Don Everts grew up assuming that spiritual conversations are always painful and awkward. But his surprising-and sometimes embarrassing-stories affirm what Scripture and the latest research reveal: spiritual conversations can actually be a delight. "The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations" was written by Don, who joined Mark Eischer, Senior Producer of "The Lutheran Hour" radio program for this interview. "The Reluctant Witness" is available for purchase at shoplhm.org.
Mark: You're listening to the Lutheran Hour and we just heard our guest speaker, pastor David Haberstock. I'm Mark Eischer here in the studio with my colleague Don Everts, author of a new book titled The Reluctant Witness, Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations. Don, thanks for joining us.
Don: It's great to be with you, Mark.
Mark: Now, when you talk about spiritual conversations, I think many people would think that instead of discovering delight, it's more a case of dreading the distress of actually talking with someone about your faith. Something so intimate, something so personal. You write, Jesus' church has grown silent in this postmodern age. Why are people, not just Christians, talking less about spiritual matters?
Don: The short answer there is a longer answer, too. The short answer, I would say, is fear. There's a sense that the cat's got our tongue because of the context we're in right now. There's a, there's a large fear of offense.
Don: That's what the research showed us. That one of the reasons people aren't talking about faith or religion or lack of faith is because they're afraid of offending other people. And so kind of the cat's got their tongue. They don't want to offend anyone. And so we've grown silent.
Don: The longer answer we would have to get into things like disinterest. Some people just aren't interested in spiritual matters on the part of Christians. What we believe about spiritual conversations has shifted in some interesting ways. And then also there are some assumptions about spiritual conversations that people have that might not be true. For example, that spiritual conversations are always really awkward things. It turns out that's not true, but we perceive that spiritual conversations are pointy, awkward things, and that also makes us more silent.
Mark: You mentioned research. Could you put this book in context for our listeners? How is this part of a collaboration between Lutheran Hour ministries and the Barna Research Organization?
Don: So here at Lutheran Hour ministries, our mission is to bring Christ to the nations and the nations to the church. And we want to be thoughtful about that. We want to be careful about how we're doing that. So one of the things that we've begun to do is every year we are researching a different topic related in some manner to bringing Christ to the nations and the nations to the church. And we're partnering with the Barna Group. It's an evangelical Christian organization that our experts, they're kind of nerdy. They're experts in doing this kind of research to find things out.
Don: And then we're doing two things with the research. Number one, we are learning as a mission organization. So we're trying to get better and smarter and more fruitful in what we're doing. But the other thing we're doing with each year's research is trying to give the best stuff that we found in the research to the church.
Don: That's part of what this book, The Reluctant Witness, for the year that we researched spiritual conversations. This book is an attempt to take the best stuff that we learned and hand it over to the church.
Mark: And in this book you're combining that research, that data, with some of your own personal experiences to kind of flesh that out a little bit. And I appreciate how those two aspects work together. Earlier you mentioned misconceptions people had about spiritual conversations. You debunk five myths. Could you, could you relate maybe one more of those myths?
Don: One of the myths people have about spiritual conversations is that a spiritual conversation is a really special thing and so it happens with really special people in really special places at really special times. You know, the clouds part and the light comes in. And because of that, that tends to make us not lean into real moments of spiritual conversation because, well, I'm just their friend. We're just at a meal. I'm not a pastor, I'm not in a church.
Don: What the research reveal to us is we ask people, "Who's your preferred partner for spiritual conversations?" Both Christians and non-Christians were asked this question. The top of the list for both by far was a friend. I'd rather talk with a friend than anyone else about spiritual things. Pastors like me, like paid professionals, we're kind of down the list. So people would rather talk to friends or they would rather talk to family members.
Don: So it actually turns out that spiritual conversations happen most and happen most fruitfully in everyday circumstances with everyday people in everyday times. And so that's one of the myths that the research helped us debunk.
Mark: Very good. What are some of the differences between eager and reluctant conversationalists?
Don: Yeah, we use that language. So when we asked people how many spiritual conversations have you had in the last 12 months, in the last year, and it's a low bar, Mark. A spiritual conversation is a conversation with anyone about faith or lack of faith. So that's a pretty low bar, right?
Don: So one of the things we found is that three quarters, let's just talk about Christians at this point. Three quarters of all Christians in the US have nine or fewer spiritual conversations a year. That's less than one a month. And that's talking with anyone. That's not an evangelistic conversation. That's talking with a spouse, with a Bible study leader, with a friend. What'd you kids think of the sermon? All of those count as spiritual conversations. We're having nine or fewer a year. We call those people reluctant conversation lists for obvious reasons.
Don: Eager conversationalists, the difference is a quarter of all Christians are talking about faith a lot and they're having sometimes 70, 100, you know, gobs of times they're talking about their faith. And so those are who we call eager conversationalists.
Don: And one of the powers of doing research is once we noticed that difference, the researchers with Barna, they went back and cut all the data and said, how did people who are eager conversationalists answer all our other questions? And how did the people who are reluctant conversationalists answer all the questions? And what's fascinating, Mark, is we found out there are five distinct areas where eager conversationalists and reluctant conversationalists are different.
Don: So for one example, eager conversationalists have orthodox beliefs about sin, eternity, salvation, forgiveness, and the afterlife. Reluctant conversationalist, on the whole, have less orthodox beliefs about those things. So there is a correlation between believing what the Bible teaches about eternity and sin and Jesus and his work on the cross. There's a correlation if you believe what the Bible teaches about those things. You talk about spiritual matters more.
Thanks for reading part 1! Part 2 of Mark & Don's conversation will be coming soon. Until then, stay posted on the latest updates about "The Reluctant Witness" on LHM's social media outlets.