by Randy Newman, Senior Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism, C.S. Lewis Institute
My friend and Christianity Explored founder Rico Tice often says we need to “cross the pain line” when we evangelize. Rico is talking about that awkward moment where our conversation turns from light topics like the weather, sports or current events to weighty topics like eternity, Jesus or sin. In most situations, both for us and for our non-Christian conversation partners, this shift won’t feel comfortable.
It’s one thing to agree, in theory, that we need to move our conversations from mundane topics to eternal ones. But how? We need more than theory. We need the words. We wish someone would write a script for us so we can memorize our lines and never miss the evangelistic cues God presents us.
Of course, there can’t possibly be one script that works for every person in every situation. But in my experience, I suggest we start with two “crossing the pain line” dialogues. First, we need to consider the things we say to ourselves in our own heads. Second, we need prepare the things we will say out loud to others. From there, we can brainstorm a variety of actual sentences and situations that can change eternity. I’ll give some examples, but let’s not try to memorize these lines. I don’t think it works well that way.
Here’s how I talk to myself, before I speak aloud. I say these things as both a reminder to myself and a prayer to God:
“Well…this looks like a witnessing opportunity. I might not have wanted that right now. But apparently God does. Here we go. Lord, please give me wisdom about what to say.”
“Father, I value my comfort more than your glory. I’m sorry. Thank you for dying for that sin too. Now, please help me to move past my desire for ease and ask this person if they ever think about you.”
“Did that person just use the word ‘heaven?’ [God, Jesus, the Universe, religion, faith, life-after-death, etc. There’s a wide range of triggers, once you train your mind to look for them.] I’m going to cross the pain line and ask them what they meant by that.”
I’ve developed this awareness of my internal dialogue to the point that a lot of these thoughts occur in my mind rather quickly. It took you much longer to read those ideas than it takes for them to go through my mind. I’m confident you can move towards this kind of inner fluency if you just give it some practice.
Next, after this mental preparation and prayer, I say something aloud. I don’t try very hard to make sure it’s a natural progression from what was just said. It doesn’t need to be as smooth as I’d like. Conversations move around, seemingly randomly, a lot of the time. My opening line may be something like:
“You just said ‘heaven.’ Would you be up for talking about that?”
“Do you think a lot about spiritual things?”
“I wonder if you’d ever be up for discussing issues of faith?”
“You know, you and I have talked about a lot of different things. And I always find your insights helpful. I think a lot about spiritual things. Do you?”
“I know this might seem out of the blue but I’m curious to hear your thoughts about religion. Is that something you’d be willing to share?”
Hopefully, you can imagine yourself saying some of these things. But probably not all of them. Maybe none of them feel doable for you yet. After reading this, I encourage you to brainstorm a handful of ways you might transition conversations from the things you often talk about to the things you never talk about.
Here are a few principles to keep in mind during Gospel conversations:
- Don’t wait for brilliant, spur of the moment inspiration. Very few of us are brilliant on the spot. Don’t make those moments the first time you start searching for words. A bit of preparation can go a long way.
- Don’t overvalue smoothness. If you wait for the perfect set up, you might never say anything. A smooth transition might be nice. But it’s not necessary.
- Be willing to acknowledge that these kinds of conversations aren’t all that common or comfortable. If you feel a bit awkward, it’s okay to admit that to your conversation partner. More than once I’ve stammered, “I realize the topic of religion is kind of off limits for a lot of people. It can feel a bit strange. I’m not totally comfortable right now. But sometimes, the most important things are worth discussing even if it feels a bit odd. Don’t you agree?”
I hope these ideas have helped prime the pump for you as you seek to tell those around you the most wonderful news they can ever hear. Your choice to cross the pain line might be used by God to help them cross the faith line. That sounds worth it, doesn’t it?
Randy Newman is the Senior Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism at The C.S. Lewis Institute. He also works as an evangelism coach with Christianity Explored North America.