I fly a lot. I recently got on an airplane and took my typical aisle seat. As much as I have traveled I have looked out enough airplane windows, and at my age I would rather have access to the bathroom! I looked up to see a guy about 6 feet 14 inches tall peering at the middle seat next to me. He looked at me, and I’m thinking he would love my aisle seat. But it was early, I was tired, and I was frankly not in a particularly generous mood. At that moment a young lady behind me saw what was happening and offered her aisle seat to him. I let her in to sit beside me in his former seat. A young lady I figured about the age of our children, I told her she got the “good passenger of the day award.” She laughed and said she didn’t travel much and didn’t mind.
I told her about my wife and my kids and asked her what she did. She said she worked retail, naming a popular store found at most malls. I told her I took our daughter Hannah to that store often in her high school days. As we talked I told her how I led a ministry to young adults just like her at our church. Wanting to turn the conversation to the gospel, I told her there is a question I often ask young people around her age (she was 25). I asked, “If you were not limited by money or geography, where would you go and what would you do?” This is a great question to ask people, particularly young adults with their whole life ahead of them, to learn a little about their passions.
She immediately said she would dance, and cheer. I told her I had never gotten that one before. I asked her then if she did any dancing and cheering (I have never met a 25 year old cheerleader, after all). She humbly, sheepishly said, “I am a cheerleader for the Washington Redskins.” We talked football and cheerleading, how she loves to make people smile and bring joy to others, and so on. Then I told her that the reason she had the ability and the drive to do this—and the reason I have the same passion about teaching––was because of how God created the world and made both she and I in His image. We talked about God’s design, about brokenness that caused things like the objectification of women, and how Christ came to rescue us from sin and ourselves. She talked about a religious background, but not a clear relationship with Christ.
I later sent her more materials to help her think about the Lord, but as we got off the plane I told her this: “One day when your dance troop is performing on television for the president of the United States, I will tell people I got to sit next to their coach on an airplane once.” She beamed, and said, “I hope something like that happens.” For her, I was able to talk about the gospel in a conversation about her dreams and passion. It was natural, not forced, and was a conversation moving from her passion to the gospel rather than a presentation of the gospel detached from her circumstances.
One of the simplest ways to introduce Jesus naturally in a conversation is when we let someone talk about one’s passion or one’s pain. Jesus’s work on the cross speaks directly to these matters.
We converse regularly––either in serious or in casual conversations––about our pain or our passion. Somebody had a flat tire, their kids were out of sorts, or perhaps something worse, like the news of cancer or an unexpected death. Or, they just got a promotion, their kids received an honor, or they got good news from the doctor. In such conversations we can easily talk about Christ.
When someone brings up pain, we can talk about our own pain and relate that to the brokenness that came from the fall. Then, we can talk about how Christ helped us through the pain. Or, if they talk about their passion, we can go back to creation, to God’s design, and the image of God. (Note: I talk about this in more detail in the book Get Out.)
My friend Jonathan Dodson uses a helpful conversational approach where he listens to a person in a conversation and helps them see the gospel in their story. His approach, adapted from the counseling world, is
- Listen to their story—really listen to what they say and how they say it.
- Empathize with their story—at this point don’t pass judgment, and as you can identify with them, noting your own struggles.
- Redemptively retell their story—go over their story from the perspective of how Christ can change their story into something beautiful for His glory.
I want to encourage you to pray, really pray for opportunities to converse with people.
Seek them out. Trust the Holy Spirit within you—He is our partner in gospel-bearing. Then, take a risk, step out in faith, and talk with (not at) them about Jesus.
It might not only change them; it may just change you.