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The Two Minute Relationship: Testing the Waters, Diving In

1 Jun

Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken the time to examine a few of the vital social skills which influence our ability to share the Gospel in an effective and timely manner.  We’ve looked at the question, “What’s in a Name?” and considered the importance of taking the time to “Ask, Listen, and Observe”.  We’ve discussed the value of taking the time to “Relate” to the feelings and experiences of others, even though we don’t always handle our circumstances the same way that they do and considered the importance of living “The Life of a Servant”.  This week, we’re going to conclude our exploration of the “Two Minute Relationship” with some discussion on how to test the waters and take the final plunge into a Gospel presentation.  Don’t worry, the waters are friendlier than they may first appear!

You’ve already built the foundation for your relational connection and you know that you and your new “friend” have something in common.  And, if you’ve been carefully listening to their responses and observing their reactions, you’ve probably seen a few subtle cues as to their religious or political leanings (these may not be as “separate” as you’d initially believe).  If they’ve said something specific about their views, all you need to do is pursue their comments with a few more questions.  Approach others with the attitude of a learner and you’ll go far.

In our modern times, we no longer have to travel to the Middle East to meet a Muslim, India to befriend an Hindu, China to encounter a Buddhist, or South America or Africa to meet an Animist;  Many of them are living right next door! They sit beside us in study hall or ring out our purchases at the grocery store.  So once they’ve opened the door, take the time to ask your neighbors, classmates, co-workers, about their culture and beliefs.  Ask to share a meal from their native country.  Learn to say something in their language (yes, “hello” counts!).  Allow them to explain how and why they view the world the way they do.  More frequently than not, you’ll discover that they’re willing to share… and reciprocate by enquiring about your perspective.  You might call this phase of the conversation the “invitation” – it’s the moment when you know you have a clear opening to present the Gospel message.  So dive right in!

Sometimes, however, the “open door” isn’t as clear.  In these cases, you may be able to give it a gentle nudge and see where the conversation goes.  As you talk, take note of religious symbols, tattoos, bumper stickers, and t-shirt slogans.  These give us a glimpse into the lives of others and can serve as quick conversation starters.  Test the waters with an observation and then proceed to a question.  For example, “That’s a really interesting tattoo.  Does it mean something special to you?”  Then listen carefully to the response.

And don’t hesitate to ask the same questions about apparently Christian symbols either! A cross may be viewed as a fashion accessory just as easily as it is a symbol of Redeeming Love.  Whether the person is trying to be elegant or “cool”, their reason for wearing or using a symbol may not be the same as ours and can lead to some excellent opportunities for sharing the Gospel.

I once asked this question of a receptionist who was wearing a very dainty silver cross whether the emblem held any special meaning for her.  She very quickly replied, “Not really… I just like to wear it.  I like the one you’re wearing.”  The result was that her response to my simple question opened up a fantastic opportunity to share with her about the life, hope, and victory found in the One Who died upon the cross! (Commenting on Christian symbols can also have a very positive and encouraging flip side.  Sometimes the person you ask knows exactly what their symbol means.  It gives you a great opportunity to connect with and lift up another Believer, so don’t be shy!)

Don’t be afraid to clearly display your faith either.  Your reactions to people and events can have a profound effect on folks who have seen a lot of counterfeit Christians.  You might even end up on the receiving end of the enquiry!  I once had an exciting opportunity to share with a couple of teenagers in a jewelry store thanks to a belt buckle I wear.  It bears the initials IXOYE, an abbreviation for the Greek words meaning “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”  The clerk saw it and thinking it “really cool”, asked me what it said!

As you learn more about those around you, you will begin to see ways to share Christ that you never even imagined!  Be curious and let the Spirit move!  Even if one specific encounter doesn’t lead to a discussion, it may serve as a springboard – God’s preparation for another encounter later on.

