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A strategy for God talk

A strategy for God talk

If you’re a pastor or church leader, I’d like a quiet word with you.

Do you have a lurking suspicion that despite all of your urging and encouragement— perhaps even in spite of your best efforts at running training events—your people are just not very active in sharing the gospel?

I know there’s been a lot of change for those who’ve been in lockdown; you may feel just a little more out of touch with what’s going on in their lives. And even before that I’m sure you weren’t stalking them in the street, surveilling them to see what evangelistic efforts they were making. But you probably have a feeling if they were having those positive gospel conversations, you’d be hearing about it.

As a layman I’ll ’fess up for myself: I’m not very evangelistically active. And from my interactions with other lay people around me, I’m definitely not on my own. I believe your lurking pastoral suspicions are pretty well-founded.

So why is it so hard to get evangelistic enterprise firing in people?

Others have pointed this out before me, but it’s actually pretty scary to even admit to being a Christian in today’s ‘tolerant’ social climate, let alone take steps to persuade someone else to become a Christian.

One of our authors, Col Marshall, rightly said this five years ago:

Saying to our congregations, “go out and make disciples” is the scariest thing, particularly in our Western world where we’re abused now for being Christian. And we’re saying to people, why don’t you try to persuade someone to become a Christian? Well, you need very deep convictions to do that, and a very deep prayer life. And you need to be in a fellowship where everyone is doing it, so it’s just by osmosis; we’re all doing it. Like a team or an army.
But while it’s no doubt true that it has become scarier, I don’t think a lack of evangelistic initiative is a particularly new problem. Hasn’t it always been a big step for most of your people to go from forming an acquaintance with someone to having a serious conversation where they explain what they believe as a Christian?

Indeed, from the earliest days of the Two Ways to Live training course—which has been around for well over 40 years now in one form or another—a solution to this problem has been suggested: ‘God talk’.

God talk is the idea that our conversations with unbelievers might usefully be sprinkled with words that flag that God is a vital part of our lives. Almost incidental words. For example, if asked what our plans are for the summer holidays, instead of saying “we’re going to head north to…” we might say “God willing we’re going to head north to…” (definitely a biblical thing to express, by the way—James 4:15). Or instead of “what a lovely day” we might say “hasn’t God blessed us with a lovely day?” Or if asked what was the highlight of our weekend, instead of “I had a nice dinner with friends” we might say “I really appreciated church on Sunday night”.

Of course, it’s obviously much better if God talk doesn’t come across as totally phony. Hopefully it flows from a genuine personal awareness of God’s presence with us—a recognition that it is actually up to God as to whether we head north, and it is God who has given us this lovely day, and you did in fact appreciate church.

But in another article, I have argued that the following piece of God talk is one of the easiest to be genuine about and the best to use: “I’ll pray for you.” So I want to suggest that you, as a pastor or church leader—as things open up after any lockdowns—give those four words to your congregation and ask them (more than once!) to keep an ear out for when they could use them.

Those opportunities, I think, will be many and varied if we are attentive. It could be a work colleague mentioning one of their kids is sick; a parent at the school gate expressing a concern about whether they are going to make it to work on time; a neighbour expressing frustration about their teenager’s bad behaviour… you get the idea. Let’s just say, I don’t think these sorts of opportunities are rare, and the pandemic has most definitely multiplied them.

That small and not-so-scary step of saying “I’ll pray for you” is a good start in evangelistic initiative—succinctly expressing not just care for the pray-ee, but the personal faith of the pray-er in a God who also cares and is willing to help.

It might also open up an opportunity to take the conversation a bit further and explain why we pray, who we pray to, and why we have confidence in his love and kindness. However, that next step is a bigger and braver one. So my second suggestion is that you have copies of Matthias Media’s new tract, What I mean when I say I’ll pray for you, available for your congregation to take and use to help them in that next step. Have your church buy a good quantity and invite people to take a free one if they’ve managed to use those four words with a non-Christian in the last week. Then they can pass it on to that person when they follow-up and ask about what was prayed for (described in my other article).

I realize for many of us over recent months it has been all we could do just to keep church happening at all, and for some it has been a long time doing that online. But for those coming back together as a face-to-face church, there is a special opportunity to ‘reset’ our church culture just a little.

To stimulate this culture of evangelism in the way I’m suggesting, please don’t just suggest it one Sunday and then never mention it again. Convey the idea one week, then ask if anyone was able to do it the next week. Suggest those people give away the tract, but remind everyone to try again this coming week. Then repeat for at least 6-8 weeks in a row. Get people up in church and interview them about their success in using the four words. Better still, interview them about following up with that person and giving them a copy of the tract or having a next-step gospel conversation. Then come back to the idea at least once a month after that to keep it on the boil.

And I hope you agree this might be a really effective first step in building a ‘team’ or an ‘army’ of people that together express some fresh evangelistic intent.

Ian Carmichael

Ian has been with Matthias Media from its beginning (1988). In late 2020 he stepped down from the CEO role, and now works as an honourary consultant and editor for Matthias Media and Vinegrowers. Ian and his wife, Stephanie, have two adult children, two (gorgeous) grandchildren, and are part of Chatswood Presbyterian church in Sydney. Ian is one of the Vinegrowers team providing free consultations for church leaders who want to more effectively grow the disciple-making culture in their church.
Tags  evangelism, love