When it comes to sharing your faith, do you operate chipmunk-style or coffeehouse-style? If you go the way of the chipmunk, you're on a mission to scurry out and spread the Gospel, then hurry back to your hole. It can be scary, tense, performance-driven, and guilt laden. (If I sound like I know this style intimately, I do. And it paralyzed me from talking freely about my faith for a very long time.) The problem? Most of the time you feel like a failure because sharing your faith with someone doesn't often result in an immediate change of heart. Leaving the well-traveled grooves of a life lived without God takes time and the work of the Holy Spirit.
But coffeehouse-style is different. Coffee Shop Conversations, by Dale Fincher and Jonalyn Fincher, brews up a fresh way to share your faith and a key component is something I was never taught to do when I learned the ways of evangelism: listening. "All people are like packages," write the Finchers. "God invites us to look beyond the outside labels and give people our attention. Jesus shows us how to open the envelopes of people's lives and know our neighbors beyond the roles they play. Like the wrapping, our bodies conceal our souls within. Each person holds unknown surprises, unique concerns, interests, and motivations. What's inside the packages we call people?"
So rather than seeing people as a project, a target, or a mission, we need to see them as precious and unique individuals who cannot be approached with a one-size-fits-all memorized technique. We need to be present, awake and aware in the moment, and primed to infuse even the briefest interaction with meaning. Coffee Shop Conversations' challenge to meet people in love, humility, and grace, and to strive to strike up meaningful spiritual conversations reminds me of what a powerful conversational evangelist once told me: "I choose to keep myself open and talk to people. I stop and listen and I care about their problems. Then, when I look in their eyes, sometimes....sometimes I see a spark, something from deep inside that reaches out to something deep inside me. Then I know that they are looking for something more. It might not happen that day, or that week, or even that year, but I know that if we become friends, someday I will get a chance to share the thing that is most important in my life." The FInchers describe this powerful intersection of souls as "looking beyond different beliefs and into people's souls to see our shared struggles." Because whether someone is a Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, or doesn't quite know what they believe, they bear the image of God and we need to treat them with value.
Besides challenging us in Part 1: Making Spiritual Small Talk, to look at sharing our faith in a whole new light, Coffee Shop Conversations is an equipping book. Part 2: Restocking Your Tools, includes engaging chapters on How to Read the Bible, Misquoting Jesus, and differentiating between different religious belief systems in One True Religion. The Finchers even unpack popular spiritual books such as The Secret, The Four Agreements, and a popular Oprah pick, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. The last section is Helping Friends Home, and deals with common questions and topics that might arise in spiritual conversations, because, after all, some topics are harder than others. For example, the problem of pain and suffering is one that different religions handle with vastly different ideas on the solution.
Finally, coffee shop conversations are as much about learning as they are about teaching or sharing your faith. "We want this book to serve not merely as a collection of apologetic tools, but as a road map guiding you toward freedom to be yourself as you talk about Jesus. We hope you will customize your conversations to the unique gifts God has forged in your soul. May you develop your own questions and ideas to introduce others to the God of Israel. May you continue to be taught and humbled by the humans God places in your life." Coffee Shop Conversations is a great reminder that it's all about loving your neighbor, and sometimes that's easier, more effective, and a whole lot more fun in a coffee shop. White chocolate mocha, anyone?