By Dawn Heckert
The following story is provided by our INCM/CPC Partner David C. Cook.
When was the last time you had a really good conversation? A conversation that left you feeling pensive, invigorated, or perhaps both? I suspect you remember whom you talked with and what you talked about. When we encounter that kind of life-giving dialogue-dialogue that’s relational to the core-it’s hard to ignore. That’s probably because we leave these kinds of conversations transformed and a little richer at heart.
Every day we find ourselves engaged in conversations. Some are in passing and others are intentional. But all conversations involve a few key elements: people, words, topics, and emotions. An engaging conversation is a wonderful tool to establish and deepen trust. And if you learn to make conversations count, you can create lasting relationships with parents and children.
Jesus found conversations to be great tools to help people recognize truths about themselves and to lead them to know Him. Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-29 demonstrates the power of what I’d like to call “intentional listening.” The young man begins with a question, seeking advice. Jesus focuses on the young man’s words rather than His own and offers challenging questions instead of answers. As the story unfolds, the rich young ruler discovers that Jesus has given him the truth of how to grasp the kingdom, but it’s the young ruler who must do the hard work himself.
If we follow Jesus’ example and focus on the whole individual-expressions, posture, and behavior-rather than just his words, we will demonstrate intentional listening. In order to make a conversation count, it’s important to give attention to the person you’re speaking with and to subtract yourself. This is often the hardest element, and it involves learning to ask good questions with a posture of reception. Reflect quickly on a recent conversation. Who controlled the flow? Did you learn something about the other person? Did you ask a question that gave you a deeper understanding of the person’s thoughts or feelings? Or did you control the topic, make your points, then walk away feeling good about your input but unable to recall anything the other person said?
So how do you change your natural conversation habits? First you must be a person of peace (Luke 10:1-6). A person of peace greets others around her through the Holy Spirit. Her behavior remains the same around both unfamiliar and familiar people. A person of peace begins each day with God’s leading. Regardless of the hurt she carries, the difficulties she might encounter, or the risk of being rejected by others, she moves through life using the Spirit to guide her greetings, words, and actions. Examine your behavior in conversations and around friends. How do people receive you, serve you, and desire a relationship with you? It’s important to recognize if you’re a person of peace to every person God places in your path or just those within your comfort zone.
Also, begin to examine your conversational skills and habits. Do you practice the spiritual art of presence by following a person’s concerns or thoughts carefully throughout a conversation? This sometimes requires great patience and a discerning spirit. Do you have a sense for God’s heart for this person? What do you do to make yourself a safe person in conversation? Do you offer curious questions to get things started?
As a final point, it’s important to help people enter into conversations about faith. You can do this using “wondering” questions. Offer moments for people to come to their own conclusions by using open-ended questions, just like Jesus did with the rich ruler. Think of them as heart questions. Here are some examples of great starter questions:
-What’s been your greatest success? Greatest failure?
-What is the greatest piece of wisdom that has been passed on to you?
-Have you ever sensed the presence of God?
-Have you had any major turning points in your life?
-What dreams have you let go? What dreams do you still hold?
-If God had His way with you, what do you think He would change first?
Learning how to have a conversation that counts means being skilled at truly engaging others by listening to them and responding to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit. It’s not about creating a springboard for a gospel presentation; it’s about creating a springboard for getting to know someone on a deeper level, building trust and demonstrating respectfulness and grace.
Dawn Heckert is the Director of New Generations Ministry at Christ Church Anglican in Overland Park, KS. An energetic and emerging voice in children’s and family ministry, Heckert earned her B.A. in Elementary Education from Ottawa University and her M.A. in Education from Mid-America Nazarene College. She began her ministry in 1997 as a volunteer with senior high youth. Over the past eleven years, God has used her passion, enthusiasm and creativity to revolutionize the Children’s & Youth Ministry at Christ Church Anglican in Overland Park, Kansas. She recently joined with David C. Cook as an ambassador, encouraging a fresh and practical look into traditional curriculum. Dawn is married and has two children.