Evangelism's Missing Link

Few things raise our blood pressure and anxiety level like talking to others about Jesus, especially if it involves the 1-2 punches of answering their objections and inviting them to repent and believe. I can feel my palms getting clammy and sweaty just thinking about it.

A great deal of wonderful material has been written to help us understand the necessity of evangelism, the intellectual and winsome ways we can answer objections, and the authentic simplicity needed in helping people make a profession of faith. All of this is critically important. There is one piece I have found missing, however, that I believe will make a tremendous difference; that can bring godly enjoyment in those who hear the good news of Jesus as well as in those of us called to proclaim that good news. That one missing piece: Listening.

James 1:19 makes it abundantly clear, “…let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…” Of course at some point in an evangelistic conversation you’re going to have to speak – that’s a given. Good news isn’t passed on by osmosis or telepathy, so get ready to talk. But, our speaking should be at least half of our listening. It’s the listening part that makes our speaking part worth hearing. How, you ask? Good question.

Listening is the art and science of knowing another person. It’s the ability to ask questions that plumb the depths of their inner self more than skim the surface of their knowledge and experiences. Listening to others, really listening, convinces them we want to know them more than merely persuading them. Listening is our way of searching out their heart, their core, their soul, and telling them we like it. The single greatest longing of the human soul is to be known. Listening gets us there.

It is in this process we begin to see how the gospel of Jesus can most beautifully connect with another person; how it is good news to them. Evangelistic listening acts as railroad ties between the parallel tracks of the infinite goodness and grace of Jesus and the life of the individual to whom we are listening.

You see, we can present Jesus in a thousand different ways, all of which may be 100% theologically accurate, but fall flat because it simply doesn’t connect. For example, we may be talking with a professional business woman who is curious about Jesus. We pull out our bible knowledge and begin explaining the atonement and sin and the brokenness of our world and the love of God in sending Jesus to die on the cross on our behalf. We may even get courageous and share our own personal story of conversion. It’s all very accurate and would never be considered wrong – just the wrong time. The woman might agree with some, disagree with other bits and walk away with more to think about but not having her heart and soul lovingly arrested by the wonder of the gospel.

Evangelistic listening, however, would really help. After a few good questions - “why did you get into your line of work?” “what keeps you inspired?” “what are your aspirations and goals?” – you learn that she is torn between enjoying the rigors and advancements of her career and a desire to have a family someday. She is driven by a constant desire to show she is worthy of recognition and comes from a family with lots of kids where she had to struggle for parental attention. Nothing too severe that warrants therapy, but heavy enough that she feels it every day. So now ask yourself, “How does the good news of Jesus fit best in her life?” Answer: Beautifully!

Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Jesus isn’t demanding that you get it all figured out about what your life goal is before you’re acceptable. In Him, you’re free to try, fail, or miss an opportunity and it doesn’t change your acceptance.

1John 3:1, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” God sees you completely. Recognizes all of who you are because he created you and deeply loves and values you. There are no unnoticed children in His family. This is what Jesus gives us – his wonderfully conspicuous sonship.

Now there may be a whole lot more that could be said, but when it is preceded by intentional, searching, evangelistic, gospel-oriented listening, the Holy Spirit will apply the healing words of the gospel with the care and precision of a Chinese calligrapher to the papyrus of the human heart.

Training Exercise: Set up a time to talk with a friend who doesn’t know Jesus. Only ask questions – try not to tell stories of your own experience or give answers and advice. The goal of this exercise is simple: know them deeper. Afterwards, either by yourself or with someone from your Gospel Community, review the conversation and think through what the deep needs of their heart are and how the gospel connects.

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