We often talk about how to build bridges: Show personal interest. Establish trust. Invest in relationships. Bridges are very important. But we also want to know how to determine if a person is ready to take steps across that bridge.
Are they really interested in spiritual things? Are they ready to grow? Are they open to learning more? Several experienced tentmakers and gospel workers share simple ways they’ve used to identify open hearts, a willingness for more.
When I relate to young men, I find it is very effective to use “older brother” vocabulary. That creates an openness for young guys to raise their personal problems. Once they show that level of vulnerability I know I can suggest we pray together about their need—a very personal prayer. How they react to the power God shows in answering our prayer gives me insight into their spiritual experience. –BM
Many times we’ve tried to hide our spiritual life, thinking that once we built people’s confidence it would make it easier to share Jesus. The problem is that we aren’t usually able to evaluate at the beginning of a relationship whether a person is ready or not to hear about Jesus—if the fruit is ripe! We found ourselves cultivating friendships for years and years that seemed to go nowhere. Then we learned that if we share Jesus from the very beginning; the friendship that develops from that contact is clearly based on spiritual, not secular, conversations. –EG
Sometimes my young friends will introduce an older authority to me who is well versed and prepared to debate on a religious topic, but I won’t engage in an intellectual argument. I prefer to keep the conversation going with the more inquisitive and less argumentative ones—usually the younger men. –BM
I like to make people feel at ease, often with humor. It’s relaxing to laugh together; it gives us something in common. When people are at ease, they are easier to read and they will communicate more openly. –DS
Any time I’m allowed the privilege of praying with someone, that is a big step. But it is as important a step to follow-up that prayer later with an honest inquiry of how my friend has seen God answering! Their response helps me identify how much they understand, and how much they have embraced the prayer experience. –BM
I’ve learned that a strong patron-client relationship can skew my view of someone’s openness—especially if I’m sharing money or resources with them. It can encourage a person to “act” spiritual because they detect that it pleases me. They learn to make me happy by appearing interested in my religion, accepting a Bible, asking for prayer, or even engaging in spiritual discussion. –JE
I listen for hints in their conversation to show me where they are. Sometimes I initiate a very brief comment, or they’ll make an observation about life, family, problems, the world and I affirm their comment. That is my way of offering them a bridge to continue the conversation. If they don’t take it at first, I may extend the bridge later again—after they know me better, after further safe conversations, even after a few more minutes of sharing. –DS
I ask questions--real questions about how they see life, issues in our world, their children’s future, what they think. It may be disarming to some—especially in a culture that does not really ask for individual opinion—but it can be very revealing even if they are reserved. –CL
I observe people’s eyes, Eye contact is very important in determining where people are. Direct eye contact communicates some level of personal honesty, vulnerability, openness. Especially when I begin talking about life issues, world events, spiritual topics. –DS
It’s a relief to recognize that we don’t “ripen” a person’s interest by the smart things we do or say, the Holy Spirit does. We don’t even chart the path of their spiritual growth.
But we want to be good stewards of our energies and time so that we are working where He is working, and nurturing what He is growing. As we recognize He is doing His “good work,” and we are sensitive to how they are responding to Him (not just us!), we have the privilege of affirming, encouraging, and sharing the growing experience of His seeking children.