Conversation leaning towards the spiritual

   Like it or not, we need to work on ourselves. It all starts with our ability to engage people outside the church in meaningful conversations. Generally speaking, we are not good conversationalists. We talk way too much. We listen very little. We formulate our response while others are speaking. We offer unsolicited opinions.  We make generalizations and jump to conclusions. We talk over people and talk for them. We cast quick judgments. We have short attention spans. We are generally not curious about others. We want to talk about ourselves.

   Like learning a musical instrument, building a bridge with those outside the church and getting good at spiritual conversations takes practice. Learning how to relate to people, especially those who are different from us, calls for a change in our perspective.  Whether we are going to talk to a stranger, friend or relative, we need to learn to steer our conversation towards spiritual matters.

   There is a simple formula for this.  We all need to learn it and then practice it.

   Actually, most of us already do this and are unaware that we have the requisite skills needed.

   There is kind of an unwritten law that if you reveal something about yourself to someone, you then have a right to ask for something in kind from the person you are talking to.

   Example:

   "I’ve lived here for 40 years and I think that the weather stinks! Have you lived here long?”

   It doesn't matter how long you have lived here or what you think about the weather, but notice, if you will, the two elements of the conversation...the volunteer of our personal belief about something and the question about the way they feel about it. Continue the same way...volunteering your opinion and asking theirs. Listen attentively to their answer. Do not interrupt.

   This level of conversation is easy. You will never run out of things to talk about. You can ask questions about a person’s birthplace, hometown, family, education, work, vacations, retirement, interests and hobbies, music, artistic abilities, politics, cooking, history, and sports of all kinds. One very good subject to talk about is weekends and free time. Ours has become an entertainment society.

   Once a subject has been mentioned, ask a question about it. Use the five W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why? If possible, attempt to establish some common interests with the person. Just remember, you don’t have to be an expert in a field to ask someone’s opinion about that subject. You just have to be a good listener. And if you don’t like what the person likes, show an interest in it anyway! You are not trying to change his or her priorities or hobbies. You are trying to bring that person to the Lord by setting up a study. Ask about his or her favorite sport, even if you don’t know that a basketball is round and larger than a baseball.

   One very important point is to find out the person’s first name and use it off and on in the conversation. A person’s first name is one of the most important words in his or her vocabulary. Be genuinely interested in that person.

   Throughout this level of conversation, watch the person’s body language: eyebrows going up and down, eyes looking away from you, smiling or frowning, nervous tapping of feet or fingers, harsh or smooth voice tone, high or low voice pitch. You want to discover if the person if comfortable with the direction of the conversation. If the person seems to be closing up, don’t feel guilty! Relax. Enjoy the practice and go find another acquaintance to talk to. If the person becomes vulgar in his vocabulary, ask yourself if this is his normal way of expressing himself or if he is trying to offend you. If this is how he normally talks, don’t take offense and don’t correct him. Keep listening and keep the conversation going. If he is trying to offend you (which is very rare at this level of conversation), start using “God talk” immediately, such as “The Bible says …”; “Jesus always …”; or “God wants us to …” and so on. This will usually cause him to leave.

   Most people are not as apprehensive about religious talk as we think they are. So don't be so up tight about it. Still, we should take a soft approach...an almost I don't really care what you believe...I'm OK, you're OK kind of attitude.

   Example:

   I like to watch football on Saturdays. What do you do on weekends?

   We eat out on Sundays after church. Where do you go to church?

   A lot of people work on Sundays. What do you think about it?

   or...Some people think the Bible condemns working on Sundays. What do you think?

   Maybe, on a rainy Saturday,...Man with all this rain, I'll probably have to mow my yard tomorrow. Then follow with...some people say we shouldn't work on Sundays. How do yo feel about it?

   I really enjoy Bible discussion, How about you?

   I was raised a Lutheran. What is your spiritual background?