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The Two Minute Relationship: The Life of a Servant

25 May

Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined “What’s in a Name”, discussed the importance of taking the time to “Ask, Listen, and Observe”, and looked at the value of taking the time to “Relate” to those around us.  Before we dive into a discussion about how best to use these techniques as a springboard to a Gospel presentation, however, there is one more important element to discuss: the importance of living the life of a servant.

This falls into the silent witness category and, for many Christians, is the number one easiest way to begin a discussion.  While we can’t expect our actions alone to explain that Jesus saves, our actions can spark interest from the people around us.  And they may even cause them to ask us why we live the way we do!  Living the life of a servant isn’t always easy, so here are a few tips to get you headed in the right direction:

Don’t be in a hurry.  It can be easy to get so caught up in finishing our grocery shopping or getting to that hot rock concert that we miss opportunities to be a Biblical servant.  Always be ready and willing to help someone in need, whether it’s the lady with three kids and a cart full of groceries who just can’t quite lift that bag of dog food or the boss who is crunched for a deadline.

Yes, this means that we need to carefully evaluate our own commitments.  It’s wonderful to be regularly involved in the life of your congregation, but it’s also easy to become so involved that we spend more time doing things for God than being available for Him to work through us!  And the same goes for every one of our other commitments.  Whenever something other than God begins to take over our lives, we need to stop and reevaluate.  Keep your schedule free and flexible and see what wonders God will perform!

Don’t wait to be asked.  If you see someone struggling to meet a need and you have the time and means to help, then do!  A single act of unsolicited kindness may be enough to form a relationship with someone who has experienced very little kindness in their life.  And repeated acts of kindness can help soften even the hardest of hearts.

Always be ready.  1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  And Colossians 3:23 commands, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”  This may, perhaps, be the greatest witness of all.  Everything you do and every interest you have can bring glory to God, even if it does so indirectly.  No hobby, sport, club, association, or after school activity comes without opportunities to live a life of service towards others.

A friend of mine used to play his guitar in a bagel shop every Saturday.  I’m aware that some Christians would not have considered this appropriate since, for the hour that he was there, he never once sang a Gospel song.  The name of Christ never exited his mouth.  He could have been doing dozens of other things, but instead, he was serving others through his music. Afterwards, people would come up to him and ask him why he did what he did.  You can be sure that his answer was all about Jesus!

Not every interest or hobby we have is going to show a direct connection to sharing God’s message, but each one provides us with an opportunity to relate to our fellow human beings. Remember that God created you a unique person and your interests and skills give you an opportunity to reach out in service to those who otherwise might never see the Gospel message in action!

The Two Minute Relationship: Relate

18 May

Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at the question “What’s in a Name” and dealt with the importance of taking the time to “Ask, Listen, and Observe”.  This week, we’ll be taking the art of the Two Minute Relationship a step further as we consider the importance not only of showing an interest in those whom we meet, but in taking the time to relate to them, ourselves.

I have often speculated that one of the many reasons God does not make us perfect (at least our vision of perfect) upon our acceptance of Christ is that, in many cases, perfect people are entirely unrelatable.  Think about it for a minute – how often do you pick up a book, only to put it down again when you realize that the author (or his characters) have nothing in common with you – no similar experiences, no shared struggles or triumphs.  You may even feel that you were born on separate planets!  Unfortunately, Christians often try so hard to “have a good testimony” that they cover up the commonalities between their lives and the lives of those who surround them and, as a result, they fail to have any testimony at all.  While, ideally, we shouldn’t handle our life experiences the same way we did before we knew God, we still have the same types of experiences that everyone else does.  Want to see someone loosen up and open themselves to a great conversation?  Take the time to show them (not just tell them) that you have some common ground!

One of the best ways to do this is through telling a good, clean joke.  Humor spans every form of human condition and telling a joke is a quick way to dispel the misconception that Christians are all serious all the time – in other words, it’s an ice-breaker.  God didn’t create humans just so we could spend our lives suffering the effects of an unjust universe and not everyone claiming the name of Christ has a persecution complex.  Telling a joke lets the person you’re talking to know that you’re human too and can appreciate the lighter side of things.  And, once they know you’re not some extremist whacko planning to take over society and implant everyone with cow brains, folks will be far more willing to engage in honest discussion about other topics.  In the thirty-seconds it takes to make someone laugh, you’ve formed a relational connection upon which you can build.

