21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century – Lesson 17
As people drift further and further away from a Biblical worldview, it takes them longer to move from unbelief to belief. For some, it may be more accurate to say they move incrementally from incredulity (“You’ve got to be crazy if you expect me to belief that.”) to consideration (“Hmmmm. Maybe I need to think about this a bit.”) to wrestling (“If that’s true, then there are a whole lot of things I need to rethink about my life.”) to reception (“I surrender.”).
For many people, the process involves a great deal of dialogue, thinking out loud, posing questions, allowing confusing things to unravel, and many other long-term dynamics.
Evangelism Lesson 17 is that evangelism training must include instruction about how to listen and prompt two-way dialogue more than just one-way proclamation.
To be sure, one-way proclamational evangelism has its place – a rather important one. Its most powerful display may be from the pulpit as preachers articulate the gospel repeatedly from numerous texts. In such a setting, they can challenge with greater boldness than anyone can (or should!) in a one-on-one conversation over a cup of coffee.
But the across-the-table-cup-of-coffee scenario also has its role in helping people move toward the Savior. And listening has a lot to do with it. The people I interviewed spoke of how grateful they were for Christians who allowed them to wonder out loud, ask difficult questions, and challenge what they were told. Many mentioned how patient people were and how a listening ear communicated more than evidence or logic.
Our culture does not foster good listening. We’re distracted, entertained, interrupted, and bombarded with stimuli that turns our attention in on ourselves. Listening to others requires the very skills and attitudes damaged by our environment.
Even apart from current social trends, listening has always been more difficult than most people realize. I wonder if part of James’ motivation for writing, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” is because we naturally get it wrong. We’re slow to listen, quick to speak, and trigger happy to express anger – especially when we’re talking about eternally significant things.
I often include training in listening as part of my evangelism seminars and classes. At first, people wonder why. But after just a few minutes of the first drill, people express appreciation for the practice. I pair people up and tell them to have a conversation where one partner can only ask questions. For some, the restriction to not jump in with their own story or a remark like, “Me too!” is excruciating. I urge them to develop the discipline to keep the spotlight on the other person for longer than they normally would. This kind of listening shows concern for the other person that some rarely experience. It can pave the way for them to listen to us after we’ve listened to them.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
I’m hopeful we can learn to listen so people will wonder why we took a real interest in what they had to say. Maybe they’ll even ask. And then, perhaps, we can then point them to the One who has even more interest in them.