   When Paul told Timothy “Be ready in season and out of season”, (2 Tim. 4:2) he meant to be ready to teach in every situation. This does not refer to a perfect recollection of all the Bible teaches. It means we need to have in mind ways to reach the lost in our daily lives at all times. That is the way WE need to be...in a state of readiness at all times. Think of ways to turn every situation into a series of these confession-question conversations. Remember, our Open Bible series is a tool that has been used for thousands of conversions and our use of it makes us experts in most Bible subjects. None of the people we will be talking to are as knowledgeable as we are on Bible matters.

   This is just one approach. How could we use an approach similar to Jesus; the way He engaged the Samaritan woman at the well?

   Capitalize on your skills. Maybe you have a friend or a neighbor who needs help with something simple that you know how to do. Help him out and use the situation to get better acquainted and set up a study.

   When someone recognizes a talent or skill that you possess, use it to bring him or her to the gospel.

   I think a good one would be computer skills. Some of you are adept at completing certain tasks well with a computer. On the other hand, there are people like me, who know just enough to be dangerous around a keyboard. So use your knowledge and skill to engage in superficial conversation, then try to pinpoint some area where you might be able to help a prospect complete a task, solve a problem or just give some helpful advice. The prospect will soften to any way he might thank you, which you can use to ask leaning questions.

   The good neighbor approach is very similar:

   You see someone with a flat tire alongside the road and you stop to help out.

   You see someone has slipped off the road on a snowy or icy day. You are not going to get much of a shot at building a relationship here, so you have to take a chance with very quick and pointed questions while you give aid or offer to drive them somewhere. Do you know what you could say? Think about it. Be creative and somewhat bold, but don't pass up an opportunity because you don't know the perfect thing to say.

   You are in the doctor's office. What better place can you have to start a conversation? Start by telling your medical story, how you weathered it and suggesting how prayer, faith and family helped you, following it up with …"Have you had anything like that happen to you?"  Listen for clues on potential religious aspects of their reply. Then; "Where do you go to church?"

Coincidental contacts

   You may intentionally seek specific contacts but coincidentally encounter a prospect, such as visiting one person and another, who happens to be present, seems to be the one most interested. Don't be caught off guard and fail to take advantage of an opportunity to set up a joint study or two different studies. Also don't be tempted to engage anyone on the spot. Remember, the goal is to make an introduction, briefly acquaint yourself, then begin a conversation you are confident will lead to a study.

   The objective is a study, not a discussion you are not prepared for.

   For example, you may be discussing with someone a recent news event concerning a horrific murder and someone interjects their opinion about capital punishment. You don't have to lean the conversation to spiritual matters. He has done it for you. Introduce yourself, and ask what he or she believes about capital punishment and why. Undoubtedly, a religious answer will be involved. Proceed with your belief and ask for his. Then ask if he study's his Bible much. Say you are not very good at memorizing scripture and so you don't really have the best answer, which would be God's answer to the matter. Tell him you really enjoy studying what God has to say about such things and tell him you would enjoy studying with him. Wait for his answer and ask for a study in his home.

   This is a frequent scenario. We are just not taking advantage of it. Often it is a spouse, a sibling, a child or even a neighbor that steps into our visit. We are not expecting it and we don't know what to do with it for that reason. So we begin backing out of it. We should be ready to expand our efforts at any time to include others.


Young Teachers  (Class format)

   Let me ask you a question. Is there anyone here who has a child who is not yet a Christian?

   Let me suggest that you begin your practice with the Open Bible Series on them...and if you have other children that can read, let them conduct the study with you as their assistant.

   Ask them if they would help you out honing your skills with the OBS material. Starting your children with the importance of teaching the gospel is really good stuff. Jesus said...“He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together” For a child to learn that bearing the fruit of the gospel is cause for rejoicing, is a grand thing.

   There are three reasons why young people are reluctant to share the gospel.

   Young people are reluctant to share the gospel with other young people because they believe it is not cool. That is...they believe doing so would ostracize them from a particular group or from friends. Part of that would include just plain old fear of rejection.

