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How to encourage deep relationships

Dec. 1, 2017 | by Bob Russell

I’ve experienced three in-depth conversations with Christian friends recently that significantly enriched my walk with Christ. Each time I came away feeling that I knew my fellow believers better and that we had encouraged one another spiritually.

Conversation among Christians should edify us and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Instead, we can spend an entire evening talking about sports, current events, restaurants, and movies, and ignore opportunities to fortify one another in the Christian life. 

Revealing inquiries

Recently, after dinner at a quiet restaurant, six of us were involved in normal conversation when I suggested we answer the “Four Quaker Questions.” Their original purpose was to allow friends in the Quaker Church to get to know one another better and reinforce each other’s walk. 

Since we knew each other, we skipped the first two, about our hometown and what the winters were like. We focused on the next two, starting with: What was the center of warmth in your home—a place or a person? We each took a few minutes to answer; several folks got teary-eyed.

The next: When did Jesus Christ first become real in your life? proved a bit more challenging. It gave each of us an opportunity to discuss things like our conversion experience, answered prayer, or a special worship service.

Memorable encounters

The next day, one participant told me: “That was one of the most enjoyable and meaningful evenings I’ve ever spent.” I felt the same way. I learned things about my friends and walked away feeling closer to each of them and the Lord.

Spiritually edifying conversations are desperately needed today. There’s so much depressing news and so much anti-Christian propaganda that it’s easy to get discouraged. One of the best ways to counter despair and build others up is a meaningful discussion with fellow believers. As Proverbs 27:17 says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” 

Not too long ago, in a different group, the leader said, “Tonight, we’re going to go around the room and take turns asking one question that everyone else has to answer in 30 seconds or less.” He started with a simple question about our least favorite food, followed by the person next to him asking about our favorite movie.

When people answer they invariably elaborate, while others will add their opinions. However, such discussions can lead to deeper questions, such as: What is your favorite Christian song? What’s your favorite Bible verse? What’s the most frightened you’ve ever been?

In-depth conversations

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus asked questions?  

• Simple questions like: “Have you caught any fish?” 

• Probing questions: “What were you arguing about as we walked along the way?” 

• Easy questions: “Who do men say that I am?” 

• Difficult questions: “Why did you doubt?” 

Church leaders, you can initiate in-depth conversation and help others learn a lot just by asking questions. Stimulating inquiries give people an opportunity to reveal something about themselves and provide an opportunity to deepen relationships.

Several weeks ago, some friends hosted my wife and me, along with four other couples, for dinner. At the end of a delicious meal, the hostess said, “Under your plate is a strip of paper with a question on it. We’re going to go around the table, and each of you answer your question.” 

They were subjective; some had spiritual ramifications. Things like: “If you could select one other person to be sitting at this table, who would it be?” “What person has had the greatest impact on your life?” “What Bible character, besides Jesus, do you look forward to meeting in heaven?”

Everyone got to talk. We all had to think. There was a lot of laughter. There was transparency and some keen insights into people’s values. Admittedly, there was a little discomfort at first, but we managed to go beyond superficial issues and left feeling spiritually enriched.

Paying attention 

Here’s an important qualifier for deepening the conversation and edifying one another: be interested, not just interesting. One challenge in any conversation is getting so focused on what we’re going to say that we don’t pay attention to the speaker.

When someone else is talking, give focused attention to the speaker through eye contact, facial expressions, and body language. You’ll draw out the best in them and encourage them by valuing their story. 

Even if it’s not melodramatic; it’s still important. A good listener always has plenty of friends.

Photo source: istock

Bob Russell

At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.

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