Max wanted to meet with me about his new blog. He needed help in fleshing out his concept and practical perspective on reaching his audience. Max is a student from the youth ministry that I had pastored for four years.
We met at a café and went to work on his blog. I pointed out some practical components he needed in his right sidebar and explained the importance of leveraging social media. We talked about networking with people along his niche. I encouraged him to buy Michael Hyatt’s book Platform.
Then the conversation took a subtle turn to discipleship. “Max, how are you going to introduce the gospel into your blog?”
This took him by surprise. I reminded him that as he builds a platform, he extends God’s platform. Every post about music is an opportunity to let the gospel shine. As Tim Keller points out, there are diverse ways to let the gospel shine in your work or writing. We don't have to tag every post with Jesus.
From here the conversation sprang into "burn out" on church. We discussed how to respond to someone who’s been “hurt” by the church. We talked about the book Embracing Obscurity and how he ought to read it in tandem with Platform. I shared about the impetus behind my blog and writing ministry. All through our discussion, I interlaced gospel threads.
These conversations happen with Christians and non-Christians alike. When this occurs, we must always remember that there is a dance between what we can do and what the Holy Spirit does in people’s hearts. We need to first rely on the Holy Spirit and look for his prompting to take a gospel turn in our conversations. In an instant, a person's heart and mind can unexpectedly open to hear the gospel story. But how do we prepare ourselves to take these gospel turns? What are natural segues into gospel conversations? What do we do if someone is reluctant to take the turn with us?
Preparing to Take the Gospel Turn in a Conversation
Be prepared to share. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul says, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.” This does not mean that we have to have mastered the Bible before we can be used by God to take a gospel turn. Rather it means to always be ready to teach in every situation. It helps to be able to share about what God has taught you personally. But don’t discourage yourself from taking the gospel turn because you aren’t a Bible scholar. God can use you where you are. It is advantageous to be well-studied in the Word as you engage in gospel conversations, but it is equally true that the gospel is simple truth that even a child can understand.
Spend time with people. A lot of us could easily eat lunch alone at our desk every day at work. Instead, invite others to join you for lunch. Look for ways to connect with others over table fellowship. Eating a meal together is one of the best settings to take the turn towards a gospel conversation because it is a common, relaxed environment that all people share. Maybe your friend at work is having trouble parenting a child. You can invite them to have lunch and you can share how you have experienced the same challenge. As trust builds, he might be open to hear how the gospel influences his situation.
Capitalize on your skills. Maybe you have a friend who needs help with something simple, like in my situation with Max. Max knew I had a skill and wanted to learn from that skill. When someone recognizes a talent or skill that you possess, use it to bring him or her to the gospel. Remember Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Share how you apply your skill or talent for God’s glory.
Have resources handy. I have resources ready at hand. I keep both the "Story" and "2WaysToLive" apps on my phone and iPad. I also love sharing with people about New City Catechism. I share about how we lead our children through New City Catechism and how it is perfect for adults, too. I often have a book with me. Sometimes I simply share a quote that I underlined or recently highlighted. It’s surprising how many times normal conversation connects to what I’ve been reading recently. Though many of these resources are a tad out of vogue these days, they can be a helpful teaching tool for the person and a useful guide for the discipler.
There are a number of ways to segue these moments into a gospel conversation. Here are a couple of tips.
Use questions. As you’re discussing with your friend, try asking, “Have you ever thought about how God would want you to…?” Or, “How are you going to introduce the gospel into…?” You could also try, “How do you think God expects us to…?” All of these are great segues to lead into a gospel conversation. Using questions invites people to share, which is far better than you just teaching at someone. People who haven’t invited your gospel input may be hesitant to take the turn into a gospel conversation. This leads to the second segue.
Ask for permission. When I was growing up, one of the ways I got into the most trouble was not asking permission. My mom would nail me because I didn’t get her permission to do something first. However, when I asked my mom permission, she almost always said, “Yes.” This principle applies to friendships as well. When we ask for permission, people are usually accommodating. So ask permission to apply the gospel to your friend’s life. They might be willing to permit you to transition your conversation to gospel matters.
Of course, people might be reluctant to talk about gospel matters. Even Christians will be this way. They may say something like, “Look at you, over-gospelizing everything.” Or maybe they’ll make a light-hearted joke or be skeptical. Initially, Max raised objections about how his blog was meant for the “mainstream.” Of course, the non-Christian will often be hesitant to talk about gospel matters. In both cases, how do we respond when people object or are reluctant?
Walk the tight-rope between persistence and pressure. You don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or pressured. You want to be respectful. However, there is a difference between pressuring and persistence. Maybe you need to let it go and then return to the concept later. Perhaps you haven’t asked permission. Perhaps the person found your conversation to be too pushy.
When a pilot knows he is not coming in for a sound landing, what does he do? If possible, he circles around and tries a new approach. He waits for calm weather or better winds. Persistence is when you circle around and try a new approach or waiting for a fitting time to return to discussing gospel matters. However, persistence can often be seen as pressure, so be mindful of their response. This leads to the other tip.
Read their feelings. Some people may feel threatened by you bringing up gospel matters. Others will feel insecure. Still others will be fearful. Max wasn’t unwilling to discuss the gospel. His hesitancy rested in his fear. He needed someone to infuse him with courage. I did so by showing him how Relevant Magazine navigates the mainstream and yet introduces the gospel into their interviews and posts all the time. This gave him courage to follow suit. I persisted with Max because I knew his gospel perspective. I had clocked in plenty of time with him to know what drove his objections.
There are going to be those situations where a friend adamantly refuses to discuss gospel matters. When someone feels provoked or enraged by you introducing gospel matters, it means that there is some hardening of heart. Trust that God knows what he is doing with this person. Look for ways to be persistent but not pressuring. And if the person outright rejects speaking with you about the gospel, pray often for him. If it is God’s will, he will soften that person’s heart. He may even use you. Extending mercy, grace, and acceptance could bring about a beautiful, gospel-rich conversation.
Give Them Jesus
Taking a gospel turn in a conversation is a delicate process where we lean in to hear the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” This means to not abide in our flesh. We will want to force or coerce a gospel conversation. Remember, they are only gospel conversations because the Holy Spirit led them to occur. When they do occur, gospel conversations are a powerful experience. Encounters with the gospel are like running into a dear friend at a café. The unplanned fellowship is sweet and often surprising.
Still, taking the gospel turn in a conversation is not only a Spirit-led endeavor, but a way of life.. We need to practice and be intentional about taking the gospel turn in a conversation. I admit that Max and my “unplanned" fellowship came unexpected only to Max. As I have feasted on the gospel by preaching it to myself daily, I’ve practiced the discipline of introducing the gospel into everyday conversation. Why?
Milton Vincent writes:
By preaching the gospel to myself each day, I nurture the bond that unites me with my brothers and sisters for whom Christ died, and I also keep myself well-versed in the raw materials with which I may actively love them in Christ.
Being well-versed in the raw materials of the gospel will make conversations more natural and compelling. We will be more prone to share a Christ we love, than a doctrine we defend. We love others best when we love them with the gospel. When we introduce the cross and the resurrection into conversation, we practice a worthy discipline of centering fellowship and discipleship upon the gospel. We give that person what they need the most: Jesus.
I walked away from meeting with Max seeing a young man refreshed by the gospel and growing in knowledge and wonder of how the gospel applies in every facet of life. This is what we should all hope to accomplish by taking the gospel turn in conversations.
Joey Cochran served as the high school pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for four years before transitioning to serve as Resource Pastor at Cross Community Chicago. Joey is a graduate of Dallas Seminary and blogs regularly at JTCochran.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joeycochran.