When was the last time a fellow student introduced themself to you?

When was the last time a stranger on the bus pulled out their air pods and asked how your day was going?

When was the last time an acquaintance asked not only what you study, but why?

Initiative in relationships is rare. Yet you probably value the interest and care of others. We all do. 

Despite this, it can be hard to take initiative. And it can be even harder to start a conversation about deeper things, like God and the gospel. I know it’s scary.

But maybe going deeper is not as impossible as you might think. You have the opportunity to bless others simply by getting to know them better. 

You have the opportunity to bless others simply by getting to know them better. 

Last year I had the unique experience of having two different roles in the same wedding: I was the officiant at the ceremony and the bartender at the reception. 

It was the perfect combo. The guests knew I was a Christian from being “the minister,” and as the bartender, they couldn’t avoid me. 

Jeff, one of the bride’s uncles, was the first to come get a drink. I asked him about his work and found out he is starting a new high-rise construction project that’s bigger than anything he’s done before. I was so intrigued that I asked him all kinds of questions. 

At the end of the night, Jeff went out of his way to come by the bar and thank me for listening. A little initiative goes a long way.

As you get to know people, you’ll also get to know God. And they may very well have the chance to get to know Jesus through you. 

Alex’s story: What sharing the gospel taught me about God

Barriers to taking initiative

What stops us from taking initiative? 

  1. We’re out of practice. We have spent so much time at home or on Zoom these past two years, that we simply haven’t had as many chances as usual. 

Jason’s story: Finding a new “normal” in more Covid freedoms

  1. Polarization: We may not say anything that goes below the surface, out of a fear of being cancelled. 

Wondering how to love across the political divide?

  1. We’re a self-focused culture. I’m more likely to respond to a long line-up with frustration than viewing it as a chance to talk with someone beside me.

Mandy’s story: My selfishness battles true selfless love

These are real barriers you’ll need to work through. 

But on the bright side, since everyone faces them, you have the chance to stand out, simply by taking initiative. 

So how do we initiate deeper conversations in a way that creates a space for others to feel known and valued?

I don’t have a step-by-step formula, but I can offer three mindsets that have helped me.

1. Explore without calculating risk

Have you ever wanted to talk about Jesus with a friend, but you spent way too much time overanalyzing how they would react or what would be the perfect thing to say? 

It’s not our job to know ahead of time who is open or not. God doesn’t ask us to calculate the percentage chance of a person being responsive to the gospel.

You’re not an actuary, analyzing the risk of a conversation about Jesus. 

You’re more like a hiker in the mountains, discovering new trails and beautiful landscapes. An actuary analyzes and compiles. A hiker explores and revels. 

What if we saw each interaction with a stranger or friend as a new trail that’s worth investigating?

Taking initiative with others allows us to explore God’s glory in the people he has made, and to see where his Spirit is working. 

This past summer, I signed up for sports-related registered massage therapy. I prayed before my first appointment that God would help me care about more than improving my running. 

Rayleen was my therapist for five sessions. I took initiative to ask her things like 

  • “What motivated you to pursue massage therapy?”
  • “What do you find most rewarding and challenging?” 
  • “What would your dream career look like?”

Rayleen gradually opened up—quite a bit. And when she asked me some questions back, I was able to naturally include elements of my faith. 

As we talked about podcasts we listen to, Christianity came up more directly. Which made me a bit nervous, because Rayleen is from another faith background. 

At first she got very quiet. But then she shared that she has become quite intrigued by Jesus in the past couple of years. She admitted that she thinks he might actually be the Son of God. I felt honoured to be one of the first people Rayleen confided in about her spiritual search.

If I had calculated the odds of having a meaningful spiritual conversation with someone half my age, from a background often closed to Jesus, I might not have cared to start. 

But by hiking into the unknown, I saw God in a new way. And I think Rayleen did too.

P2C-Students’ podcasts are all about seeing connections between life and faith.

2. Ask for specific direction, but don’t wait for it

I believe with all my heart that God still speaks to us today through his Spirit. God can give us specific leadings and impressions of whom we should reach out to and what we should say. 

But should we wait for this kind of guidance before stepping out? 

Let’s remember that God has already given us commands. 

  • “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) 
  • “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15) 
  • “Proclaim his salvation day after day” (Psalm 96:2) 

Even if God never gave us a specific, personalized mandate, wouldn’t this be enough?

Imagine you get a summer job painting houses. You spend a week learning alongside your boss. The following Monday, she meets you at a new house and instructs, “Today, I’ll be working on another job, so I’ll leave you with this house. The paints and brushes are all ready. Every room needs to be painted.” When your boss shows up at noon, she sees you haven’t painted anything. You explain, “I didn’t know which room to start on, so I was waiting for you to tell me.” It might be your last day of painting.

In the same way, God has already given you a specific “house” to work on. He may not have given you a step-by-step plan, but you can still start talking to others about Jesus. 

Several years ago I was at a retreat where we committed to taking a step of faith. Mine was to initiate a spiritual conversation every time I played pick-up basketball. 

In my experience, guys playing pick-up only talk about three things: drinking, girls, and basketball. Despite my many prayers, there were never any natural transitions for me to bring up the gospel. None of my buddies were asking, “What must I do to be saved?” 

So while waiting for the next game, I would simply ask the guy sitting by me a question like, “Hey, I’m curious, are you from any spiritual or religious background?” or “I’ve known you for a while, but I’ve never asked you anything too deep. Do you think much about spiritual things?”

I was always worried that they would laugh me out of the gym for asking such unrelated questions. But you know what happened? They answered me. 

Sometimes it was with one word that didn’t lead to much more. Sometimes it opened a door to deeper friendship and meaningful conversations about God.

We can take initiative in the light of God’s revealed Word. We can trust that God will redirect us if he has better plans. And because God is there with us, we can ask him for more specifics along the way. 

3. Let love lead you to risk

When you start by asking questions and take the time to genuinely listen, the risk of offending someone is pretty low. Listening is hospitality, after all.

But there is still a cost to count. 

There will always be the chance someone rejects or minimizes your extension of friendship and care for their soul. Or as they hear your Christian views, a friend or acquaintance may assume stereotypes of you (that hopefully aren’t true).

But isn’t it worth it? What’s more valuable than another person made in the image of God? If we have even a slim chance of getting to know them more and helping them see Jesus for who he is, why not try taking the initiative?

A month before the pandemic, Mahmoud started attending our P2C-Students weekly gatherings at my campus. He loved the community and was curious about Christianity. But once things shut down, we didn’t see Mahmoud at anything online. 

I tried to keep in touch over Facebook, but that stayed pretty surface level. After several months, I took a shot at asking Mahmoud a deeper question. 

I was surprised at how vulnerable he was. Our online conversation allowed me to make connections to the gospel message. He did not seem closer to Jesus, but it was good to get closer to each other. 

A couple of months later, Mahmoud’s family experienced a major tragedy. He reached out to me when it happened, asking for prayer. I wonder if one reason he felt comfortable telling me about his loss was that we had a track record of more personal conversations. 

I know I would be more comfortable asking for his support the next time I go through a struggle.

Indian Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey once said, “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail.” For me, the goal of helping someone know Jesus is glorious, however things turn out. Taking initiative is worth the risks. 

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About the Author

Archie Kenyon

Archie serves on staff with P2C-Students and leads our team at the University of Toronto. He and his beautiful wife Cindy have three amazing boys, Sean, Liam, and Caleb. Archie loves anything competitive, from board games to running marathons and urban adventure races.

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