There’s more to the art of “relating”, however, than just demonstrating your ability to walk on the bright side of life. The truth is, you’re life probably isn’t a dream, or at least it isn’t 100% of the time.  You probably live in a house with people who don’t always see eye-to-eye or have had a teacher who failed you no matter how hard you tried.  You just barely make enough money to pay the bills and you know what it’s like to have a bad day at work.  Just as humor connects us to our fellow men (and women), so do struggle and sorrow.  Sometimes, our willingness to admit this makes the difference between a continuing dialogue and one that gets cut short.  Remember that the appeal of Christianity is not that it changes our world, but that it changes the perspective from which we view that world!  When people see you reacting with peace and joy in circumstances that only drag them down, they’re going to want what you have!

Finally, take the time to pray.  How does this relate to… well… relating?  Think of it this way – if I know you and the two of us have something in common, and I have an absolutely fantastic friend who also understands that commonality, it’s only natural that I’ll want to introduce you.  And that’s exactly what happens when a Christian offers to pray for an unbeliever.  It may sound crazy, but offering to pray for someone is one of the easiest and most inoffensive ways to share the Gospel.  Most people are amazed that someone they’ve never met before would take an interest in bringing them before God.

For a long while, I would offer to pray for people only after they’d jokingly made some comment about it.  (You hear, “Say one for me while you’re down there, will you?” quite a lot when you’re stocking the bottom shelves of a department store!)

The first time that I made the offer on my own was to a lady whose husband was a soldier in an Army National Guard unit which had been called up to fight in Iraq.  We met at a business meeting and I could tell that she was struggling;  trying to take care of the kids on her own, maintain and fix things around the house, and worrying that life might continue to be this way forever.  It was wearing on her.  Afterwards, I asked if I could pray for her and her husband.  Her response was an amazed and grateful yes.

As you go through your week, take the time to ask yourself whether your words and actions express concern and interest.  Do those around you relate to your circumstances?  And when you relate to theirs, do you let them know?  It doesn’t take much to form a relationship, just a genuine, honest, intentional approach – a willingness to let others see you as you really are, not as you wish you were.

The Two Minute Relationship: Ask, Listen, Observe

11 May

Last week, we discussed the question, “What’s in a Name?” One thing can be certain, if you’re looking to develop a meaningful relational connection, taking note of a person’s name is vital – but your efforts shouldn’t end there! If we are to live lives obedient to Christ’s command to “go into the world and preach the Gospel”, we need to be able to address others on a personal level, not a general one. Asking questions (and listening to and remembering a person’s responses) is one of the easiest ways to acquire the information necessary to do so.

This should be reassuring for those of us who find it nerve-wracking even thinking about starting a conversation with a stranger. If there is one thing people enjoy talking about more than other people, it’s themselves. Most people are eager to share their thoughts and feelings and will jump right in if you show even the slightest hint of interest. So here are some suggestions to get the conversation moving:

Try an icebreaker question. “How are you doing today?” is a great start, but keep in mind that this is one of the most misused questions in the English language. Most people can tell from your tone, body language, and your willingness to make eye-contact whether your interest in their day is passing or genuine, so be prepared. If you start with a question like this and it’s clear that you’re genuine, some people will be dead honest and launch right into an explanation of how their wife just left them and they’re living on SpaghettiO’s. In such cases, you’ve achieved exactly the relational connection that you’re seeking right off the bat. Your duty now is to listen carefully and, when appropriate, ask further questions. Don’t neglect this step and resort to repeatedly nodding your head or saying, “uh-huh”, since these habits are good cues that your eyes are about to glaze over! Express continued interest and then wait to see if God opens a door.

