Let questions drive your spiritual conversations

Becky Pippert, author of 11 books, including the ground-breaking book on evangelism, Out of the Saltshaker, describes an exchange she had with a fellow passenger in a recent blog:

I recently had a lively conversation with a woman next to me on a flight. “Listen,” she said, “if I want to be a man on Monday and a woman on Wednesday—who cares? Gender identity is simply a matter of personal preference.”

She said she believes in the essential goodness of human nature, so I asked how she’d describe the state of the world: “The world is clearly falling apart. It’s a mess!” 

“But how is that possible if the world is filled with good people?” I asked.

She paused and then offered a uniquely American analysis: “I believe our problem stems from two sources. People either have addiction issues and need a recovery program, or they are psychologically wounded and need therapy. Don’t you agree?”

I replied, “Both of those solutions help people. But what if after recovery we discover our problem is deeper still? What if our ultimate addiction is to ourselves? What if, at the core, it’s a problem of the heart?” She then asked, “Yes, but who in the world has the power to heal the heart?”

I said, “Honestly, I can’t think of anyone or anything but God.”

So many questions
Who cares?
How would you describe the state of the world?
But how is that possible if the world is full of good people?
Don’t you agree?
But what if after recovery we discover our problem is deeper still?
What if our ultimate addiction is to ourselves?
What if, at the core, it’s a problem of the heart?
Yes, but who in the world has the power to heal the heart?

That one conversation shared by Becky included so many questions! Questions drove the conversation! And before she knew it, she was in a spiritual conversation with someone who believed differently than she did.

But does having spiritual conversations scare you?
Becky and her husband, Dick, recently returned to America after living and doing evangelism ministry for seven years across the U.K. and Europe—one of the toughest places in the world for the gospel. Yet the Pipperts saw fruit in this post-Christian context despite that just like us, most believers there:

  • Felt inadequate to share their faith. Their fears are largely the same as ours: What if I can’t answer their questions? What if I offend? How do I bring up faith naturally?
  • Have a faulty view of evangelism. They either memorize a technique to use on everyone (even though Jesus never spoke the same way to two people) or they are friendly but say little about faith, hoping unbelievers will just somehow catch on.
  • Forget God’s power and focus on their own inadequacies. Deep down, they tend to assume it’s their expertise that ultimately matters, rather than the presence and power of God.

So, what’s the answer?
There is a way to equip ordinary Christians for personal evangelism and, as author and speaker Peter Scazzero says, “Telling people to love more and better is not enough. They need practical skills incorporated into their spiritual formation” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, ©2006, p. 178).
Just like when you learned how to ride a bike or drive a car, getting good at personal evangelism—having spiritual conversations like Becky did on the plane, with people who believe differently—will take practice.

Asking questions is one of the skills anyone can practice
Recall Becky’s airplane conversation again—she often answered a question with another question.

“Asking appropriate questions invites interaction, showing that you want a relationship rather than an audience. It demonstrates that you value relationship enough to seek to understand more, to hear another opinion or perspective. Respectful, honoring questions provide people the freedom to choose whether to respond and how much to respond. They also give people the opportunity to wrestle with the truth about life, themselves, and God”  (The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations, ©2016, p. 105).

So how did Becky’s conversation end?
When it was time to retrieve their overhead luggage and say goodbye, Becky’s new friend turned and said, “Becky, I am embarrassed to say this, but if I emailed you, would you write me back?”

Becky responded that she would be delighted and took the opening to say, “I told you I’m a Christian, but I didn’t mention that I’ve written a book called Hope Has Its Reasons for people who are searching for God—or for something they can’t quite name. May I send it to you?”

In disbelief, the young woman responded “Are you psychic?! How did you know I am searching for God? Please send it right away!”

The two are now having an email conversation about faith.

Asking questions creates an avenue for personal evangelism; by asking questions, believers will discover that many who seem so far from the kingdom on the surface, are actually spiritually open.