   Secondly, they believe they are not competent or confident to teach others of their own age group.

   Lastly, they have spiritual doubts themselves.

   Are any of these reasons very different from why adults are reluctant to speak to others about spiritual matters?

   So how are young people any different from us on such matters?

   I would suggest that part of the maturation process is a realization that most of what we fear as children is not based in reality. Those fears are often carried forth into adulthood, but, as adults, we develop a system of categorization which allows us to weigh concerns we may have had in our youth with a rationale that comes from experience. We conclude, as adults, that We have to move beyond the herd mentality and develop our own consciousness, It is that independence that results in marriage, family and responsibility. We understand that we are not judged or valued by what group we belong to or their values, but our own. The judgments we make or the values we hold are not based on group think, but on our own ability to discern what it means to be a person of dignity and honor. Explaining this to our children may get them to use their own reasoning ability, rather than relying on others who are often emotionally and hormone driven. Being cool is taking charge of your own life and pursuing worthwhile goals. If you are going to follow someone, make it someone who knows where he is going and how to get there. Christian parents are usually the best mentors.

   Both of the other two reasons are addressed by our Open Bible Study series.

   Both confidence and competence comes from completing the OBS a couple of times.

   Completing the OBS series also will also erase most spiritual doubts.

   A good approach for young people is kindness, consideration and genuine concern for the welfare of others, shown in some outward expression...like helping someone pick up their books that they dropped or helping a person stumbling or trying to gather themselves up from a fall, opening a door for someone, sitting with a noticeably lonely individual at lunchtime, leaving your buddies for a while to pay attention to others, etc....when you get a chance, ask them if they would like to hear some good news. Do that literally, (The gospel is the good news) then transition to one of your favorite Bible topics...like...”Do you know where Jonah was going when they threw him overboard and he was swallowed by a big fish?” Most responses will be “I thought it was a whale”, (Jonah 1:17) which will give you the opportunity to explain why it is important to be accurate with scripture. ...which should help you to suggest a very revealing and interesting Bible study that you could share with them.

   Young people, don't be afraid to set up a Bible study. A marine general once said that "Life begins when you step out of your comfort zone"  Most people are stuck in their comfort zone. If you need help stepping out of your comfort zone, take someone with you, even someone your own age, a sibling or any Christian. Remember, you probably know more about Bible topics than they do and even if you don't and the OBS study does not answer all their questions, you can tell them you don't know the answer to that question but you can find out. You have every reason to be happy and optimistic for just setting up a study, but you still need God on your side, so pray on your way and pray before you begin, in their presence.

   Of course, that is good practice for all of us. Pray privately before every study and pray openly at each study prior to beginning...after warming up with some get acquainted conversation.

Just making conversation


   One of the problems I have always had is not being particularly outgoing. self-centeredness is not conducive to meeting people, making new friends or finding Bible study prospects. Our conversation is usually related to self...how we spent our time, what movies we've watched, what we bought or want to buy, etc... God tells us “do nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself”. (Phil. 2:3) With our regarding others better than self, comes a different conversation.


“Hello, How was your day today?” or

“Good morning, what do you have planned for your day?”

“What do you think about today's news?”


   Some people fear showing their ignorance about important topics, so they prattle. Going on and on about things without any real substance is more revealing of ignorance than making a mistake or reaching an illogical conclusion concerning politics, religion or any other matter.


   We should avoid “I'm a know-it-all” conversation. This is one of those difficult ones to control. When you have information that you know would be beneficial to someone, you may be one who is always busting at the seams with a desire to impart your vast knowledge to someone else. Unfortunately, most people are not interested in what you know. They want to talk about themselves and that is exactly what we want them to do. Incorporate that into our conversation. We are interested in what THEY know or believe about life and godliness. We need to reserve our teaching the gospel to an actual Bible study.


