Note: This article has been excerpted from Living Dangerously: Seven Keys to Intentional Discipleship , by Shawn D. Anderson.
Maintain a Spirit of Humility
Unbelievers who were led to Jesus through a discipling relationship were asked, "Why did you feel comfortable discussing spiritual matters with this person?" They indicated that they were comfortable engaging in spiritual discussions with someone who demonstrates humility. This requires us to have gentle attitudes. Kimberly said, "I think it took less than a year. She was very gentle and didn't push anything." Similarly, Kevin said, "He acted like my opinion mattered to him, and he didn't try to force his opinions and beliefs on me."
Being pushy or pressuring people to come to Jesus does not encourage spiritual discussion. As disciplers, the last thing we want to do is push anyone to follow Jesus or pressure the person in any way. This kind of relationship does not benefit us or unbelievers. If we have humble hearts, engaging in spiritual dialogue will not threaten others. Ellen said, "It was a nonthreatening situation—no pamphlets, no 'come to Jesus' talk—just friendship and discussion."
A spirit of humility breaks down the barriers of resistance and opens the doors for spiritual dialogue. Brett said, "There was no pressure. Since we were friends, I admired him and it was easier to talk about."
Our job is not to give others a "spiritual sales pitch," but to facilitate and encourage their faith development. We need to make discipling as enjoyable as possible by aspiring to develop a positive—even fun—environment. The challenge of initiating spiritual discussions is to be nonthreatening by letting Jesus shine through us in all our relationships. If we let him guide us, he can effectively use us to disciple others.
The way we initiate spiritual dialogue is critical to the conversion process. In this case, first impressions make a difference. A question such as, "Do you know if you are saved?" may be asked out of sincerity, but may be considered offensive or even insulting to the unbelieving person. Spiritual conversation should be a natural extension of our relationships. For example, a new friend of mine recently lost his job. He felt depressed and beaten. As we talked, I casually offered, "God has the perfect job just waiting for you." He looked down for a moment, then looked back at me with moist eyes and replied, "Thank you." I took a risk by even suggesting such a thing, but my friend responded, and we now have regular spiritual discussions.
Watch Your Language
We also need to be careful not to disenfranchise people in our spiritual discussions by the words we use. Oftentimes, we use "Christianese" so naturally we forget that others may not understand us. Examples of Christianese are: Holy Spirit, testimony, witness, assurance, redemption, resurrection, confession, and justification. If someone did not grow up going to church, "Here I raise my Ebenezer" and "Jehovah Jireh" make about as much sense as "triple net lease" and "current ratio" do to a person outside the financial industry. If we want our spiritual discussions with others to be effective, we need to speak their language. This requires us to break out of our comfortable Christian shells and relate to unbelievers using non-churchy words.
Submit to the Holy Spirit
The goal of engaging in spiritual discussions with unbelievers is to eventually lead them to conversion. However, our role in the discipling process is first and foremost to willfully submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit's leading. The apostle Paul said, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). His methods will likely not be ours; his timing may not be ours—but we need to trust the Spirit's guidance.
I learned a lesson about following the Spirit's leading a few years ago. After investing eight months of weekly studies with a woman, she told me that she had decided to follow Jesus! However, my excitement soon dissipated when she canceled all future studies with me. Soon after, she moved away. I later discovered that her unbelieving husband became angry when she told him her decision, and actually forbid her to continue her studies. Whatever the outcome, we should not diminish our discipling efforts or our trust in God's wisdom.
Engage in Spiritual Dialogue through Small Groups
Many people or faith communities have small groups that meet in homes. If we are involved in a small group, we can invite our unbelieving friends to come with us. They can meet other disciples of Jesus, and engage in spiritual conversations with a community of believers. A group that meets in a home is less threatening than a meeting in a church building, and it is a relaxing and natural way to talk about spiritual matters.
If we want to use small groups to engage in spiritual dialogue with unbelievers, the members of our group need to be accepting of unbelievers and prepared to respond to their questions and comments in a non-judgmental fashion. This will likely involve training group members about their vital roles in discipling others, and how they can utilize spiritual conversations as an integral part of that process.
—Used with permission by Dr. Shawn D. Anderson, author of Living Dangerously: Seven Keys to Intentional Discipleship (docshawn.com).