I’m an apologist, but by vocation, I’m a UPS driver, a “tent maker” as J. Warner Wallace would say. I would like to have conversations about “the minimal facts approach to the resurrection” or “the ontological argument”, but most of the time I’m moving at the speed of business. Most days I go out on my rural route in the mountains of Tennessee with over 100 stops. There’s not a lot of time for long conversations, but that’s okay.
After 11 years on the same route, I’ve had the privilege to get to know several of the folks on my route. There’s a bunch of good people out there, but there are always unbelievers, people with problems, and there are even a couple of atheists. I simply don’t have enough time to say everything all at once that needs to be said. My guess is, that you don’t either.
Most of the time, as we go through our daily routine, take kid to school, stop for gas/coffee, work 100mph, pick up groceries, etc., we don’t have time to have long conversations about complicated spiritual subjects. In fact, I’d say most of our conversations are a lot like the ones I have as a UPS driver, 100 conversations/day at 100 mph.
So, excluding those relational conversations, those with loved ones or friends, how do we affect someone’s life in a way that is significant, when we only get to speak to them for just a few seconds a day or week? I use a principle that Greg Koukl teaches in his book on Tactics, to make the most of my time, realizing that I may never “close the deal” (lead to Christ) with any of these people. Here’s my approach.
Be prepared. UPS used to have a phrase we memorized that helped us drive safe as delivery drivers. “A planned day makes a safe day.” That phrase has been replaced but it works well with what I try to do in conversation. Most of my conversations last between 5 and 15 seconds. I must make the most of them. The way to do that is to have a plan. Most of the time, the people you come into contact with are people you see every day. Unless you are traveling, you are probably in a set routine. You meet the same people regularly. Care about them. Pray for them first. Then plan for the next time you’ll see them. Think about them. You probably know more about this person than you think. People can tell you a lot about themselves in a short time, and they probably have. This may give you a clue to your approach. A short phrase, a quick introduction, if they include something that may lead to a question or even cause them to ask one, is productive. Pray for the opportunity and then dive in quick.
Colossians 4:3 (NET)
4:3 At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Look sharp, don’t get cut. That’s a dated UPS phrase to help someone keep their eyes open for unexpected sharp objects. In conversation, once you’ve thought of an approach, practice it in your mind. I do this every day, from one stop to the next. I prepare in my mind for an opportunity that may present itself, and then I go over it in my mind. Remember, I don’t have much time and neither do they, so if I throw my hat in the ring and they respond, I may need to have a rejoinder prepared before I make a quick exit. Contingencies are important when you’re considering what to say. Ask yourself, what if they say this? Or what if they ask that? This may prolong the conversation to your next meeting but if you’re not prepared, you could be caught flat-footed. Look sharp! Don’t get cut! Your conversation may never get that far, but if it does, you’ll be ready.
Colossians 4:5–6 (NET)
4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.
Get the big picture. UPS uses this phrase for drivers to understand that it’s important to see the entire road, all around them, all of the time. I’m using it here to try to tell you that one failure is not total failure. There’s probably going to be another opportunity. To be honest, most of the planning I do for potential conversations ends up being thrown off by something totally unexpected. This will be true for you too. Life is full of unexpected events and conversations seldom go the way we think they will. If we get the big picture, we realize that today is not a “do all end all”. There will be a tomorrow, and today gives me experience that I didn’t have before. Don’t be discouraged. Move on.
Most of the time, I see no results from any of my efforts. Most days I don’t even get to drop a big apologetics bomb. Every now and then, by God’s grace, I get to say that thing that makes an eyebrow raise, or a headshake. Sometimes, I get to answer a spiritual question. The best I can do, even with the best plan, most days just fly by, at the speed of business…
but at least I’m moving.