How To Have A Good Conversation


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

I remember being on a flight once… the woman who sat next to me never said a single word to me. No hello, no goodbye, no conversation as we flew through the air in a metal tube at 550 miles per hour. That was fine. But what was disconcerting is that as she retrieved her suitcase from the overhead bin, she dropped an evangelistic tract into my lap, then walked down the runway and off the plane. I suppose I came across as a young man in desperate need of salvation? A humbling moment for sure.

At the same time, my heart ached for her. I appreciated her earnest desire to see others encounter the good news. But I couldn’t help but question her method. Why not say hello? Ask a few questions? Did I appear intimidating? Was there a language barrier? I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

This story came to mind as I read “10 Tips for Fascinating Table Talk at Your Next Dinner Party” in the New York Times this morning.

If we’re going to have good conversations about Jesus and the gospel, it is likely that we first need to learn how to have good conversations in general.

Here’s some tips from the article:

  • Appreciate small talk. “Small talk gives guests a chance to get to know one another, and to take one another’s measure, before the conversation turns to weightier matters.”
  • “Less Talk, More Listening”
  • “Embrace Complicated Topics”
  • “Keep Arguments Low-Key…It’s amazing how much more relaxed a political argument becomes when you understand that you don’t have to — and in fact won’t — “win.””
  • Ask “What?” and “Why?”: “To ensure that a guest’s story becomes truly interesting, just ask two questions over and over: what and why. What exactly happened? What did that feel like? Seek emotional specifics. And then: Why? Why is this anecdote important? This is where the guest’s most thoughtful connection to a story lies.”
  • “Don’t Assume. Asking questions can get a guest to reveal something fascinating about herself. But a quick way to prevent that is to give her possible answers. “Why did you quit law school — was it too boring?” Leave out the guess. A short question is more likely to provoke details.”

What do you think? Are these good tips?

Let’s help each other out: Please share your absolute best advice about having good conversations!

(SeanO) #2

Regarding relational evangelism, a fellow minister of Japanese descent told me a story that his mentor told him. He said there was a field of crickets all turned over on their backs. Some of them were just lying there and not moving. Others were struggling to get up. There were too many to turn them all over. So you should turn the ones over that are struggling to get up.

The idea was that we should teach God’s truth to people who are struggling to find Him. If people are just dead in the dark and have no desire, it is often fruitless to try to force them to discuss something when they are still running from God or enjoying the works of darkness.

That is something like what people mean when they talk about divine appointments. God brings us into the life of another person at the right time.

When I first heard the story about Nabeel and David, I felt that it was a definite case of God bringing the seeker and the follower together at the perfect time.

(Tim Ramey) #3

Carson, great topic!

What came to mind wasn’t so much content but the “how to” that RZIM is famous for. Again, this was used in a discussion recently but Colossians 4 says this:

Col 4:5 Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.
Col 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.

As I deal with the world, it amazes me how often those verses come to mind.

(Jolene Laughlin) #4

This is so true Sean. Great analogy and a really good point, in that we can do more harm than good by beating our head (or our Bibles, as the case may be) against a brick wall.

On the other hand, one of the things that really stood out to me as I went through the RZIM Academy Core Module was that nearly everyone will respond to sincere questions about what they believe and why. Even the ones who are not seeking. Sometimes, the first step is just to listen intently and seek to understand by asking questions. I really struggled with the “interview” assignments because I felt guilty for not trying to “correct them back to Christ.” I felt like I was doing something wrong by just listening and not “trying to witness” - but it was sure helpful to understand where those people were coming from and it opened the door to future conversations about deep things.

(SeanO) #5

@Jolene_Laughlin I definitely agree. People enjoy sharing their feelings and views about the world and will often allow us to share ours after we have taken the time to listen and they do not think our only goal is to convert them.

I think this is a great example of Proverbial wisdom - which is often two sided. Take for example, the following from Proverbs 26:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.

So, which should we do? Answer the fool according to his folly or not? It depends.

I think relationships and conversations are very complex and require wisdom that goes beyond platitudes / rules to navigate. They require proverbial wisdom.

Sometimes we only need to listen and not speak at all. Just love and wait for the Spirit to do His work as our lives bear witness. Other times we need to speak carefully and others we need to be very candid.

I think that you and my Japanese friend have both hit on the two sides of a Proverb and I am definitely hoping to get some more of this wisdom from RZIM during the training sessions I attend! I need it :slight_smile:

(Jimmy Sellers) #6


As I read this I couldn’t help but see a type of “spiritual triage”. I have been on both sides of this one. I remember early in my Christian life (age 30ish) telling a friend (an active evangelical Christian) I worked with that I had rededicated my life to Jesus (that is Baptist for I want to come home and I was beyond the hog trough) and his reply was “I thought that you to far gone” (cricket not moving) he had mark me off the list, to be fair he felt bad and did give Glory to God for my decision. On the other end of the spectrum I have found myself telling a friend that if he insisted on his position of unbelief that I was quit alright with his choice, even though it would seem to contradict the great commission and his understanding that I should lament his decision to spend eternity re-living a type of “groundhog day” re-living those opportunities in his life when he had the chance. In this case he was a “cricket not moving” to me. We are still friends and even though he is still a “cricket not moving” what bothers me is I don’t feel guilty.

(SeanO) #7

@Jimmy_Sellers Praise God you have passed form death to life!

In a sense we were all once crickets not moving :slight_smile:

Your post reminded me of Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem and of David lamenting over his son Abasalom even after he had died. Both of these groups of people were hopelessly astray, yet godly men wept over their downfall. God even says in Ezekiel 18/19 that he takes no joy in the death of the wicked.

I do not think that my friend was using the cricket analogy to try to communicate the idea that we write people off or stop loving them if they have no desire for God.

I think he simply meant that just as Jesus invested most heavily in the twelve disciples than the others, when we think about discipleship we should invest in those who have a desire to grow.

I think I had the wrong context for my friend’s comment. He was talking about discipleship. I think what we are discussing is evangelistic conversations.

(Jolene Laughlin) #8

Very much this. I guess this is why being in the Word and in prayer are so vital, because they both bring discernment that we don’t have in the flesh.

(Richelle Bryan) #9

I love this thread Carson!

I love talking to strangers, I just hate starting the conversation! However one prayer the Lord seems to answer in a rush is my prayer to create an opening as I sit there scared to say anything. It never fails.

In one case, a gentleman sat next to me at a coffee shop and placed a book on the table entitled “How to Read Tarot Cards”. I prayed for courage as he asked me if the coffee was good. I answered “not so good…speaking of books! lol Why are you reading that I’m just curious?” We spoke for an hour.

Pray for boldness and an opening, it never fails!