"'Do you understand what you are reading?' Philip asked." -- Acts 8:30
In a little brochure, Lyle Pointer gave a series of "spiritual conversation starters." His suggested opening lines for what have been called soul-winning or witnessing conversations included:
Dr. Pointer gives some words of advice to those wanting to use his springboards to spiritual conversations:
If lost people matter to you the way they matter to God, what would your life look like?
"We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" -- Acts 4:20 — Peter and John to the Sanhedrin court)
Half of the unchurched Americans surveyed by the Gallup polling organization said they intend to return to active church participation some day. Of that group, one in five said they would start back to church if someone would just talk to them about spiritual matters.
So, how do you shift a conversation from talking about sports, the weather, children, and news headlines to talking about a relationship with God and a redemptive, transformative relationship with Him? How do we turn the corner and move toward talking about spiritual things?
Look through this list. See how easy it cam be to test if there is an open door for you to talk about spiritual matters with:
Some of the questions will initiate conversations that could be labeled pre-evangelism.
This list is not meant to be put on a piece of paper that you pull out of your pocket or purse as you start talking to someone. These questions are given to demonstrate the variety of ways that a door can be opened and the conversation shifted to talking with friends and family on a deeper level.
When you ask a question like one of those below, listen carefully to the person's response. Don't be more concerned about what you are going to say next than you are about what the person is saying to you!
For information on ministry to the terminally ill, see "Six don'ts for ministry to the dying."
The above questions are based on a list compiled by Harvey Elder for mental health counselors to use in personal history-taking.
"Help me overcome my unbelief!" -- Mark 9:24
Dr. Brint Montgomery, former professor of philosophy at Southern Nazarene University, starts conversations with those struggling in their spiritual journey by asking the question: "Wouldn't you like to have faith in something?"
He then tries to lead a conversation through five steps:
This is usually not a journey that is completed in one conversation. It is more of a process than an event.
"Without God" graphic from a Church Ad Project poster.
What had gone wrong? Dereck thought the pre-evangelistic interviews he had prepared for his evangelism course would have equipped him for a profitable religious discussion with Roger. But the conversation hadn't turned out like he had hoped. Something had gone wrong.
It had begun early one wintry morning several days before. Dereck Smith had headed down Camelot Drive toward the Village Inn. Snow was falling and sand trucks were moving up and down the streets. Dereck, however, was too busy thinking about his interview with Roger Larson to be concerned about whatever dangers the wintry weather might pose.
Dereck was a very intelligent student with a for evangelism. His fellow students at the Logos Metropolitan Seminary enjoyed hearing Dereck tell about his encounters with non-Christians. He was always reading and researching to build the best arguments for validating Christian faith. Most students on campus knew that a conversation with Dereck involved lots of listening and very little talking.
Dereck was very concerned about Roger Larson's spiritual life. Dereck had worked for United Parcel Service for two years where Roger was his supervisor. Dereck knew that Roger was thirty-three years old, married and the father of two children.
Roger was known around work for his deadly sarcasm. Roger's co-workers delighted in seeing him confuse new employees by his sarcastic remarks. Nevertheless, these same co-workers knew Roger was an honest person who loved his family and who cared for those around him.
Roger had agreed to meet Dereck for breakfast and to talk about religion and philosophy. That morning they drove into the parking lot at the same time. Together, they made their way through the slush under the dark gray sky into the heated, crowded restaurant. The waitress took them to a corner booth.
After ordering breakfast, Dereck pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. Quickly, he glanced up and down the page trying to find a question with which to start the conversation.
Finally he asked, "So, tell me, Roger, how do you think human beings came into existence?"
Before answering, Roger took a sip of coffee and a deep breath. Then he began, "I think something must have created us. We had to start somewhere."
Dereck was excited about Roger's response. He thought to himself, My first impression of Roger led me to think that he might be a naturalist, but though he's a skeptic, he's sounding more like a deist or even a theist.
