you might joyfully spread the word about his Son in any and every cultural scenario—however seemingly awkward it may feel at first.
God governs the cosmos in such a way that your everyday life shines the light of the gospel in all the strategic places and relationships in which he places you. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), and Jesus is with you as you go and make disciples in his world (Matthew 28:18–20).
A coworker of mine has a practice of sharing what she read that morning in her Bible with the people she encounters as she goes about her day. This is intentional on her part, but I also think she can’t help herself—she simply overflows.
Another coworker pays for her lattes and chocolate croissants at the cafe she frequents, sits down at a table, and then, when the server brings out her order, explains that she is about to pray for her meal and asks, “What can I pray for you?”
“How was your weekend?” is a question that another friend asks at work every week. And when the person returns the question, they talk about the sermon they heard at church. Another friend asks people to listen to her Scripture memory recitation for the day to help double-check her memory (and spread the word!). Talking about the word that is our very lives (Deuteronomy 32:47) is, naturally, something the Spirit leads word-dependent, word-filled people to do.
The Most Effective Place to Start
Perhaps you are praying that God would open for you a door for the word, so that you can “declare the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3). And you unashamedly believe the gospel is indeed God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). But you’re still not sure where to start when God puts someone in your path.
My friend led a training session about how to share the Christian faith. In one especially valuable lesson, the group has some volunteers don a traditional outfit of someone from a different cultural background. They acknowledge how it might feel intimidating to talk with people who look different, eat different foods, speak different languages, and believe different things. But beyond all of the potential hurdles, there is one thing you could say to start a conversation (and friendship) with anyone from anywhere. Across the globe, this is the most effective thing you can say in order to start a conversation:
In whatever language you speak, your hello could initiate the first conversation among many that God uses to draw someone to himself. Maybe the first conversation becomes the conversation. “Hello” is a small word, but it says to someone, “I see you.” And that means something to everyone, no matter where they’re from in the world.
For hello to pass over your vocal cords, it requires only a mustard seed of faith in our great God. In addition to your faithful prayers that God would open a door for his word, the gospel, also ask him to give you everything you need to greet people in his name and be a blessing to whomever he puts in your path.
Gloria Furman is the author of several books, including Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything and Missional Motherhood. She is also editor and contributor for Joyfully Spreading the Word.