Breaking the Ice to a Spiritual Conversation
When your non-Christian friends do not bring up a spiritual subject, make a statement about God, or ask a question about religion or Christianity. You may need to break the ice to a spiritual conversation yourself. These are nine suggested ways to break the ice:
1. Ask a question about your friend’s religious background.
This is a simple exploration of the history of your friend’s religious experiences that will provide you with information about where he is on his spiritual journey and how he came to be there. It may also reveal if he has excess baggage and/or false beliefs that you may need to deal with.
“Jane, may I ask you a question?” After her response, ask, “Do you have a religion?”
“Andrew, you may think this is a strange question, but do you ever think about God?” After his response, ask, “What is your religious background?”
If he or she has no religious background, ask, “Then, Jane, who do you think God is?”
2. Ask a few exploratory questions about his belief.
“Betty, I have a question for you. Do you think there is a God who created the universe?” – “What do you think about God?”
“Robert, you are a Mormon/ Buddhist / Roman Catholic, aren’t you?” – “Would you tell me something about your church / religion?”
Or, “Would you tell me what your view of God / the Bible is?”
Or, take the personal approach: “How long have you been a Mormon (or other)?” – “What led you to become a Mormon?”
Use your reflective listening skills to draw him or her out and show your interest (refer to point 7 on “Reflective listening, or speaking for the other person”).
3. Begin with an apologetics question
“Alan, you are Mormon/ Buddhist / Roman Catholic aren’t you?” – “Well, I am interested in why people believe what they do. So, tell me this. How do you know for sure that what you believe is true?”
You can also ask your friend to describe his beliefs in these ways:
“Would you describe for me what you basically believe?”
“How does this help you in life?”
“What do you hope to gain from your belief?”
4. If you see a religious symbol.
If you see any religious symbol in a person’s home, car, place of business, or worn as jewelry, use the following questions to ask about it:
“I see a cross on your wall / I see you are wearing a cross. It looks nice. Is that just a decoration / piece of jewelry, or do you have a Christian background?”
“Is that a religious symbol you are wearing?” – “Can you tell me what it means?”
“I see a picture of a religious person on your bookshelf. Are you a member of Self-Realization Fellowship?”
5. When your friend expresses any sense of awe at the beauty of nature.
For example, if you observe a non-believer expressing awe and reverence at God’s creation, or new parents expressing such feelings as they look lovingly at their newborn baby, ask:
“That sunset is awesome. Have you ever thought about God being a beautiful artist who makes living art and not just still pictures on the wall?”
“You must be having a great time with your new baby. Have you ever thought about God being the Giver of wonderful gifts like this?”
6. After a tragedy that impacted the other person.
In this situation, use the person’s heightened sensitivity to death and eternity to lead him, first to express his feelings about the tragedy, and then to understand his need to know about eternity by saying, “Anna, where do you think people go when they die? Would you want to know for sure where you would end up?”
7. Reflective listening, or speaking for the other person.
There are some situations where a conversation about spiritualality is not easy to start. People who are not open to spiritual conversations often have something hidden behind the closed doors of their hearts. They either do not know how to say it or are afraid. This method helps to open a closed door to a person’s heart.
Reflective listening is showing your sincere interest and understanding by making your own statements that reflect back the thoughts, feelings and situation of the other person in a way that he could have said for himself, but didn’t. Reflective listening is non-judgmental and gives no advice. By paraphrasing, you show that you have been listening and therefore demonstrate empathy. People love to know that you understand or are trying to understand. It would help to draw out the deeper thoughts and feelings of the other person. For example:
Jenny: I came home last night and saw my lazy husband sitting in front of the TV while the dirty dishes were left in the sink. I had to wash them before I could fix dinner.
You: It certainly is tiring to have to do all the work around the house.
Jenny: Yeah, especially when I work just as many hours as he does.
You: I’ll bet you wish he would help with the work and make it a little easier for you around the house.
Jenny: I sure do.
Other examples of reflective listening concerning someone’s belief:
“Then you believe that you can know God through your feelings / experiences / understanding / meditation?”
“Then you believe that the Koran / the Book of Mormon is also from God?”
“Then you think you can get along fine in life by yourself without considering God?”
“Then you see Christianity as just a crutch, and you don’t want to have anything to do with it?”
“Then you are saying that, even if there is a living God who has the power of life and death over you, you don’t want to have a thing to do with Him?”
In order for your reflective listening to be effective, it is good to ask some exploratory questions to find out about the person’s belief first, before you can accurately reflect back his thoughts, feelings, and situation about his faith (refer to point 2 on “Ask a few exploratory questions about his belief”).
Sometimes it is helpful to reflect back what you observe, not just what you hear.
Examples are as follows:
“Wow, look at that stack of papers on your desk! You must be snowed with work.”
“It looks to me as if something heavy is weighing down that heart of yours.”
“You miss your mom, don’t you?”