To press Roger further about the logical implications of seeing human existence as a result of the work of a creator, Dereck asked: "Who do you think that 'something' could be?"
Then, before Roger could answer, Dereck proceeded to suggest that the something could well be God.
Dereck launched into an exposition of the arguments on the existence of God. He gave long and intricate elucidations on the cosmological, teleological, ontological, moral and existential arguments for God's existence.
Summing up, he said, "It is quite obvious to me, Roger, that the 'something' you refer to is God. Such a God must be intelligent, personal and transcendent." By this time Dereck's pancakes were cold, but he wore a triumphal smile.
Looking directly at Dereck, Roger said, "I really don't feel that God is involved or that He affects our daily lives. I'd even venture to say that God doesn't answer prayers."
"What? What do you mean: God doesn't answer prayer'?" countered Dereck.
"Well," Roger replied, "God may answer prayer in one sense. But, in another, I don't believe He does. Look, it doesn't make sense to ask God for help when we can help ourselves. God answers prayers only when it is a collective need in contrast to personal needs. Why should I pray for money, for instance, when I can work for it?"
Dereck decided to go back to the question of human origin to which Roger quickly responded: "I think we are the result of an evolutionary process."
"Why then do humans have a higher level of intelligence than animals?" asked Dereck.
Roger chuckled. With a grin, and exuding a bit of sarcasm, he said, "Well, we just evolved further!" He also added, "I don't think there is that much difference between humans and animals."
Dereck sensed a rising intensity to their discussion. He decided to break the tension by ordering a fresh stack of pancakes. He also decided to move to another subject. Glancing over his sheet of questions, he concluded that morality would be a good topic to discuss.
Roger said he believed that morals were learned through society and one's upbringing. He viewed morals as the result of an evolutionary process. "Moral values grow out of human experience. They evolve, depending on people's needs and interests. This is why morality differs from culture to culture. Values are formed as people seek a harmonious adjustment with each other and with their environment," he said.
Dereck tried his best to present the Bible as historically accurate and reliable. He laid out evidence to demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ, citing fulfilled prophecies and miracles, especially the resurrection from the dead. As they talked, Dereck sensed that while Roger was casually interested, he did not seem willing to change his life or to make a decision for Christ.
As they got ready to leave, Roger surprised Dereck by taking his hand, giving it a firm shake and saying, "Thank you."
Surprised, but newly emboldened, Dereck placed a hand on Roger's shoulder and said, "What would happen if you died today?"
"I don't know," replied Roger, adding, "and that worries me." Putting on his hat, he walked away in the direction of his car.
Though Dereck and Roger saw each other three times a week at work, for several days neither of them ventured to bring up their breakfast meeting.
Then one morning, as they finished unloading the cargo off an aircraft, Dereck approached his supervisor and asked: "Have you given any thought to our discussion?"
This time, Roger did not even resort to his usual sarcasm to avoid the issue. He just walked away.
At that point, Dereck decided to . . .
The original of this case study was written by Lemuel Schaffer and Hugo Venegas of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary. © Case Study Institute. This edited revision is used by permission at Southern Nazarene University.
Here are some questions to process by yourself or in a group this case study in which a seminary student tries to evangelize his supervisor at his part-time job.
General guidelines for discussing a case study
Have people been genuinely saved through an encounter in which they pray a four-sentence prayer that someone has prompted them with phrase by phrase? Yes, they have. Much good has come from outreach efforts in which that simple prayer is an element.
That being said, there are questions swirling around in my mind regarding the use of "The Sinner's Prayer":
Asking these questions does not mean we should shy away from pointing people toward Jesus. It does not mean we should not show them the way of salvation.
It might mean, however, that we should be careful to use The Sinner's Prayer in ways that ensure it is a prayer coming from deep in the heart of the person saying the words.
One version of the sinner's prayer|
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.
|What should leaders do when key people in a congregation have unresolved morality issues? [ more ]|
-- Howard Culbertson
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