Originally published in the Midwestern Magazine, Issue 42
You want to engage your family, friends, and neighbors in gospel conversations, but you don’t know what to say or you feel awkward moving the conversation toward spiritual matters. Let me share two of my favorite questions that effortlessly lead any conversation toward the gospel. Don’t think of these questions as silver bullets; rather, they are tools for your toolbelt.
Before revealing the questions, let me explain why I love them. I love these questions because they remove two of the most common barriers to starting gospel conversations.
The first barrier is not knowing how to start. Many people appreciate learning these simple questions because they spell out what to say without being impersonal or mechanical. There is nothing wrong with having a stock question in your pocket that you can pull out any time you need it. Learning a stock question allows you to focus on the other person without worrying about what you will say right off the bat.
The second barrier is feeling weird, awkward, or uncomfortable. The world, the flesh, and the devil want to discourage you from speaking up by making you believe you will be a pariah. The great thing about these questions is that they are natural, casual, and disarming. You can ask them in all kinds of settings with people from all kinds of backgrounds. They are not offensive or jarring. In fact, most people are happy that you have taken an interest in them.
The first question is: “Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?” Along the same lines, you can ask, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?”
Asking about a person’s spirituality moves the conversation a little beyond, “How’s the weather?” but it does not go so deep so fast that people put their guards up. In fact, most people are starved for meaningful conversation and they like talking about themselves. This is a “softball” question that gets them talking. Their answers provide a lot of insight into their beliefs and worldview. This insight comes in handy when tailoring your gospel conversation to them. Most people consider themselves spiritual in some sense, but even if they don’t have any spiritual beliefs, they will not mind the question. Regardless of what answer they give, you can probably find a tangent that connects to the gospel.
The second question is: “What do you think is the biggest problem in the world?”
Nearly everyone knows there is something wrong with the world. Even those few outliers who believe suffering is an illusion will complain about something sooner or later. Clearly the world is not the way it should be, so your conversation partner will have some opinion about the worst problem we face. Unlike the first question, this one is not an obvious turn toward spiritual things—but that is part of its beauty. You get a chance to learn a lot about the person’s values and priorities, which will help you craft a gospel message just for them.
I have asked this question all over the world, and the different responses always fascinate me. Some people say terrorism, others say corruption, and others say the economy. I have heard people say over-population, pollution, and climate change. You can agree that almost anything a person says is at least slightly problematic, so you do not have to directly contradict them. Sometimes, I will press them to see if they really believe they have identified the biggest problem in the world. I try to get them to dig a little more. More often, I say something like, “Yes, I can see why you would say that is a big problem, but I do not think that is the biggest problem we face. Those problems are external, but our biggest problem is internal. Most problems are the fruit, but the root is sin that separates us from God.”
I heard a story—possibly fictitious—about a London newspaper that asked its readers, “What is the biggest problem in the world?” Supposedly, G. K. Chesterton replied simply, “I am.” Apocryphal or not, this story captures the essence of what we want our audience to realize: each person’s biggest problem is sin.
Most people tend to shield their eyes from their own faults, blame others, make excuses, and externalize sin. Asking “What is the biggest problem in the world?” gives you an opportunity to discuss the seriousness of sin, the holiness of God, and the impending wrath of God against sin. Russian novelist and philosopher, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
One of the first jobs of evangelism is to help people confront the horror of their own sinful hearts. Helping individuals face the sinfulness of their hearts and their powerlessness to change it, we position them to appreciate the grandeur of the gospel. Each person has rebelled against God, disrespected his honor, and offended his holiness. Each person needs the salvation Jesus alone provides. Only Jesus fully obeyed the law of God, honored his heavenly Father, and lived in submission to the Holy Spirit. Jesus alone was qualified to represent humanity before God, and he bore the full weight of God’s wrath when he died on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin, death, hell, Satan, and he fully satisfied God’s justice. Through faith in Jesus, we are united to him. United to the eternal Son of God, we receive the status and position of adopted children of God.
The gospel message is good, and faithful Christians long for those around them to hear it and believe, but moving from surface-level topics to the gospel often seems like a daunting task. I pray the two questions described in this article will better equip you to seamlessly and fearlessly start gospel conversations. While talking about the gospel may cause offense, asking strategic questions may give you more confidence to try, and well-worded questions may give your audience a more receptive ear.
Joe M. Allen III | Assistant Professor of Missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary