Seizing the Moment in Conversation
by Joe Holland
We kind of knew each other. We worked in the same coffee shop several times a week. I was a pastor, and he was the kind of coffee-shop customer who drank multiple espressos in front of a laptop while taking brief calls on a headset, conversations that led him to gesture wildly and use vocabulary that led me to believe that he was not a Christian. On this day, we happened to be in line next to one another, both waiting to get our next refill. I introduced myself, and he did the same. Then I started, in a very casual way, to mention something related to Christianity that I hoped would lead to an opportunity to share the gospel. As soon as he realized I was about to share the gospel with him, he yelled, “No,” left his place in line, and stomped out of the coffee shop. He didn’t yell like it was an emergency, and he didn’t yell like he was angry; he yelled like a magnetic force repulsed him.
That is the oddest conversation I’ve had with someone in the hopes of sharing the gospel. I never saw him again. And though you can’t control how someone may respond, you can do some things to improve the conversations you begin with gospel intent.
I’ll add that most of the improvements you can make in sharing the gospel with others in conversation fall under the theme of general revelation. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is at work in all our conversations. And certainly, it is important to have a working knowledge of the gospel. But as far as the conversation goes, most people need help with basic conversation skills, how God designed spoken language to work between two people made in His image—regardless of the content of the conversation.
listen, don’t link
In my work as a leadership coach, I have conversations in which I try to help leaders solve their challenges. You’d think that it would be difficult to get to the actual issue. It isn’t at all—if I’m listening. A critical insight into all human conversation is that in almost every conversation, the person you’re talking to will tell you precisely what is on his mind and what he is concerned about. Our problem is that we don’t listen. If you leave this article with only one insight, make it this: people’s concerns and worries aren’t buried; they are right there on the surface of what they are saying. When someone talks to you, pay attention to the topics that the person talks about and what anxieties or problems he mentions. Don’t assume that it is just small talk. Most of the time, even in what we think is casual conversation, we are all mentioning our deepest concerns and floating our biggest fears. So why don’t we all recognize this and engage deeply in conversation? It’s because we usually link rather than listen.