Seven Ways to Build a Culture of Spiritual Conversation
There are some churches—faithful, Bible-preaching churches—where the after-church conversations are so secular that you could swap them out for the lunch crowd at a local restaurant. And if after-church conversations are this secular, then others are likely to fare little better in terms of spiritual substance.
Why is this? Certainly different cultures will have different thresholds of what is comfortable to talk about, and with whom, and we must make some allowance for that.
Yet far deeper than cultural differences lies a spiritual battle. If Satan can keep Christians’ conversation on topics that don’t foster spiritual progress, even when you’ve stuck dozens or hundreds of them in a room together, then he’s got a pretty good footing from which to choke out their spiritual growth.
In other words, a culture of spiritual conversation in a local church is a powerful force for sanctification. Every pastor, then, should strive to cultivate the kind of culture in which it is utterly normal to confess sin, offer encouragement, share struggles, and apply Scripture to all of the above and more.
How? Here are seven suggestions.
SEVEN WAYS TO BUILD A CULTURE OF SPIRITUAL CONVERSATION
1. Recognize the spiritual battle. Conversation is not incidental. Words reveal the heart (Matt. 12:34). If people’s words are filled with worldly concerns, that’s because their hearts are filled with worldly concerns. Ultimately, only God the Holy Spirit can give the kind of spiritual life and growth which enables this kind of culture. So pray that he would.
This won’t happen by accident. It’s unnatural for us to speak of spiritual things not just because such matters are personal, but because we’re sinners, and sin likes to stay in the darkness (Jn. 3:19-20). So you can’t let your church culture just go with the flow—you have to constantly swim upstream.
2. In your sermons, encourage people to talk about the sermon immediately after the service. As you’re applying God’s Word to your people’s lives, tell them to talk about these things with each other. Suggest a point of application for people to discuss right after church, or on the drive home, or at lunch. Make an encouragement to talk about sermon application one of your points of application. If you talk about talking about the sermon, people will start to talk about the sermon.
Further, it is entirely possible for the Word to fall along the path and for college football to snatch it up and carry it off. So encourage your members to discuss the sermon right after the close of the service.
Of course it’s allowable to discuss football, the weather, and the news after church. But it’s particularly strategic to discuss spiritual matters during the only time in the week when the entire church has come together in the same place and has just spent forty-five minutes listening to a sermon.
So show your people the preciousness of that opportunity. Encourage them to think strategically about how to use the times around the church service to do spiritual good to others. And encourage them not to be sermon critics, but to apply the Scriptures to the stuff of their lives, right then and there. That will set a precedent for the rest of the week.
3. If you have an all-church prayer meeting, have church members pray through the main points of the sermon every week. If your people talk to God together about the sermon, they’ll be more likely to talk to each other about it, and about other spiritual matters.
4. In discipling relationships, use the Bible and Christian books—or whatever it takes—as a third party. Many people who feel uncomfortable about discussing spiritual matters one-on-one will be more open if you add the Bible or a solid Christian book as the third member of your group. So read a chapter in the Bible or a book together and discuss that. Use it as a springboard into more personal matters.
For some men the “third party” might be working on their car or around the house. There are many men who wouldn’t be caught dead having a heart to heart at Starbucks, but who will open right up once they’ve got a hammer in their hand.
5. Constantly give away good books. Reading gives you something to talk about. If you liberally salt your congregation with good books, their conversations will slowly begin to reflect the contents of those books.
6. Lead by example. Consistently model spiritual conversation. Share judiciously about your own struggles, challenges, and areas of growth. Tell others about how you have been applying the Word to those issues through your own daily devotions. Be transparent about your own spiritual life—a see-through leader is a powerful culture-shaping force.
7. Lead by example—through questions. One of the best ways to foster a culture of spiritual conversation in your church is to consistently and subtly force other people to do the talking. Ask questions like:
- “What are you reading in your quiet times?” (“Um…I haven’t been having a quiet time.” “Well, OK, let’s talk about that.”)
- How have you been growing spiritually lately?
- What are some sins you’ve been struggling with lately?
- What has God been teaching you lately?
- How’s your marriage?
Don’t just ask questions like these, but listen hard afterward. If no response is forthcoming, let the silence grow heavy and uncomfortable. Awkward silences can be wonderfully revelatory, both to you and to your church members. At the very least, your people shouldn’t be able to avoid talking about spiritual things with you, their pastor.
KEEP SWIMMING UPSTREAM
So ask spiritually pointed questions. Model godly conversation. Explicitly encourage spiritual conversations after church. Ask God to ignite a culture of godly conversation.
And keep patiently swimming upstream. Before you know it, more and more of your members will be swimming alongside you.