   Speaking of an actual study, do your best to control the study. After the preliminary “get-to-know-you” time is over, transition to the OBS material by explaining how to use the series. That is that you are going to be looking up scriptures and asking questions about that content, then asking for a yes or no response, which is to be circled on their copy of the study. If the TV is on, ask them if they wouldn't mind turning off the TV. You can make up some excuse if you need to...like me...I say I'm a little hard of hearing. If kids are present and making noise, ask them to answer a question. Usually, they will either be told to leave the room or to answer the question, which will embarrass them and they will leave the room.

   Back to meeting people and conversing with them...We need to be a positive person. Positive people radiate positive energy and tend to draw others. Do we want to necessarily draw negative people to our positive selves? No, but the world is full of negative stuff and if we are positive and outgoing, we should desire to pass that on to others. We are wanting to teach the good news of the gospel, not the bad news that they are lost. Though we know that most people are lost, our goal is to lift them up and see a world that is full of hope and promise. If we are not able to set up a study, leave them with the impression that you have a great outlook on life by being cheerful and positive. As Christians, we have every reason to be happy and cheerful. Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus will give us eternal joy, peace, the society of the blessed, and all those exalted things which are prepared for us in the world of glory.

   Walking is a great activity to share with others and may bring new friends into our circle of acquaintances. Tennis, bike riding, jogging, any sport where you may engage others will often work to widen your range of contacts.

   If you can be genuine about it, compliments are pretty good ways to open conversations. I like your haircut or where did you find a bowl to fit your head?...no...just kidding. That is probably not a good opener. 

   We should also practice looking people straight in the eye with a smile and a comment. Too often someone says something to us and we mutter a response without making eye contact. Like we talked about before, it takes practice to kick old habits to the curb and start new, positive habits that will make us the kind of people others will want to associate with. If we are developing our people skills, we will be looking at body language, gestures and other hints of how well we are communicating. By the same token, those we speak to will also be sizing us up. That is why a happy, tail wagging dog countenance is so important in making a good impression. Who can resist petting a dog who is eager to make your acquaintance, meekly wagging his whole body seeking your recognition. When we gain our prospects attention, hold it by being interested in them and being a good listener. Always have in mind those admission-question conversation openers. Formulate plans to approach prospects you know and follow through with those plans. Take those first steps. Keep the objective in mind. It is to set up a Bible study.

   You will note that Jesus always took whatever first step he needed to engage an audience and the apostles learned from that example. They went to the synagogues, the riverside, the marketplace or wherever there were people they could talk to.

   We should ask ourselves “Do we really want to become good personal workers?” Recognize it doesn't happen simply because we want it. It often does not even happen when we take positive steps in the right direction. So what is the problem? Often, we sabotage our own efforts because of some unconscious and secret animosity that blocks success in this endeavor and actually in many different pursuits. It is a little like the young lady that agrees to marry a guy that she has only a little respect for. Why would she do that?...because she has low self-esteem and believes she is not worthy of anyone better, so she blocks any effort to get her to look around for someone better. We may unconsciously limit our own efforts to become good personal workers for many reasons, but one of them, I know is, we are jealous of our free time. We may even invest time and study into personal work, but stop short of what is needed to be successful at it, because we like our me time watching football or napping or whatever. Another example is the glass ceiling model that is most often recognized by sales professionals. The insurance salesman that sells $100,000 dollars in premiums one month decides that he should easily top a million this year by doing those same things that made $100,000 for that one month. So he goes to work and sells over 100,000 for 9 straight months, but then something happens and his production falls off and tapers down to almost nothing the the last 3 months. Why? Because of the glass ceiling that prevents him from breaking through into the million dollar club. He just can't see himself in that crowd. He has self esteem but not enough to motivate himself beyond the point that he has experienced in which he was comfortable. He rationalizes $900,000 is better than I have ever done. However, sticking to his original plan would have put him over the top. So we should ask ourselves, are we holding ourselves back from being the best personal worker we can be? Have we been unconsciously working towards failure, believing what we are doing presently would be acceptable to God, so we decide to do no more? Forget the extra mile. We are not even going the first mile. The church that is failing to grow can be compared to the church at Laodicea, Their attitude was

“I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked: (Rev. 3:17)

   We are in danger of becoming lukewarm members of a mere religious society, unwilling to do the hard things that would please God. When Jesus told His disciples to go and teach, (Mt. 28:19ff) I want to once again point out that was not a request or suggestion. It was a command and it was right at the top of the list to hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized and live faithfully.  

