Redeeming Small Talk for the Kingdom of God

I have always been the type of person that longs for substantive conversations that challenge and encourage everyone involved in the conversation. 

Small talk has always been something that I struggled with. I have never wanted to talk about the weather, the local sports ball team, a new movie or show, or politics. 

I have longed for conversations about Jesus. 

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been in conversations about one of the small talk topics mentioned above where I sat in silence. For me it always seemed better to silently observe rather than contribute to something that I deemed trivial. 

I was wrong. Very wrong.

While small talk is not the type of conversation that I want to have; it is the type of conversation that I need to have. Small talk on its own is never edifying. I’ve never walked away from a small talk conversation that has deeply impacted me. I had thought that the problem was small talk, but the real problem was me.

Small talk is supposed to be a conversation starter — not an entire conversation. It provides a giant elephant to break the ice that allows for you to extend the conversation to something that really matters: the gospel. 

Think of it like a meal at a nice steakhouse. Your goal is to get to the main course: a tender and juicy filet mignon with creamy mashed potatoes. But you don’t jump right into the main course. First, you order drinks. Then, you eat an appetizer or salad. These things aren’t what you came to the restaurant to enjoy, but they are the process that leads to the goal: a perfectly cooked steak. 

Of course, sometimes you do jump right into the main course. Just like there are times that you jump right into deep conversation. But, this doesn’t happen often. You have to embrace the process in order to get to the meat. 

I had been dissatisfied with only observing conversations that centered around small talk, but I had never really engaged and attempted to help shift the conversation to something more substantive. The problem wasn’t small talk; it was my resolve not to engage as an ambassador of the kingdom of God. 

In order to get to the meat of conversations about Jesus, we must be willing to redeem small talk. And not just redeem it, but practice at it in order to use it to effectively share the gospel. 

D.L. Moody, the great evangelist of the nineteenth century, was once on a train to Milwaukee and began to engage the man sitting next to him in small talk. He started with a simple question of asking the man where he was going and after finding out, he took the short time left to talk to the man about Christ. Prior to departing the train, the man placed his trust in Jesus.1 That man’s life was changed forever with a conversation started by small talk.

As a pastor and church planter, I have found that asking people about their work is an effective bridge to talking about the gospel. No one is ever prepared for me to tell them that I’m a pastor, but (almost) every time it allows the conversation to shift and even seems to build trust. 

Chances are that you aren’t a pastor so this probably won’t work as effectively for you. Yet, there is another area of small talk that tends to work well universally: getting people to talk about how their week has been. The beauty of small talk is that it is almost always reciprocated. 

If you ask someone a question, they’re very likely to ask you the same question. This allows you to share about the rhythm of following Christ throughout your week. Some things you can talk about are: the most recent sermon you heard at church, your small group, a story of meeting someone’s tangible need, or maybe a conversation you had with another believer that was encouraging. 

This will likely feel awkward at first and the first few times that you do it you’ll probably want to quit. But I want to challenge you to try this at least five times. The first one or two will likely feel like failures. But the next few is where you will begin to relax and become more natural in conversation. It will feel less abnormal and more like something that is a normal part of your life. Practice is the key to redeeming small talk for the kingdom of God. It may not be easy at first, but it is certainly worth feeling awkward a few times.

Redeeming small talk is an important step toward embracing a more missional lifestyle. Some conversations won’t go anywhere. Some conversations may end poorly. But some conversations will allow you to share the gospel in a meaningful way. One of these conversations is worth a dozen that seem not to produce fruit. 

Yet, even when we do not think there is fruit, it is likely that God is working behind the scenes to impact this person’s life. Let us remember Paul’s words to the Corinthian church:

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭3:5-7‬ ‭CSB‬‬

I challenge you to try this within the next 24 hours. Don’t put it off. If you do try it, I’d love to hear about it. Send an email with the subject “small talk” to kevin@citychurchdenton.com and tell me how it goes. 

1. R.A. Torrey, Why God Used D.L. Moody, 46

Kevin Fontenot is the pastor of City Church Denton, a church plant in Denton, Texas.

Why Reading The Bible Shouldn’t Be Your New Year’s Resolution

I’m a bit cynical of New Year’s resolutions. I’m a master of broken resolutions. I’ve failed to exercise, eat healthier, and spend more time with the Lord. One thing I’ve learned about resolutions is that while they are filled with good intentions, they often have many unintended consequences. 

One resolution that I see every year is people who wish to spend more time with God. They boldly make the resolution to read the Bible in a year. They open their favorite Bible app and select a plan that helps them keep track of their progress. The first day goes perfectly. The second day goes well. The third day is challenging but it gets done. Inevitably something goes horribly wrong at work or home and sometime within the first week or two, you miss a day. 

