By and large, Christians like to speak. They have something of eternal significance to say, after all. Yet how many of us are poor listeners? So poor, in fact, that far too many Christians don’t have any non-Christian friends. They think they do, but they don’t. If you have been a believer for any length of time, count the number of genuine non-Christian friends you have. Not acquaintances, work colleagues or people you knew from back in the day that you see twice a year, but non-Christian people regularly and consistently involved in your life.
Now there are a number of reasons for this, but I think one of them is because we are not any good at listening. We want to reach people for Jesus, and yet I wonder how many of us actually know anything about the people we are trying to reach. What do they like to do? What are they interested in? What are their fears and dreams and hopes and ambitions? Far too many Christians know far more about the life of Jonathan Edwards than that of their next door neighbor.
If we want to build authentic relationships with people, then surely we must develop a genuine interest in them along the way, not just strategically in the hope that an “opportunity” will come along. How many people do we know that we are engaging in conversation with, but we know they’re not listening to us. They are just waiting to jump in with their point of view. No sense of personal interest or dialogue. They just want to talk at you. They know what an unbeliever’s ultimate need is, so they just sweat and worry and think of ways they can get the gospel into the conversation. I am asked at least once at every church I visit about how to start a “gospel conversation” with unbelievers in a natural way.
Here are some tips:
1. Be natural.
Stop trying so hard to look for that killer entry point into the conversation. Relax and trust God.
2. Assume nothing about anybody.
Some of the most well-dressed, well-spoken people I know have been car crashes in terms of their personal lives. And some of the scruffiest-dressed, hoodlum-looking guys have been very smart and articulate. How much of our assumptions about need are based on appearances and first impressions?
3. Go out with people.
Christians are obsessed with inviting people to events. But why not just go out and hang out with a nonbeliever and go where they want to go (within reason, of course)?
4. Listen to them.
Instead of telling people the answers to questions they are not asking and informing them of what they actually “need,” listen to what their real concerns are. So much of our evangelism is tied into the straw man approach. We start with an issue that concerns us and then proceed to blow it out of the water with the Bible. The problem with believers is that they are often starting with different issues. Unbelievers (of a certain age) don’t generally care about the slide in morality of society, but they may care about why there are 500 types of churches in the town and what Jesus thinks about that (as was put to me recently).
Of course, ultimately, people need the gospel. It is the only power of salvation for lost sinners. That is beyond dispute. But have many churches and leaders stopped to think that the reason they are not seeing much fruit in their lives is not because “it is the day of small things,” but because they have forgotten how to live in the world, as Jesus did, and properly engage with people?
John’s gospel is full of these life incidences where Jesus would meet someone, engage with them at a personal level and then move into the deeper, spiritual realm. Let’s not guess at what people need, let’s not see helping a person’s immediate need as a gospel sell-out. Perhaps we may see more natural opportunities and wonderful stories of God’s powerful, saving grace in our own lives.
We pray on for fruitful lives and gospel opportunities.