These statements show your attention, interest, insight, and caring. Just simply
stating the facts of what you see about another person will show that you are aware of what is happening to him or her. Showing that you understand and are interested will help open the other person to share deeper thoughts and concerns with you and to be more open to what you have to say.
Suppose you know a teenager who used to attend church but who has mostly dropped out and is having some struggles or failures in life. After some preliminary conversation, you may say, “Jonathan, I have noticed something that may indicate that you are carrying a burden alone. When I look at you, I see someone who used to attend church regularly, but who now doesn’t find it important to him. [Pause] You are looking for something in life and you don’t see it in the church. [Pause] You don’t find any meaning in the worship service or in what the pastor says. [Pause] You don’t find any friends there that you would like to spend time with.”
He may respond at some point that this is not the problem, but he may also fail to give any additional information. You can then continue in your attempt to speak for the other person: “Maybe it is that you are facing some problems in life and don’t see any help from the church, the Bible, or God.” You indicate by your expression your sincere interest in him and your puzzlement as to what is causing his behavior.
At some point, he may give you a glimpse into the problem hidden in his heart. When he does, continue your statements in the same manner and tone of voice. You want him to understand that you can state his problem from his viewpoint with understanding and empathy and without any judgment, criticism, or advice whatsoever. This may go a long way towards solving his problem and opening his heart spiritually. You must not rush through this conversation, but rather, be patient in understanding his frustration and discomfort over his situation. If it is something that is deep within him, it probably would not be appropriate for you to try to give him your answers to his problem at this time.
Some people may slam the door harder by saying something like, “Don’t bother me about this. I don’t want to talk about it. Just leave me alone.” If he does this, you can respond empathetically that you don’t want to interfere with his life, but that you are concerned for his well-being. It is probably appropriate to leave the subject at that point, leaving the door open for him to approach you at a later time.
8. Use a truth statement.
A truth statement is a brief statement that links a person’s basic need to an action based on God’s truth. It provides a bridge, or emotional link, from where your friend is to where God is. These statements are made with a sense of urgency as one concerned friend for another. They provide a knock on the door of his heart that hopefully will lead him to open the door for further consideration and eventual acceptance of God’s truth.
You can learn to make your own truth statements from Scripture. Find a verse that relates to two conditions: one that you do and another that will be a result of what you do. Put the second behind the “going to” and the first behind the “need to”. For example:
For a fearful person: “If you’re going to get rid of your fears, then you need to get to know the God of peace who can help you and give you strength.” (Isa 41:10)
For a person grieving: “I know that you are grieving now and have a lot of pain. But our creator God is the God of peace. If you’re going to receive peace in your heart, you need to know the God of peace. He will help you through this. Do you know God?” – “Would you like to receive His comfort?” (2 Cor 1:3-5)
A feeling or need revealed by your friend can become a springboard to a truth statement. Present only one truth statement at a time, and then allow adequate time for him to think about and discuss fully the truth that this statement conveys to ensure that he understands it. If he has a negative reaction, don’t back off or soft pedal your statement. Your very conviction and genuine care and concern for him may eventually cause this statement to embed itself into his heart.
9. Use single sentence testimonies.
Give your testimony by allowing your natural reaction to come out about a circumstance that demonstrates your faith in God and Jesus Christ. For example:
During a conversation about a difficult situation in your life, you could say, “If it weren’t for my faith in Jesus Christ, I don’t think I could have gotten through this.”
If someone asks the reason for your cheerfulness or caring attitude, you could say, “Well, this may sound strange to you, but I have the love of Jesus Christ working within me; and He gives me meaning and purpose in my life.”
When you are speaking with a person who has expressed some personal problem or concern, offer to pray for him by saying, “I would like to pray for you [name the particular situation and party involved]. What specifically would you like me to pray for?”
If a close loved one has recently died, you could say, “You know, if it weren’t for my faith in Jesus Christ and my close relationship with Him, I would have had a far more difficult time getting through this. I had a very close relationship with [name the one who died]. But my strength at this time is the result of an even closer relationship with Jesus Christ who gives me meaning and purpose in life, and a desire to keep going and make new friends. Oh, at times it has been hard, but my relationship with Jesus Christ has made a big difference.”
A word of caution concerning personal testimonies – It can be risky to proclaim what God has done for you tangibly, especially to those who have little or no faith. They might think, “God healed his son. Why hasn’t God healed my daughter? Does God hate me? Are they better than we are?” Or “God brought him a car when he needed it. I just need a new lawn mower, and I can’t afford it now. If God can give him a car, why can’t God give me just a lawn mower? I guess God doesn’t care about me.” Hence, instead of testifying of tangible blessings, testify of your feelings and how God helped you through your difficult times.
Adapted from: Don Ashcraft, Tongue-tied No More: A Complete Guide to Conversational Evangelism (Fullerton, CA: Evangelism House Publisher, 2003), 15-18,38-47, 49-52, 54-56.