Pastor Neil Tomba cycled across the US last month on a three-thousand-mile Conversations Coast to Coast ride. His team began in Santa Monica, California, on May 25, and ended thirty-three days later, on June 28, in Annapolis, Maryland.
For a month, we rode side-by-side for miles on end.
Well, sometimes we rode single file when traffic and road conditions demanded it.
As we rode, we engaged people across the country with kindness, respect, and curiosity. We had conversations and talked about things that were important to them and to us.
We asked questions about where they live, what they value, what they think is important to their community, if they think about spiritual things, and what they think about Jesus.
We tried not only to show others how we can have kind and respectful conversations about faith and spiritual matters, but we wanted to use our experiences as a tool to educate and equip Christians to start conversations wherever they may be in life.
A favorite line from my days with Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ International) is the definition of successful conversations about Jesus: “taking the initiative in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.”
I believe that Jesus’ call in my life is to impact culture but to start with individuals by connecting with people on a heart level. To do that, we live side-by-side—not as superior people with all the answers.
Riding bikes, I discovered the effectiveness of side-by-side conversations instead of going all out for face-to-face confrontations.
Starting a conversation with someone about real issues—issues of hope, purpose, and faith—takes some effort, but it’s worth it. I believe it’s what the Lord has called us to do, as believers.
Coming alongside another person and just talking can be comfortable. Nonthreatening. Just standing next to someone and listening to him or her, then commenting on what we hear.
Eventually, we might earn the right to turn face-to-face and look them in the eye. Too soon and it’s offensive. Too late and we’re just watching their back as they walk away.
This is how I encourage others to impact culture. On our ride, we discovered that the people we met along the way were ready to talk with others who would listen with gentleness and reverence—as opposed to people who confront and argue.
Toward the end of our tour, I met a guy biking from the east coast to the west coast. Although he’d made it clear that he had different opinions than me on faith, he said that he really appreciated us listening. He even said that he thought it was great what we were doing.
Riding side-by-side where you are
I have found that listening is an effective way to engage in conversations. No matter what kind of situation I find myself in, I do my best simply to be curious.
I ask questions like:
- Why do you live in the city you live in?
- What’s important to you in this city?
- What do you value?
- What’s your story?
- Tell me about your family.
Ultimately, I’m listening and then looking for common points of interest.
Getting started can often be the most daunting part when we think about having conversations about faith and culture and spiritual matters.
Here’s where and how it might happen for you.
- Side-by-side at your kid’s soccer game, you can engage in conversation with the person next to you. Maybe God will make an opening for you to share about the One who gives you real hope.
- Side-by-side on the bike path, you can swap stories with a fellow cyclist about Jesus’ ability to bring comfort to your pain.
- Side-by-side at your job, you can listen to a coworker’s story of loss.
On our journey, I heard hard and painful stories about the church, Christians, and religion.
But I also heard stories from people impacted by followers of Jesus as they walked and talked together—side-by-side.
Neil Tomba is the senior pastor of Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, Texas.