Looking for a Gospel Opening? Ask About Their Tattoo.

Erin Wheeler, future author of The Good Portion: The Church, counsels us to respond to other people’s stories with the greatest story the world has ever known.

“I like your ink,” I say casually as I walk past the woman in my exercise class. “Thanks,” she mumbles, eyeing me with that look.

It’s the look people give when someone notices their tattoo. They wonder if the person really means the compliment, or if they just happened to notice their purposely and permanently pigmented skin.

At the gym, our conversation continues for a bit. She tells me her tattoo reminds her of a family member she lost a few years ago. I tell her I got my tattoo to remember how God saved my marriage at a time when I thought we might not make it. I have interactions like these frequently: at the gym, at the coffee shop, at the community pool. As a Christian, I’m hoping these tattoo conversations might lead to a more important conversation. A conversation about the gospel.  

As we go through our days, looking to speak to others about Christ, maybe it’s time we considered how asking about someone’s tattoo could be intentionally evangelistic.

Got Ink?

Artwork on the skin continues to rise in popularity. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of people getting tattoos is increasing around 7.7 percent annually. That’s a lot of tattoos! 

Tattoos can provoke a negative reaction among some Christians. Some see them as a rebellious act, something only prisoners or drug lords would get, or as something unbiblical. Whatever our feelings or convictions, we can’t ignore the culture. Tattoos have become more and more mainstream, particularly with millennials, and especially in the United States. We must see this growing trend and understand our need to engage people—no matter what they look like on the outside.

Tattoos present a marvelous gospel opportunity for us. As my coworker, a former tattoo artist, said, “99 percent of people get a tattoo for a reason. There’s a story behind the artwork.” And that, my Christian friend, is an open door! Why not walk through it?

Learn Someone’s Story

Why not ask the barista you order coffee from each morning (whose name I hope you know by now), “Hey Sam, I’ve noticed that tattoo on your arm and have been thinking about it. What is it exactly?” Depending on how he responds, follow up with, “What made you decide on that design?”  

Or how about a coworker or neighbor you’ve gotten to know a bit? Why not take the risk of possibly sounding nosy or weirdly curious: “Hey LauraI’ve seen those words on your wrist. What made you choose those? I’m curious.” And then shut your mouth and listen. There’s a story behind that tattoo. 

Even if they don’t share their story with you right then and there, it might be the thing God uses to open a door and give you an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s amazing what you can learn about somebody with that simple prompt. 

In response to my questions, I’ve heard people’s whole life stories. I’ve had a man tell me about his tattoo in memoriam for the infant daughter he tragically lost. Others have shared their love of nature—or “Mother Earth” as they called it. I even had a fellow nurse explain her love for Dr. Who because of how he cared for others, particularly the innocent. According to her, that’s what led her into nursing. Even if someone doesn’t remember getting their tattoo, that drunken night or wild weekend is part of their story. 

We can respond to each of these stories with gospel truth. Jesus, the ultimate caregiver, has made a way for the dead to come to life through his own death and resurrection. He knows what suffering is like. He can identify with the broken. He’s the Creator and Sustainer of this amazing world. All we see, he has made. He’s the master storyteller, and he’s at the center of it all. 

Why not use a tattoo story as a bridge to invite others to become a part of God’s larger story?

Look for the Spirit’s Work

Because tattoos can have such personal significance to the owner, some people don’t want to share. That’s okay. But you won’t know unless you ask. What’s the worst they can do? Stare strangely at you? Shame you for asking? That’s hardly a tough cross to bear for Christ.

On the other hand, your question might come at a moment of transparency or vulnerability. It might just crack the door of their soul a tiny bit so you can walk in with the gospel. Your questions might land exactly where and when the Spirit is already starting to work. In that case, listen. Watch. Ask questions. And most of all, pray for God’s Spirit to enable you to respond with truth and love. You never know what gospel opportunities might linger behind those colors and lines marking that stranger’s skin. 

Regardless of how you feel about tattoos, the people displaying them are image-bearers in need of gospel truth. Their biggest problem isn’t the gun imprinted on their neck, or knuckles marked with foul language. And a beautiful flower design doesn’t mean all is well with their soul. Their biggest problem is their separation from a holy and good God.  

As Christians, we have the message of hope for our friends and neighbors. Why not take the risk and ask someone to share the story behind the artwork on their skin?