That’s when the first unintended consequence shows itself. You feel guilty that you have missed a day of reading your Bible. You can’t shake the feeling of failure. You promise that you’ll read enough for two days the next day, which seems odd doesn’t it? You missed one day so now you have to read two days worth because somehow that will make up for it, right? 

Setting a resolution to read the Bible in a year is problematic because of its reliance on performance based spirituality. This may sound odd, especially if you’ve spent a significant amount of time in the church. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that mark of a mature believer is daily time in prayer and the Word. Because of this we encourage all to do these two things everyday. 

Please do not misunderstand, I believe that these things are certainly characteristics of a mature disciple of Christ. However, daily prayer and Bible reading are not the way to maturity; they are only characteristics of those who are mature. When people make a resolution to read the Bible in a year, their goal isn’t to accomplish that goal, it’s to mature further in Christ.

So how does one become a mature disciple of Christ?

It’s, as Eugene Peterson would say, a long obedience in the same direction. Yet, how we view obedience is often something different than what it should be. True biblical obedience is an application of trust in Christ. In the New Testament, there are a lot of scriptures about believing or having faith in Christ. The Greek word for believing or having faith is pistis or a slight variation of it. While this does in fact mean belief or faith; its meaning is something that is different than how we typically think of the terms. In reality, biblical belief or faith is rooted in trust.

Trust in Christ propels us toward prolonged obedience to Christ’s commands — none of which is to read the Bible in a year. A better resolution would be to trust in Christ more in the coming year. This will certainly include reading the Bible but also includes prayer, reading other books, and having intentional Christ-centered conversations with other disciples. Yet these things are only characteristics, they’re not the full path. 

Consider Paul’s words in Colossians 3:1-17:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Trust in Christ displayed through obedience is the mark of a mature disciple of Christ. Do not resolve to perform a daily ritual, you’ll likely fail.  Instead, resolve to trust Christ more fully this year. You’ll feel less performance anxiety and more freedom to enjoy Christ’s goodness. 

Perhaps, that first step in trusting him further is reading His Word, in which case I’d recommend starting with one of the four gospels to remind you of the beauty of Jesus. However, your first step may be turning from sin in your life, praying, reading a book, or asking someone in your life to walk beside you as a guide.

Here are a few other resources you may want to consider:

Book: The Knowledge of the Holy

Book: Renovation of the Heart

Resource: HEAR Bible Study Method

Kevin Fontenot is the pastor of City Church Denton, a church plant in Denton, Texas.

A Pastoral Response to Christianity Today’s Article Calling For President Trump’s Removal

I have tried my best to not talk about politics this week. As a pastor I have a responsibility to minister to those on all sides of the political spectrum. It is why I have attempted to refrain from public political statements in recent months.

But, now that the conversation has shifted to being about Christianity, I do not think that I can remain silent. Yesterday, Christianity Today published an OpEd stating that President Trump should be removed from office. As soon as I read the article I knew that it would be polarizing. 

Yet, I found myself firmly agreeing with everything that was said. Let me start by saying that I did not vote for Trump or Hillary in 2016. I supported John Kasich in the GOP primary and voted for a third party in the general election. But, that’s ultimately not the point. 

I think it is really easy to miss the focus of Christianity Today’s article because the focus, despite what you might think, is not on President Trump. The focus of the article is our missiological witness to the world. The article does not condemn anyone for holding to a conversative political ideology. Instead, it speaks a word of warning to those who refuse to admit that President Trump has acted in a way that is unethical, immoral, and unchristian. 

Here’s a direct quote:
“To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.”

As Christians, our primary calling is to make disciples. There is nothing more important. Sadly, it seems that many of us have seen our primary calling is to support “Christian values” through our unwavering support of a political party.

President Trump seems to think that freedom of religion, one of those “Christian values,” is the thing that matters most in Christianity. This is an affront to historic and modern Christianity. Those who love Christ have always thrived under persecution and the most hostile places tend to be were the most resilient disciples are made. Christ alone grows his church, not a President.

President Trump certainly supports the Republican agenda. And yes, sometimes that agenda lines up with what Christians should value. But, we must also be willing to admit that President Trump is someone who has shown himself to be unethical, immoral, and someone who engages in actions that are certainly unchristian.

It is my firm hope that we can move beyond political theatre and understand that the true problem is where our hope rests. Does our hope rest in the risen Christ or does our hope rest in a President? If our hope rests in Christ we will see that our biggest priority is to make disciples and that we must abandon our zeal for defending someone who has time and time again shown himself to be someone who does not produce fruit. 

Please hear my heart, I am not trying to make a political statement. Rather, I am making a theological statement about where we place our hope and how that influences our missiological witness to the world. By all means, please continue supporting candidates that you believe best align with what Christians should value. Yet, when you do so, keep in mind that how you portray your support will ultimately influence your ability to make disciples.

“Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Kevin Fontenot is the pastor of City Church Denton, a church plant in Denton, Texas.