At the same time, recognize that some people may not see your overture as a caring question, but as a formality. If this is the case, try asking questions that require more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Then listen to what the other person has to say. Sometimes their response to “What do you think of all this rain we’ve had lately?” can give you great insights into their character and outlook on life and will lead to an unexpected opportunity to share the Gospel!

Be open and friendly. Sometimes a simple observation like, “It looks like you’re getting ready for a party” can lead a fellow shopper into a long explanation of how they’re cramming for the holiday because their husband’s family phoned yesterday and told them they would be here this afternoon. An understanding nod and sympathetic smile may go a long way towards a deeper conversation – and with all that stuff in her cart, you can bet she’ll welcome someone to chat with while she waits to be rung out!

Try the same technique with other students in study hall or customers in line at the bank. You’ll find that most people are willing to welcome small (or not so small) talk just about anywhere there’s a queue. It gives us a sense of community and makes the time pass more quickly for all involved.

Don’t push or pry. While most people readily open up when asked to share their personal views, some people don’t. If for some reason you try to start a conversation and the other person just isn’t interested in engaging in a dialogue, don’t push or pry. They might just be having a bad day or they may have noticed your cross and be recalling some negative experiences from the past. Your willingness to let them be might open the door for you or someone else to develop the right sort of relationship with that person at a later date. Not all evangelism is the result of the spoken word!

Showing an interest in another person is a great way to establish a quick relationship and can open up a multitude of opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Give it a try and see how it works. Then, take a moment to share your experiences in the comment box below!

The Two Minute Relationship: What’s in a Name?

4 May

A friend of mine tells me that he gets tired of hearing Christians say that they can’t possibly share the Salvation Message with someone they’ve just met. The argument is that, “It’s just a bad idea to share the Gospel if you aren’t doing it within the context of a relationship. After all, how would you feel if a stranger walked up to you and started telling you what you should believe or how you should live?” While my friend agrees that the relationship is key, he also says that it only really takes two minutes to develop one.

In fact, connecting with people can be quite easy… if you’re willing to try. This skill is critical to evangelism, because we frequently meet people who we will never see again. While not every Christian is an extrovert who will spend hours standing on a street corner talking to a total stranger, each of us should take the time to learn to develop the type of connections that will allow us to share Christ in a very short period of time without offending or frightening people!

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be looking at a number of great relationship building techniques that will help you make those instant connections with the sales clerks, service providers, fellow students, and folks you’re passing on the street and which may even lead to an opportunity to talk about Jesus and all that He has done for you. This week, we’ll focus on the age-old question, “What’s in a name?”

If we’re honest, many people (not just Christians) find it awkward just striking up a conversation with the person standing next to them in the checkout line or the sales clerk ringing up their purchase. There is this certain hesitancy about what one ought to say and a mild fear that whatever comes out of our mouths will be the very thing that we ought not to have said. The result is that, even if we do have the courage to begin a discussion, it very rarely leads to any sort of relational connection.

For a long while, I struggled with this frustration, until I had the opportunity to watch my Pastor handle the exact same situation. It seemed that he knew the name of everyone he met and entered into every conversation as though they were old friends – something which couldn’t have been the case, since we were going places that he had never been. It didn’t take me long to realize that before he approached anyone, he’d take the time to glance at their name tag. Then, when he addressed them, he did so by name.

The results of this technique were amazing. You could actually see the person’s eyes light up; He wasn’t talking to just any old employee; He was talking to them! The connection was made and a relationship begun.

I gave this a try and was amazed at how quickly my own conversations evolved after the simple use of a name. Instead of engaging in small talk, the people I encountered would start telling me about their family, their plans for the holidays, or the difficulty they were having getting their boyfriend to commit or their landlord to fix their leaky faucet!

It gave me an opportunity to actually learn something about them. Some of them even started remembering who I was when I came back to their place of business. As the relationships evolved (sometimes in just a matter of minutes), I had plenty of opportunities to share about the good things that God has to offer.

My conclusion: it really does take just a couple of minutes to form a relationship and the use of a name is a great place to start!

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