The Cure for "Evangelaryngitis"
When it comes to "giving a reason for the hope that is within you" (1 Pet. 3:15), most of us develop "evangelaryngitis"—we get tongue-tied, forget important Bible verses and theological concepts, and/or fear rejection. The result? We shut up.
Part of the reason we contract lockjaw is because we have a stereotype of evangelistic conversations: Lock eyes with a stranger, pull out a tract, and move in for the kill.
But beyond the stereotype, the reality is that most of us don't take advantage of moments when we might connect with total strangers. On the plane, bus, or train we plug in our earphones and mind our own business, praying all the while, "God, don't let this stranger-neighbor start talking to me." But all of us have multiple opportunities to have natural, casual conversations with people with whom we already have a relationship: colleagues, classmates, neighbors, extended family members. I'm familiar with the excuses: "I know this person too well; too much relational water has passed under the bridge for me to say something now."
Yet, if we remember that we have good news to share, it shouldn't be that difficult. Most of us wouldn't have a hard time expressing the following joys:
- "I got an A!"
- "I'm going to be a grandparent!"
- "My company unit just received an achievement award!"
- "Did you see that sunset last night? It was spectacular!"
- "We just had our first family reunion–and survived!"
What joys about your walk as a Christ-follower can you share with those within your social sphere?
- "I'm two years sober!"
- "My congregation just assembled 250 healthcare workers' kits!"
- "We just built two houses in one week on a Habitat for Humanity blitz build."
- "I'm five years cancer free!"
- "Congress just passed the hunger bill for which we've been lobbying for nearly three years!"
- "We just baptized a family that's been apart of our ministry to single moms and their children."
When they respond, "Great!" or "That's interesting," you can follow up with further dialogue about the interplay of the gospel with service, addiction, justice, healing, dysfunction, or worship.
What kinds of questions facilitate conversation of a spiritual nature? First, questions must be appropriate to the person with whom you're conversing. I always felt uncomfortable with the Four Spiritual Laws, because for many decades the opening statement assumed you were having a scientific, rational, investigative study of an Enlightenment argument. "Just as there are physical laws in the universe, so there are spiritual laws"—and off you go, without taking a breath to allow for a comment or question, zipping your way through the laws (either by memory or showcasing that famous little yellow booklet). Keep in mind the person with whom you are talking. What are their interests, loves, activities, relationships, issues, and/or concerns? In other words, what's their agenda?
Second, questions must be open-ended, requiring more than a yes or no response. They should not be manipulative, leading, or sound like an interrogation. Third, ask questions that are thoughtful. Most of us spend too much time trapped in mindless chatter about the weather, television, or the latest nonsense that's presented as newsworthy. Real news—the challenges in our local school district, racial conflicts in our cities, the effects of climate change—can lead naturally into significant conversations. Find out what the person worries about, for example, and confess what you worry about—then share how you deal with those worries. Good questions take your conversation partner seriously.
Phil Olson is pastor of Church on the Mall, located in the Plymouth Meeting Mall in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.