February 2020

I used to love lecturing, putting together a finely-crafted talk with illustrations and Biblical insights that seemed to touch people deeply. I enjoyed the cadence of a good speech, the flows of laughter and depth of emotions the perfect illustration could elicit. How much I loved being the guy on the stage!

But somewhere, I lost my confidence in the power of a lecture. Don’t get me wrong, some useful information can be shared that way, but as a steady diet, it alone lacks the power to help people make the personal discoveries that will help them grow their relationship with God. Thus, I’m less engaged by a talking head than I used to be. I see through so much of it now, the formula that may get the speaker the response they seek, but how little impact it had on the listeners in the long-run. I even grew tired of the adoring comments people would make after, still realizing it was more about me than it was unlocking their journey.

Do you know what changed me? The power of a conversation. I’ve been in too many rooms with so many people and watched their eyes brighten with transformative discoveries. I’ve visited them later to see the fruits of transformation that rose from those discoveries and how that launched them into a greater depth of relationship with Jesus. Now I understand why so much in the Gospels didn’t orbit around sermons, but conversations Jesus had with his disciples, Nicodemus, religious leaders, a woman at a well, or lunch with Zacchaeus. Where people are allowed to notice what they need to notice, question what the need to question and struggle with what they need to struggle with, that’s where real teaching happens where hearts change.

I am freshly discovering some things from the book of John that has clarified important realities in my own journey. I’m excited about sharing some of that as I travel, but every time I put that into a “sermon,” it just doesn’t fit well. When they emerge in a conversation, however, as people process their own journey, they are transformative.

As much as I love conversations, I’m often concerned that new people coming to a meeting would prefer that I “do a teaching.” At least that’s what I think they want. While visiting a group recently, we had a number of people join us who had never been in a meeting with me before. I always wonder after a few hours of conservation if they’re disappointed I didn’t “teach” more. I was grateful to get the following email after one such visit:
Thanks again for inviting me this past Sunday. I was impressed by the warm hospitality and relaxed atmosphere. I was able to share things I haven’t talked about in years… and appreciated those who shared themselves as well with the group. I came away thinking of Matthew 25 where it says, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. That is the church in a nutshell. I didn’t know what to expect going in. I came away with more than I ever imagined.

I am still processing the experience, but I at least wanted to contact you to let you know how much your invitation meant to me. As I mentioned to you Sunday, you definitely have a unique gift in the body of Christ. I am looking forward to where the journey takes me from here.
I love how he responded to that day and what he saw in it. To me, a good conversation is not just people in the same room. A good conversation has some critical components:

• casual and relaxed enough for laughter and getting to know each other,

• a safe place for people to be honest and not judged or given advice,

• for God’s reality to expand our hearts,

• and offering encouragement to people who are processing their spiritual journeys.

A few days after I got that email, I was reading John 1. John the Baptist was talking to two of his followers pointing to Jesus’ baptism. “Behold the Lamb of God!” They followed him until he turned and asked them what they were looking for. They responded by asking where he was staying. “Come along and see for yourself.”
They went with him and stayed for the day. One of those was Andrew, Peter’s brother, who immediately went to tell Peter, “We’ve found the Messiah.” That’s the power of a conversation. Others who heard Jesus teach, or watched him do miracles, still had no idea who he was.

I’m not anti-seminar or anti-sermon; I do both when I need to. But I would dare say that the work of the kingdom emerges far more easily in the simplicity and reality of a conversation than all our ceremonies or rituals can produce. And that goes on not just in meetings I’m in, but in conversations that happen before and after, over meals, or in the homes where I stay.

I got a fresh chance to reflect on that after spending three days with someone in Florida last fall. As he was driving me to my next connection he asked, “Do you know what you are? You’re a repository for thousands and thousands of conversations about the life of Jesus with people all over the world.”

I do know that. I have talked to so many people across a broad spectrum of spiritual experience–from those who’ve followed him for fifty or sixty years to those who haven’t yet decided if they want to. All of them have enriched me, and have helped me see a Father far grander than I would ever have known alone. One of the reasons I travel, podcast, and write is to share what I’ve learned with others.

It’s funny, really. I went into “ministry” thinking the thing I loved most was preparing for and teaching large groups of people. What I’ve discovered since is that those things don’t hold a candle to sitting and talking with people, helping them process their journeys and experience the life this incredible Father that he wants to pour into them. Those conversations are the best, and I want to help others discover how they can be a catalyst for those conversations where they are.

How can you facilitate those kinds of conversations yourself? Be careful not to put people on the spot. Avoid anything that feels forced or artificial. Don’t suddenly ask people you don’t know well, “What are you hearing from God these days,” or “How is the Jesus journey going? What you can do is take an interest in people—what they’re thinking about or what they’re going through. Jesus has a way of popping up in such moments quite naturally if the time is right. Be vulnerable first, sharing something you’re learning or what challenges you. Your honesty and sincerity can open a door for others to share if they want to. If not, look to be an encouragement to them in some way.

Finding your way into safe, honest, and vulnerable conversations about how Jesus is making himself known takes a lot of time and a whole lot of relationship. Relax. Have fun with it. Build friendships first instead of targeting people or making them your project. Love will allow conversations to flow naturally.

There’s nothing better than the power of a conversation, whether it’s with one person, two or three, or a few dozen. I’ve even had conversations with 800 people at once, though that does take an extra measure of grace. That way, people are learning in their time, not trying to incorporate something I’m learning into their journey.