Never Underestimate the Value of Ordinary, Brief, Christian Conversations
Language learning is a time-intensive activity, and language students sometimes dread those long hours of concentrated study, when their head is down in a book or they’re sitting in a language class. They forget they’re also learning the language when, in a foreign nation, they listen to the radio, watch cartoons with their kids, or enjoy conversations with the old men at the post office. None of those are intensely focused opportunities, but they count as exposure nonetheless, and a language student can be intentional with them.
IN PRAISE OF CHRISTIAN CONVERSATIONS
Most Christians—and dare I say, pastors—fall into a similar error when it comes to Christian discipleship. We count the big stuff. The things we can put in our calendar. And because we neglect to notice the myriad small discipling moments, we neglect to utilize them. We overlook the value of ordinary, brief, Christian conversations.
Pastor, consider how many brief interactions do you normally have in those 20 to 30 minutes at the back door after your sermon? What questions do you hear? What situations do you learn about? Who do you get to care for, just a few minutes before they walk into their week?
In such moments, I learn a marriage is in trouble. I counsel a brother whose boss pressured him to lie to a client. I apologize to a member I offended by some careless word. I usually meet many non-Christians there. It’s a vital time.
Now multiply my handful of interactions throughout the rest of our members. How many conversations happen in that room? And you know what? In every single interaction, there’s an opportunity for Christians to influence one another, for the gospel to be conveyed and clarified and applied. These opportunities aren’t typically impressive or even memorable—but they’re cumulatively significant.
Now, I’m certainly not claiming that these conversations are always deeply spiritual. That’s not the case in my congregation, and it’s probably not the case in yours. Odds are, many of them are about the game last night, or the game that’s about to start, or just a repeat of the same conversation that happened last week and will happen against next week: “How are you?” “Busy. You?” “Same.”
I want to make two assertions about these conversations: they’re more significant than we think, and they can become even more significant than we think.
A passing comment can have an enduring influence on someone’s life. How many times have you had a member bring up something “they’ll never forget you said one time”—and, even after they tell you what it was, you can’t remember saying it? A dear brother once told me I had shaped his understanding of the local church more than anyone else. I was encouraged, but also humbled because I couldn’t remember a single time I had intentionally taught him anything about the church. He’s now a faithful pastor in Illinois. I hadn’t counted our conversations as all that important. But cumulatively, they shaped his view of and affection for the church.
Now, again, stack up those uncounted conversations across the weeks and months and years. How much good has been done by your words that you don’t even know about?
Of course, most Christian conversations don’t contain life-changing wisdom. But every Christian conversation does convey an example of how fellow Christians view the world (for good or ill!). The way that single sister responds to the children interrupting her “adult conversation”; the way that man speaks gently but sternly to another brother; the way that couple mention in passing that they’ve been struggling with arguing a lot lately—all these provide a fleeting but vivid image of Christian faithfulness.
Such interactions function as tiny course corrections as you drive down a long, straight highway. Many of them don’t even register on your consciousness. But thank goodness you make them. Individually, they don’t count for much. But cumulatively, they keep you on the straight and narrow.
Once you recognize the value of mundane conversations like these, their significance increases. You’ll begin to utilize your own passing conversations with greater intentionality.
What do you choose to talk about after the corporate gathering? As long as I’ve known him, my friend Brinton has consistently turned to whoever’s next to him and asked them what edified them from the sermon they just heard. What a simple and obvious thing to talk about after church! He’s done this for nearly twenty years. I wonder how much good that simple question has done.
I’ve mainly referred here to those conversations that happen around a congregation’s corporate worship. Obviously, the same principle holds the other six days in a week. But the conversations around our corporate gatherings are especially useful. This is, after all, the time and place with the most opportunity.
Perhaps I should have started with this. But I’m convinced these kinds of intentional conversations are commanded of us in Scripture. Hebrews 10:23–25 exhorts us not to neglect meeting together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. And how are we meant to encourage each other? By meeting together, and by stirring one another up to love and good works.
That happens in our formal worship, yes. But we also stir one another up in those conversations on the way out the door. Christian conversation is the most overlooked conveyer of Christian doctrine and Christian ethics. It’s often the means by which believers better understand the implications of the Word they’ve just sat under.
Raising up believers to maturity in Christ is a daunting task. It’s only possible due to the Spirit’s enlivening and sanctifying work. But beloved, be encouraged in the task. The Lord uses more than the scheduled events, the carefully planned sessions, and the lovingly crafted sermons. He’s also ordained ordinary Christian speech as a means to maturity in Christ.
Consider Ephesians 4:15–16. How do grow up in every way into him who is the head? How are we to be joined, united, and equipped by our Savior? How might we help the rest of the body build itself up in love? By “speaking the truth in love.”
Now go and do likewise.