"So, how do I get started talking to someone about Jesus Christ?"

Springboards to spiritual conversation

"'Do you understand what you are reading?' Philip asked." -- Acts 8:30

Lyle Pointer has published a series of "spiritual conversation starters" in a little brochure. 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:

Talking to people about God and forgiveness and salvation

If lost people matter to you the way they matter to God, what would your life look like?

How do we shift friendly conversations from sports and the weather to talking about spiritual matters? How do we springboard into conversations about inviting Jesus into one's life?

"We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" -- Acts 4:20 — Peter and John to the Sanhedrin court)

What do you fear the most about inviting those in your life space to "come and see Jesus" at your church fellowship?

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:

  1. Someone you just met
  2. A long-time acquaintance
  3. A good friend
  4. A family member or a "best" friend

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!

People sharing faith: Spiritual conversation openers

General issues

  1. What gives most meaning to your life?
  2. What, or who, are your sources of strength in your day-to-day living?
  3. When you have problems or crises, how do you manage to get through them?
  4. Is religion or God important to you?

Relationship questions

  1. Does God (or a Higher Power) seem personal to you?
  2. Do you feel close to or far away from God?
  3. What do you imagine that God is like?
  4. Can you point to things that God has done for you?
  5. How is God working in your life right now?
  6. Are you comfortable with what you understand to be God's guidelines and laws for living?
  7. Do you feel there are barriers of some type separating you from God?
  8. Have you ever been mad or upset with God?
  9. Have you ever done something for which you feel God could not forgive you?
  10. Do you understand the way to forgiveness and what it means?
  11. Do you think God has a plan for each person's life?
  12. What would it take for you to live up to what God expects of you?

Devotional life and practice

  1. What kinds of religious material do you like to read?
  2. What are your favorite authors, writings?
  3. Do you like religious music? Kinds? Favorites?
  4. Have you read much of the Bible?
  5. Do you understand the Bible when you read it?
  6. Does Bible reading help in living? How?
  7. Is prayer a meaningful part of your devotional life?
  8. Do you feel there is spiritual growth going on right now in your life?

The Church

  1. Are you involved in a church?
  2. What do you get out of being involved in a church?
  3. Which teachings of your church resonate the most with you?
  4. Do you personally know anyone who is the pastor of a church?
  5. Are you a member of an accountability or nurturing group in your church?

Religion and illness, dying and death

  1. Has being ill made any difference in your thinking or feeling about God or your religious faith?
  2. How has being ill affected your devotional life?
  3. When you are ill, do you ever feel that God may be punishing you or that it is His will for you to be sick?
  4. How do you feel about suffering?
  5. Do you trust God with your future?

For additional 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.

Wouldn't you like to have faith in something?

"Help me overcome my unbelief!" -- Mark 9:24

Leading a friend to faith in Christ

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:

  1. Admit to yourself that it is at least possible there is a God.
  2. Isn't daily life often an unsatisfactory affair?
  3. Ask yourself: "What would a meaningful life look like?"
  4. Commit yourself to becoming a new person.
  5. Evaluate whether the Church has something to offer [ more ].

This is usually not a journey that is completed in one conversation. It is more of a process than an event.

vicious circle

"Without God" graphic from a Church Ad Project poster.

Additional witnessing / soul-winning resources

"The Sinner's Prayer" -- Some questions

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":

  1. Can it come across as a magical formula for being reconciled to God? Simply reciting a prayer composed by someone else does not save anyone. Isn't it belief, repentance and acceptance of God's grace that saves people? Still, the implication sometimes given to people is that all they need to do to be saved is recite the brief prayer. We never give the impression that the recitation of a pre-formulated prayer has saving power in itself. That scenario of "formula salvation" actually is reminiscent of Roman Catholic missionaries in the 1200s who went from Europe to Asia and baptized huge numbers of people simply because those people learned to recite in Latin the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer. We have to be careful not to promote that kind of "formula salvation." Sadly, in both the 1200s in Asia and sometimes in today's use of The Sinner's Prayer, the invitation seems to be: "Repeat these words after me and you will be saved."
     
  2. Is there a possibility that coaching someone to say a few words composed by someone else may de-sensitize that person to the dreadfulness of sin, to the depth of depravity and to the price Jesus paid to redeem us? The prayer is brief. An emphasis on "just say these few words and you will be saved" may sometimes smack of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." Don't people need to "count the cost" of what it will mean to become a Jesus follower? The way The Sinner's Prayer is somtimes used may open the door to trivializing the awfulness of sin, cheapening the process of repentance, overlooking the enormous paradigm shift one undergoes in conversion, and giving no attention to the marvelous witness of the Spirit within one's self. A de-sensitization to all of that could easily lead to shallow conversions which end with people who said the prayer never progressing toward a deep relationship with the Lord.
     
  3. Does how The Sinner's Prayer is often presented give the impression that we're here to punch people's tickets to heaven? What may come across is that we are only interested in "getting people saved" rather than the more long-term objective of "making Christlike disciples"as the Church of the Nazarene mission statement puts it. A very narrow focus on just the moment of conversion can lead to what has been called the "baptistification" of Nazarene theology.

    To move toward making Christlike disciples, Nazarene JESUS film teams in some areas of the world will show that film three or four times before asking people to respond. Having multiple showings of the film before asking people to respond gives them time to think, reflect and even talk over the changes in worldview, lifestyle and lordship which Christian conversion would mean for them.
     
  4. Can the use of The Sinner's Prayer give people a false assurance of salvation? Who are we to tell people they are saved because we heard them recite a prayer line by line as we gave it to them? Isn't it possible that people have been declared saved before they have really "prayed through" (as we used to say). Only the Holy Spirit can give true assurance of salvation. People need to look to Him for that assurance.
     
  5. Can the way The Sinner's Prayer is used come off as a salesman's "close the deal" pitch? With a commendable goal of getting people to enter the Kingdom, have we adopted a crassly commercial way of "closing the deal" or "cementing the decision"? There is a danger that The Sinner's Prayer will become the conclusion to a well-rehearsed human sales pitch. Shouldn't our approach be that of boldly giving witness to the works of God and inviting people to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He draws people to Himself?

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.

How should leaders respond when moral issues are at stake?

What should leaders do when key people in a congregation have unresolved morality issues? [ more ]

     -- Howard Culbertson


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