Your palms are sweating, you feel sick in the stomach and your mind is going 200 kph. All you want to do is have a conversation with your friend about Jesus. You’ve been praying for months, you’ve talked about everything in life other than this, but as you walk along to training you just can’t find the right way to start a conversation about Jesus.
This is a situation that many of us face as we seek to make disciples of Christ in our sports teams and clubs. You know the great need your friends have and you’ve tried, with God’s help, to live distinctively amongst them as you train and compete together. However they’re just not asking you questions, things aren’t popping up in conversation in the way you thought they might and humanly speaking no-one seems remotely interested in finding out about what you believe.
So what should we do? Accept this is the reality and continue in the same way? Or pray that through God’s spirit He might give you the words to say so that you can start a conversation about Jesus with your friends in sport.
What can motivate us to initiate the conversation?
It’s always challenging to look at how the apostles persevered in taking the gospel to the nations in spite of opposition. Take the example in Acts when Peter and John, having been jailed and commanded not to speak of Jesus, replied:
“For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4 v 20)!
This response by Peter and John reveals the motivation behind their actions and words. A motivation that can help us cross that metaphorical pain line too and speak to our friends about Jesus.
Sometimes we can forget the great news of the gospel and focus too much on the reaction we might get and what that will do to our reputation or friendships. Or we think we are not coherent enough to present it plainly. Paul challenges us in Romans 1 v 16 saying:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”.
When we speak of Jesus, we must remember that He has ultimate authority over our friends’ lives. However shaky our voice, when the gospel is spoken, God will work by His power and salvation will come to anyone who believes.
How can we initiate the conversation?
Half the battle is knowing where to start. Conversations in the changing room can often be very myopic; chatting about the game just past, the one coming up or the occasional big thing that’s happened in your sport. With this kind of conversation you can already feel on the back foot when it comes to bringing up any new topic of conversation. However simply taking the time to ask questions to our friends can be a great way to start. Often social politeness moves sportspeople to respond in turn with a similar question which then provides us with an opportunity to say something that points to Jesus.
Here is a simple pattern you could use in conversation:
● YOUR STORY – begin by asking them a simple question. For example “What was the highlight of your weekend?” Listen to their answer and encourage them to ask the same back.
● MY STORY – respond in a way that brings in the Christian faith. For example “I had a great weekend and enjoyed the game on Saturday (THEIR STORY). On Sunday I was at church and heard a really interesting talk about God’s interest in people’s lives today”(HIS STORY). This response isn’t too forced as to feel clunky, and provides an open door for them to ask what God’s interest is (so be prepared with an answer!)
● RESPONSE – wait for their response. They may show interest in which case keep the conversation going; they may not show interest in which case move on.
Sometimes the topic of conversation that is already flowing will naturally provide opportunities for us to respond in a way that points to Jesus/our faith/our values. Colossians 4 v 6 says:
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
But what does it look like to be ‘salty’?
- Be positive and not negative – always look for the positive when those around us are being negative.
- Point to Christian values/to Jesus himself – for example “Yes, I totally agree; that’s really unfair. It goes against everything I believe in.” Be prepared then to define what you believe in should they ask you to.
- Ask a question of their values/remarks – “So, what principles do you find most helpful to live by?”
- Pray! – That they won’t divert away or ignore your answer but come back to you and ask a follow up question.
That awkward moment
We would love every conversation to lead to a discussion about Jesus but we know that is not always the reality. You can quickly tell when you friend is warm to the discussion or doesn’t want to engage but that moment doesn’t have to be awkward. Being ready to move the conversation on in a natural way is crucial in ensuring your friendship remains normal, and what better way to move a conversation on with a sports person than to talk about sport! Knowing what is going on in the world of sport can provide plenty of ways in which you can switch the conversation to something neutral and interesting for your friend.
So next time you walk along to training, how will you try to bring Jesus into your conversations? How can you answer everyday questions by bringing Jesus into them? How can you start conversations by showing a genuine interest in your sports friends lives. How like Paul and John can you ” [not] help speaking about what [you] have seen and heard”?