The story they tell you might allow you to tell them the greatest story the world has ever known.

Erin Wheeler is a pastor’s wife, mother and nurse in Fayetteville Arkansas. She loves people, theology and tattoos. Her article is reprinted from The Gospel Coalition, August 25, 2020.

Are you following?

The authors of The Good Portion books love to keep in touch with readers! Are you following our Instagram and Facebook pages for all the latest? Find out the most up-to-date information, including announcements, blog posts, book sales, events, Q&A with the authors, and even encouraging quotes from the books. Find us on Instagram at goodportionbooks and on Facebook at https://fb.me/goodportionbooks.

Fruit

Romans 6:20-23

Have you ever picked up an entertainment magazine in the checkout line or watched an interview with someone who is rich and famous? Broken marriages, repeated rehab, estranged children, living without reference to God. No desire for him. No delight in him. Sin and self reign. With all the designer clothes, magnificent homes and extravagant vacations, there is still no lasting joy. It seems that the more of the world a person has, the more miserable he or she seems to be. One famous actor said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Continue reading “Fruit”

Last Installment! Summer in Romans 6

Romans 6:20-23 The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Observation questions are in plain type. Interpretation questions are in italics. Application questions are in bold. (For a further explanation of how to do this Bible study, see here.)

Pray for insight into the Scriptures and give God praise for “the free gift of God…eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Read Romans 6:1 – 7:6.

Romans 6:20-23

1. When Paul’s readers were slaves of sin, how were they free?

2. What does it mean to be “free in regard to righteousness”?

Continue reading “Last Installment! Summer in Romans 6”

Delight in God’s Word Together

Are you ready for a new year of ministry to women? Whether by Zoom or in person, your church is likely starting Bible studies again this fall. How can you spur on your women to delight in God’s word together? How can you encourage women you are discipling to love reading their Bibles and pass that love on to others?

Keri Folmar, Rebecca Stark, Natalie Brand and Jenny Manley, the authors of The Good Portion Seriescollectively have over 50 years of experience in ministry to women. Join us for a Livestream on Tuesday where we’ll answer your questions about one-to-one Bible reading, group Bible studies and other women’s ministry in the local church.  

If you have questions you’d like to hear answered, post them in the comments on The Good Portion Books Facebook page.

Fit for Heaven

Romans 6:15-19

My dear friend Naomi Njoroge, from Kenya, wrote this on her 50th birthday:

More than half of these 50 years were spent on a slippery road, on a hell-bound race which came naturally to me, just like the rest of mankind. For we are all by nature destined as fuel for hellfire (Eph. 2).

But God being rich in mercy halted this race. He yanked me from this slippery road and put my feet upon a rock. Yes, He did!

And if this is all the Father did, that would have been good—undeserved and glorious. But our Father does things very well. He not only stripped me of my hellish nature, which the Bible calls flesh, and in so doing made me unfit for hell. He also clothed me with his righteousness, making me fit for heaven. Yes, He did!

I am now on a heaven bound race. Yes, I am! And I know heaven will receive me, and hell will not—and it cannot. And this is not of my own doing. The blood of Jesus pleads for me.

If I see my 51st, I know my righteousness will not exceed that of the thief on the cross, but my labors may. That is my prayer.

Continue reading “Fit for Heaven”

Summer in Romans 6 Part IV

Romans 6:15-19 Obedient From the Heart

Observation questions are in plain type. Interpretation questions are in italics. Application questions are in bold. (For a further explanation of how to do this Bible study, see here.)

Pray for a deeper understanding of what it means to no longer be a slave to sin but to instead be “obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching.”

Read Romans 6.

Romans 6:15-19

1. Paul asks “What then?” connecting his next question to the previous verse. What question does he then ask?

2. Why might Christians’ status as “not under law but under grace” cause them to think they are free to sin?

Continue reading “Summer in Romans 6 Part IV”

Freedom

Romans 6:12-14

Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist orator, spoke from experience. He had been born a slave. His first taste of freedom was after he refused to be beaten by an ultra-cruel “slave-breaker.” He writes of this incident in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave:

“The gratification afforded by the triumph was a full compensation for whatever else might follow, even death itself… It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place…” (p. 69).

Continue reading “Freedom”