Monday, February 11, 2008

The Gospel in Everyday Conversations

by Justin Buzzard @

How many conversations do you have per day? Ten? Twenty? Fifty?

What are these different conversations about—what topics do you tend to talk about the most? As you go about your conversations does the gospel ever make an appearance? Or, to put it another way: does the gospel that you cherish during Sunday mornings services, during private Bible reading and prayer, during your small group meeting—does this gospel receive airtime in your everyday conversations?

I’ve been thinking about this.

I find myself in many conversations each day. And lately I’ve been thinking about and working on better applying the gospel to my many everyday conversations. Whether the conversation at hand is about work, sports, relationships, Scripture, conflict, or general how-are-you?-chit-chat, I’m finding a few ways to better bridge the gospel conversation gap. This is very much a work in progress for me, but I think my work in progress might be of service to you and your everyday conversations.

Here are two conversational habits I’m trying to develop and the benefits that I’m discovering along the way:

First, remember the gospel in everyday conversations

I don’t know about you, but…

My concern over what this or that person thought of my message and performance slowly faded as I freshly reminded myself of the message and performance of Jesus.

Wait. I do know about you.

Your heart is similar to mine: both you and I tend to forget the gospel. For me, I’m more prone to remember 80’s song lyrics than I am to remember the gospel. That’s not good.

Now I do have a handful of contexts and a handful of disciplines I’ve put in place that help me to remember the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for me, but, until lately, everyday conversations have been for me a context of gospel amnesia. I tend to both talk and listen to others with a mind unanchored in the gospel. Recognizing this, and repenting of this, I’m now working hard at recalling the gospel in my mind while I’m in the middle of everyday conversations.

I try to do this right away, on the spot, right as a conversation begins. A few seconds of mental concentration/silent prayer is all it takes. And I’m noticing one great benefit from this new habit:

When I remember the gospel during everyday conversations I worry less about what a given conversation partner thinks about me because I’m freshly reminded of what God thinks of me. Often it’s smack in the middle of everyday conversations that we, almost subconsciously, are tempted to find our identity in what other people think about us and in how we compare to others. As I’ve been reminding myself at the outset of conversations that God himself already accepts and loves me through the sacrifice of his Son, these temptations and fears have been melting.

This happened to me last Sunday. Immediately after the close of both our 9am and 11am worship services, just like every Sunday, I found myself engaged in 30 or 40 brief conversations. Some of these conversations were about the sermon I’d just preached. Some were about the Super Bowl. Some were about lunch plans. But what was common among all these conversations was my concern over what others thought about me and the sermon I’d just preached. Because I’m still a young, immature preacher, after preaching I feel pretty raw and exposed. I worry quite a bit over how well I did or didn’t do in the pulpit and how others received my message.

For me, Sunday morning post-preaching conversations are an intense context of regular conversation. And it’s in this everyday conversation context that I’m highly susceptible to forgeting the gospel (even though I’ve just preached the gospel to a large crowd!). But, this last Sunday, at the outset of most of these conversations I deliberately worked on pausing and remembering the gospel as I engaged in conversation. And what I found was that my concern over what this or that person thought of my message and performance slowly faded as I freshly reminded myself of the message and performance of Jesus. Three seconds of reminding myself that God’s love for me is unshakable because it’s based on Jesus’ performance, not my performance, was all it took to tweak these everyday conversations and set them on a healthier course.

Most of you aren’t preachers. But, like me, whether you’re an artist, an insurance broker, or a stay-at-home mom, everyday conversations are a context where you can tend to forget the gospel and become fixated on what other people think about you. I encourage you to work at establishing a habit of reminding yourself of the gospel in the midst of your everyday conversations. Work at it.

Second, speak the gospel in everyday conversations

Everyday conversations are opportunities to obey Jesus by loving your neighbor as yourself. I’m not very good at this. Like you, I have this default mentality of viewing other people through a lens of pride, competition, or comparison, rather than through the lens of the gospel—which shows us that all people stand on equal ground at the foot of the cross.

My new gospel-remembering conversation habit is helping me with this. I’m now beginning, right in the midst of the syllables of conversation, to view other people through the crosshairs of the cross. As I do this, I’m finding more and more of a drive to speak the gospel, to re-tell the gospel, to the people I’m in conversation with.

If I’m talking with a Christian, I’m reminded that he or she probably forgets the gospel just as often as I do and needs to re-hear it just as badly as I do. And so, even though it can feel a bit unnatural, I’m beginning, with tact and careful transitions, to sometimes speak the gospel to fellow believers in middle of our everyday conversations.

What I’ve found is this: people are glad to be reminded of the good news. Most of my everyday Christian conversation partners very rarely experience an everyday conversation where the gospel surfaces. What I’ve found is that re-telling portions of the gospel to fellow believers is a powerful, practical way to love your neighbor as yourself.

I’ve also been working at speaking the gospel when I’m in everyday conversations with people who don’t know Jesus. Generally, but not always, this is harder for me to do. I’m probably too concerned, too fearful, about not wanting to come off as a pushy evangelist, that I can fail to speak the most powerful message in the Universe. Yet, when I do, carefully and contextually, patiently and prayerfully, speak the gospel to people who don’t believe the gospel, I most often find that people have never really heard the true gospel. This has led to some great conversations, conversations where I’ve had the joy of explaining the difference between religion and the gospel, the difference between religiosity and a relationship with Jesus.

Two weeks ago I got to do this at Round Table Pizza. When the cashier found out that I was a pastor, that I was picking up 7 extra large pizzas for a guy’s night at the church, she asked me the difference between being a Christian and just being “a good person.” I seized the opportunity. Because she was working and because I had people behind me in line, I gave the pizza lady a 2 minute answer, a 2 minute explanation of the gospel, articulating why even the “best” people need a Savior. She seemed eager to hear more. Before I left, I invited the pizza lady to church.

I don’t know what will happen with Mrs. Pizza, but I do know that God can transform lives as we speak the gospel to others, as we speak the gospel in the midst of our everyday conversations. Again, I encourage you to work at this. Establish a fresh habit of speaking the gospel in your everyday conversations. Whether it’s with believers or unbelievers, don’t be ashamed of the gospel. Speak the gospel and watch what happens.

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