Walking in the steps of Jesus

Mk. 4:30-31

   In the parable of the mustard seed Jesus pictures the kingdom, which is the church,  (Eph. 1:20-23)  and how it grows from a very small seed. It develops from that tiny seed to a tree with branches strong enough to support nesting birds, where they are also shaded by it's leaves. It is not hard to see the analogy of Christians sowing the seeds and the church growing to the worldwide society of the blessed. The nesting would be the spiritual house of God and the shade would be analogous to the all spiritual blessings we have in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 1:3)

   In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus also in parable illustrates the sowing of a wheat field which became contaminated with tares. The tares were to be gathered up at harvest time and burned up. As in the parable of the sower, the good seed was sown but not all of it produced, but the good seed produced a crop, some a hundred fold, some sixty and some thirty. (Mt. 13:3-9) When Jesus explained the parable, he further commented about both the sower and the soil in which he planted. (vs. 23) He describes the good soil as producing disciples who hear, understand and bear fruit. The field, containing such soil, is filled with plants (disciples) that yield more than is planted.

   Jesus parables paint a picture for us that makes us see the church populated with members full of joy and excitement, eager to have it's full blessings and spread it to those who don't. He also contrasts it with those who work against the sons of the kingdom...those who sow discord and seek after their own gain. They are those who the angels will remove from the church and cast them in the place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mt. 13:41, 49-50)

   Jesus sent out the 12 to preach repentance (Mk. 6:7) and in Luke 10, He appointed 70 others as laborers in His harvest, seeking more laborers, because, as He put it, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. The 70 were happy with their results, mostly because of the authority given to them for casting out demons, but Jesus told them to rejoice not over such things, but that their names are recorded in heaven. (Luke 10:17-20) We can also rejoice that our names will be recorded in heaven if we are working in God's harvest.

   Jesus mission on earth was to save souls. He chose to do that through the church, which in a sense, is the base of operations for saving souls. It is not a mutual admiration society or a place of rest and relaxation. Like a farmer expects a yield commensurate with the seed and labor he invests in it, God expects that which he planned for us from eternity to yield what He intends. He gives us everything we need in the church pattern and the rest of His word to accomplish just that. As Isaiah said... “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.” (Is. 2:3) He had reference to the keys to the kingdom which Peter used in Acts the 2nd chapter by preaching the first gospel sermon. “And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) We are the purveyors of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus told his parents when He was only 12... “I must be about my Father's business” (Luke 2:49), so we must be about His business. It is not only for the saving of other men's souls, but our own, as well. (Mk. 16:15 & Mt 28:19)  

   Saving souls is not easy. Of course we are the seed sowers, not the soul savers, but that is the objective. Nobody said it was going to be easy. In fact, Jesus said He did not come to bring peace. He said...

   “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Mt. 10:34)

   In vs. 36, He adds... “a man's foes shall be they of his own household.”

   Jesus also told His apostles they would be hated because of Him. (Luke 21:17) So we won't always get hugs and kisses from those we talk to about the gospel. In fact, they may suspect you have some hidden motive or some objective other than an interest in their souls. That's all right. That is part of our job...gaining their confidence that we care about them and have no selfish interest in teaching them the truth. That is what we want to do and we need to assure them that what we present will be straight from God's word. They will read it themselves. Personally, I respect a little skepticism. We should encourage them to be sure what we present is not our own teaching, but we should be able to back up what we say with book, chapter and verse. (1 Peter 3:15)

   That scares some people, but remember we have the OBS material that systematically lays out the case that our reliance on God's word is a reasonable service and will answer why our hope is in the gospel message.


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