Are You Spiritual?
“How are you doing?” We hear and use that question all the time. Often the response is, “I’m fine, thank you.” But there are times that seemingly benign questions can open deep, meaningful conversations about the most important issues in life and can sometimes lead to the all-important question: “Who do you think Jesus is?”
For years, that most direct question was my opener when doing street outreach as a missionary. After asking someone if I could ask them a question, if they said yes, I would ask, “Who do you think Jesus is?” You might be surprised about how many people are thinking about Jesus and will talk to a stranger on the street. As we noted earlier, God is working on the hearts of people all the time, including people in your sphere of influence.
In the context of personal relationships where you have regular touch points with an individual, there is certainly time to ask lots of questions that propel conversations along. Hopefully, at some point you can pose that most poignant of questions: the question of Jesus’ identity.
Remember, Jesus asked His disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
Think about this subtle but powerful difference: Do I want to speak to someone or speak with someone about spiritual matters? Speaking to someone conveys the idea of talking at them and wanting to get your own point across at all costs. In contrast, speaking with someone conveys the idea of working together, sharing ideas and thoughts, seeking understanding.
Questions provide a great platform for this kind of synergy. Questions can affirm others. Inquiry communicates that we care about what another thinks, believes, and feels. We Christians are sometimes accused of only wanting to talk and be heard. Yet a winsome and humble witness will include the willingness to listen, and listening will be the result of asking questions.
Have you ever thought, “I don’t know how to start a witnessing conversation.” If so, you’re not alone. The key is to start with a question. Let me suggest a good opener: “How are you doing?” Simple enough and nonthreatening. Any questions that start the ball rolling can be productive. It doesn’t have to be profound.
Witnessing conversations are Spirit-led. Have you ever had an impactful spiritual conversation with an unbeliever and not really known how it started from the secular and moved to the spiritual? There have been times I’ve shared this experience with other believers to encourage them and was asked, “How did it happen?” My response was, “I don’t know.”
God has a beautiful capacity to move any mundane conversation from the secular to the sacred and do it in a way that makes us marvel. To serve others well, it helps to know whom we’re serving. And what better way to find out how to serve others than to ask questions and find out how they’re doing. That’s simple enough.
There are mundane questions about the weather or how someone is doing in general. On the other hand, there are intentional direct questions that can serve as a powerful mechanism to begin conversations—conversations about spiritual matters, which can, in turn, lead to the most important question of all: “Who is Jesus?”
Now, let me suggest a conversation starter question for 2021! While it’s a question that is very direct and intentional, it is also a generally non-threatening question that is very germane for our present culture. It’s also a terrific conversation starter.
Are you spiritual?
Why is this question so appropriate in 2021? Let me explain.
Just as the sons of Issachar “had understanding of the times, to know what to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32), so do we need to understand our present time in order to know how we can most effectively be salt and light in our culture. Knowing what’s going on informs our going out.
To begin we must understand the zeitgeist of American society, namely we must tune into that societal conversation with God. One growing conversation among Americans are those who declare themselves “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR).
While on the surface these two terms seem the same – and maybe were once synonymous, they couldn’t be more dissimilar in the minds of an increasing number of people.
According to Barna research, the great distinguishing factor between the two terms is that the religious seek outside themselves to a “higher power” while the spiritual look within. The SBNR are generally dissenters from the institutionalized church as well (citation). Barna further identified two SBNR groups; those who claim their faith is not very important to them and those who do not claim any faith.
This is a trend that continues to grow in the twenty-first century here in America.
Sven Erlandson described this movement in his book Spiritual but not Religious in 2000 and it continues to be a growing trend even today in 2021. Another author on the same topic, Robert C. Fuller, elaborates, “Most of them value curiosity, intellectual freedom, and an experimental approach to religion. Many go so far as to view organized religion as the major enemy of authentic spirituality, claiming that spirituality is private reflection and private experience—not public ritual” (citation in footnote).
Chances are you know someone just like this—because this mega-trend is growing.
Do you know someone who vilifies organized religion? Perhaps accuses the religious as being hypocrites? They might explore a wide array of spiritual ideas and experiences but remain noncommittal.
So how do we reach the SBNR?
Back to where we started, one conversation starter that is becoming more and more germane begins by asking: “Are you spiritual?” or “Do you have spiritual interests?” This kind of opener won’t offend a person who has no problem talking about religion, but also will open the door wider for the person who has issues with “religion” but not “spirituality.”
Additionally, in order to build bridges to spiritual conversations with those who take issue with the institution of the church or who would equate on some level both religion and institutions, we make the issue of Jesus personal, not institutional. With God’s wisdom, discernment, and with tact and love, we can share that while institutional abuse of money and power do have some legitimacy, the ultimate issue is personal: “Who is Jesus?”
It’s okay to agree that the institution of the church has issues (because it does), but at the same time we point out that if Jesus is who He claims to be, shouldn’t we then follow Him?
Because Christianity at its core is about Jesus and knowing Him. Therefore, we need to show them the love of God and tell them about the person and work of Jesus, which is in sharp contrast to the control, manipulation and power of some institutional religions.
Remember, an informed witness leads to a more effective witness. So, go out brethren, with a little better understanding of those who are spiritual but not religious—for Jesus’ glory and for the building of His Church, armed with a conversation starter for today—Are you spiritual?