I used to be afraid to talk to people. As a young person I was extremely shy and introverted around people I didn’t know. I would marvel at my extroverted friends and their ease at engaging almost anyone in conversation, but that skill seemed to elude me. Then I met Jesus. When I entered into a relationship with Jesus I realized that to be a follower of Christ meant doing what Christ would do and caring for those He cared about. If Jesus cared about people, then I needed to learn how to talk to people. Thus began a personal journey along with a determination that my children would be better equipped to connect with people, no matter their personality.
Being on mission with God means building relationships through conversations that connect. For most young people, communication happens online, through text messages, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media. Engaging in a face-to-face conversation can seem intimidating or awkward, but it is essential to real communication and connection. Today more than ever, if we want our children to be on mission with God, we need to teach them how to engage in meaningful conversations that encourage understanding, caring, and the opportunity for spiritual conversations.
I have learned that two of the most important conversation skills to teach are asking good questions and being an active listener. Asking good questions not only takes the pressure off of you to do all the talking, but it shows that you are genuinely interested in the other person. This builds bridges of understanding and breaks down barriers between people. It is also a way to guide a conversation towards spiritual things in an inoffensive and non-confrontational way. This was a key strategy of Jesus.
The second important skill is active listening. This means paying attention to what the other person is saying and following up with other pertinent questions or comments to clarify or add your perspective to the conversation. Active listening shows that you value the other person and are truly interested in them. You may not necessarily agree with their perspective but you value them enough to listen and show respect.
The dinner table is a perfect place to train children in these two skills. Not only do you model this for your children as you ask questions or engage guests in conversation, but you can also brainstorm the kinds of questions one could ask and then practice together. You can begin with information and “get to know you” questions and progress to “What do you believe?” questions, “Why do you believe what you do?” questions, and ultimately address the core questions: “Where do you find meaning and purpose in life?” and “Who is Jesus to you?” These questions teach children how to gain an understanding of what someone believes and to gently guide them to consider the truths and solid answers of Christianity.
Encourage your children to use these skills with their friends or when meeting someone new. As a pastor’s family, our children knew that if visitors came to the church who were their age, they were expected to greet them and have a brief conversation to welcome them. This was not so scary once we had taught and practiced this at home. As a result, my children became the first to greet newcomers in any situation and adept at making new friends.
We can teach our children to pray for people, to serve people, and to care for people, but to truly connect with others about the message of the gospel, we need to teach our children how to talk to people.