Posted by: Brian Musser | August 28, 2012

Gaining Permission to Share Your Story

Permission Evangelism

Several years ago, I read Permission Evangelism by Michael Simpson.  I highly recommend it.  I can’t say that it changed how I thought about evangelism.  It succinctly stated many things that I already felt to be true about sharing our faith.  If you have been a ministry leader with me at Drexel there is a good chance you received a copy of this book from me.  And some of you may have even read it.  The following PDF is actually a good summary of the book.  (cbs0311)  Recently I posted on asking questions as a way to develop relationships across generations within the context of the Christian faith (How to Ask a Questions).  The post encouraged us to ask open-ended questions about someone’s life in ways that fostered connecting.  But questions and conversations at a two-way experience.  How we encourage, use  and even steward the question someone asks us is just as important as the questions we ask them.

Repetitive Questions

Have you ever noticed how many time you are answering the same questions?  What are the questions you are asked a lot?  Some of them are simply information questions but others are deeper.  Pay attention for the next week to the questions that you are asked.  Look for questions that show up multiple times.  Write those questions down.  We are going to seriously think about them.  In the comments section below share with us the questions you are being asked often. 

Recently at Drexel there was a student from Long Beach, CA involved in the ministry.  He was basically the opposite of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  He was asked why he chose to come all the way across the country to attend Drexel often.  This is the type of question we are talking about.  Some examples could be:

  • How did you get the job you have?
  • Do you like where you live?
  • What are you going to do later(tonight or this weekend)?
  • (For college students) Why did you choose that major?
  • (For couples) Are you thinking about having (more) kids?

Create a list of questions that you are asked frequently.  We are going to craft purposeful answers to those questions.

Crafting Answers

Intentionally crafting answers may seem a bit contrived or even slightly deceptive.  If you think about it, you do it all the time.  How many times have you had “practice conversations” in you head when you knew that getting the response just right was critical?  I remember before Jennifer and I were parents I had crafted an answer to the kids question.  It involved describing in elaborate detail a responsible step-up process that included the survival of pet rocks, plants, fish and small mammals.  I crafted that answer for my own entertainment and to be annoying enough that others would stop asking.  My California student had a routine answer to the Drexel question.

As we are crafting the answers to specific questions we want to search for a primarily spiritual answer to it.  Going back to our previous examples:

  • How did you get the job you have?
    • God provided.
  • Do you like where you live?
    • I feel like I am exactly where God wants me to be and that is awesome!
  • What are you going to do later(tonight or this weekend)?
    • I use my time to glorify God.
  • (For college students) Why did you choose that major?
    • I felt called by God to invest my life in helping others through this major.
  • (For couples) Are you thinking about having (more) kids?
    • Having (another) child would be a tremendous gift and responsibility sent from God.

Many of the questions that we are routinely asked have a significant spiritual answer.  If we consider our faith as core to our identity meaningful questions about us should touch our Christian life.  We need to think how our answer is connected to our faith.  It becomes easier after awhile.

Spiritual Answers

However, being completely explicit with the spiritual answer may not be the best way to develop a relationship through the conversation.  It may take the conversation to someplace the other person doesn’t want to go.  Talking about your personal spiritual life may be to deep for that person.  But if you never talk about then that person will never really get to know you.  That person could be led to assume that there is no spiritual aspect to you at all.  It may be that the person is just waiting for you to start talking about what you believe but you never do.  Answers about God may shut the conversation down completely or they may just take the relationship to a whole different level.  How can we know when to talk about God and when to not?  We want to craft our answers to those frequent questions in such a way that makes it clear that deeper conversation is just one or two questions away.

  • How did you get the job you have?
    • I really believe that a unique set of events were ordained in order for me to get the job.

When give an answer like this you are actually searching for three things.  You want to know how interested the person is in actually listening to your whole story.  Sometimes we try telling people really cool stories when they are just trying to fill awkward silences with chit-chat.  If the person is interested in hearing the your story you have given them several potential follow-up questions.  They could ask about the events.  They could ask about why you think they are unique.  They could try to figure out what you mean by ordained.  They could ask something about the word “believe.”

Let’s imagine that they ask about your story so you know they are actually interested but you still not sure how spiritual to take the conversation.  That is the second thing you want to know.  How interested is this person in having a spiritual conversation with you?  Depending on their question you want to answer it but be slightly more specific that there is a spiritual element to this story.

  • Really, what kind of things happened?
    • I was out of work for awhile.  So I was praying and my family was praying for me.  I really didn’t know this job existed until my friend told me about it.  And then some of the things that the boss told me in the interview process and everything it seemed like my prayers were being answered.

As you tell the story you are trying to determine how comfortable they are with talking to you about spiritual things.  Keep pausing to allow them time to ask questions.  You really want them to guide the conversation.  You really want them to ask about the parts of your story that interests them.  Don’t assume that you know what parts of your story they are interested in.  Each question they ask is them giving you permission to tell them that part of your spiritual journey.  They may take the conversation you are not expecting.  From last statement I would expect them to ask either about what happened during the interview process. A question about details might be a signal not to go to deep.  They may ask about prayer.  That is the kind of question you can take a sign to start talking about more spiritual things.  But they may just throw you for loop and ask something like this.

  • Your family was praying for you in the process. Is your family really supportive of you that way?

The third thing you are looking for is how is the Holy Spirit leading this person that I am talking to.  By allowing them to guide your conversation with their questions you will begin to understand how the Holy Spirit may be working on their lives.  When sharing our faith what we are really looking for are those the Holy Spirit is already working on.  We want to be sensitive to how the Spirit in us can connect to the Spirit working on them.  We can do that allowing them to also guide us by asking questions about what has been on their heart and mind.  This requires some sensitivity and a lot of trust.

It is my opinion that allowing others to guide are conversations with their questions will allow us to be able to share our faith more frequently and see many more people being receptive to it.  It will allow us the opportunity to communicate what we believe to people who want to hear it.  The questions of other can be the process way we identify those who the Holy Spirit has invited us to be a small part of their spiritual journey.



  1. […] is where permission evangelism comes in. Permission Evangelism is a book by Michael Simpson. (I have done an in depth review of his book previously on this site.)  Michael Simpson is a business man who saw parallels between Permission Marketing and some of the […]

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