An awkward hush falls, as you simply run out of things to say. Job might have put it best: “The thing I greatly feared has come upon me.”
Unless you’re a high functioning introvert, conversations probably aren’t a hobby of yours. Beyond asking someone’s name, and where they’re from, and where they work, it’s all silence.
As an aspiring, introverted gospel preacher, you may need to fertilize the conversation so you won’t have to carry all of it by yourself.
What’s Your Story?
For one thing, you can ask for someone’s story, or at least a slice of life question like, “What led up to your moving here?” or “Why did you get involved in biomolecular engineering?” More specifically, you could ask about their encounters with religion. “Tell me about your experience with church” might get a robust dialogue going, even if the person is an atheist.
I want to warn you in advance, though—“let the buyer beware”—that if you solicit someone’s story, be prepared to listen. Although a lot of people like to talk about themselves, they aren’t necessarily good editors.
I visited one fellow weekly for a while, and had to make sure I drank two cups of coffee before sitting down with him. He wanted to vent about work related issues—things like who did or didn’t deserve a promotion, and what the company could do better. It wasn’t compelling content for me, especially in the late afternoon. Eventually the man came to Christ and grew into a dedicated believer, but that took a long time and a lot of caffeine.
Your conversations will definitely get a dose of adrenaline when you ask people about themselves. Even bashful folk have a sweet spot where they not only like to talk, but get downright passionate. As much as possible, go there with them. Be an authentic participant in the conversation.
What’s Your Opinion?
You might also ask some big questions related to worldview. These are opinion-based, so you’ll get an even bigger bang for your buck than when you ask for personal anecdotes. For instance, questions of origin—“Where do you think everything came from?” That sort of query is bound to get you into the ballpark of evolution. If you aren’t up to having a scientific discussion though, you’ll probably want to read a couple of good apologetic books before you wade into those waters.
Just don’t fall into the trap of trying to win an argument. Remember, these conversations are supposed to provide an open door for the gospel, not bolster your ego as a debate champion. You can be gracious, allowing some points to pass in silence, and conceding your ignorance in others.
Ultimately, you can afford to relax, since you trust the Holy Spirit to do His work. If the other person becomes uncharitable, don’t respond in kind—“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32). A self-controlled believer is powerful, indeed.
Here’s another potent fertilizing question: “What do you think is wrong with the world?” If you ask this one, you’re liable to hear a lot about sexism, racism, fascism, terrorism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, plus some swipes at the current presidential administration (or the previous one), etc.
Buckle your seat belt. In the midst of fertilized conversations like these, people will often end up being honest and saying things that offend you deeply.
Such moments are a test. For that is precisely when you will decide what you will be. Will you be a Republican or a Democrat? Will you be conservative or liberal? Will you be white, or black, or tan, or yellow, or red? Will you be male or female? If your self-identification lies in any of these and the popular issues of the day related to them, more than likely you will not be able to share the gospel.
We have allowed our culture to prime us, even coach us in the fine art of offense. As a result, our hearts may well be too full of bias and potential anger to share the good news, especially if the person we’re talking to has just said something objectionable to our sensitivities.
In contrast, you can decide to be a preacher of the gospel of Christ. That means you skirt the tar pits of controversy rather than blundering into them, and take the opportunity to point someone to Jesus. Remember, when you first asked the question it was supposed to provide you an on-ramp into the gospel, not a back alley brawl. No hot button issues have led or ever will lead anyone to eternal life. Only the good news of salvation in Christ can do that.
In fertilizing a conversation, you can also ask other questions that have clear gospel intersections, like, “What can be done about the problems of today?” or “Where do you think the future is heading?”
Obviously, preparing yourself a little in advance will pay great dividends. Take a look at my previous post (Pursue the Conversation), about having an “eyedropper,” a short, impactful, gospel-rich sentence or two ready to use.
For instance, returning to the question of “What do you think is wrong with the world?” I first put my social and political opinions on ice, and get ready to listen. After all, I asked for what I’m about to hear, good, bad, or ugly. At some point, the magic words come back in my direction, “What do you think?”
I might answer based on Genesis 3, and say, “I think something went terribly wrong at the very beginning of mankind, and now we are messed up in every conceivable way, which is why I believe each of us needs a Savior.”
Regardless of how you ask or answer, settle in your own mind beforehand that I am a gospel preacher just like the kind in the Bible; I point people to Jesus and eternal life.
A Useless Post?
A post like this, being so short of cultural commentary, hard Bible study, and even entertainment value, is useless unless you do something with it. We could banter back and forth about the finer points of evangelism, and you might have a better concept of it or a more correct way of expressing it than I do. My response will always be, “Great, how’s that working for you?”—a little reminder that when the dust settles, we all must honestly ask ourselves, When was the last time I actually witnessed to anyone? Have I ever?
This self-inquiry is not for the sake of condemnation. In fact, it ought to promote the most necessary dialogue of all—the one between ourselves and Jesus. The one where we tell Him, “Lord, give grace to this gospel preacher, this introvert, this non-gifted evangelist, so I can participate in your great work of blessing souls.”
Don’t be afraid to pray a prayer like that.
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”
(1 Pet. 5:5).