One of the interesting and challenging things about our current cultural climate is the sheer volume of disagreement. It doesn’t much to see how polarized we have become. It has completely changed the way we interact with each other.
As followers of Christ, this leads to even more questions about the process of evangelism. How can we impact others for Christ when usually all we can hear is how much we disagree. We are surrounded by books and trainings on how to explain scripture, how to lay out the truths about who Christ is. What I fear is that in the desire to learn what to say, we’ve lost the skills needed to truly listen.
Now I am not going to the other extreme here where we refer to Saint Francis and letting our actions speak for us. We do have something to say, and while it should not be separate from our actions, actions alone are not enough.
The book of James tells us that we should be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (1:19). But what are we listening for? These days, it would seem that our first reaction is to listen for areas of disagreement. What we should be listening for are areas of agreement. It is in these areas that we can find real openings to build relationship and understanding.
We each have a story, every single one of us. And our stories, no matter how different, have similar features.
Consider it this way, every person’s story has a creation, a fall, redemption and restoration.
We each have an origin story, telling where we came from, what shaped us into who we are. We each have a fall, a recognition that something is broken or not right. This can be a dominating piece of anyone’s story. It may include problems at work, within our families, abuse, disease, addiction, loss of a loved one or any number of other things. We all have some idea of what redemption looks like, who or what will fix or repair the brokenness we’ve experienced. And finally, everyone has a restoration piece, what will things look like when all is as it should be.
Clearly these four portions of our stories can and do exist outside of faith in Christ. How this framework helps is to show us what to listen for and areas where we do agree with another person. We can then identify pathways to introduce the person and work of Christ into the story.
It’s not a linear approach. We’re starting with something that we can both agree to be true. For instance, someone whose marriage has collapsed sees that things like selfishness and pride lead to broken relationships. We find that to be true throughout the Bible and in our own experience. Having that place of agreement allows us to hear the pain they are experiencing, acknowledge the truth of that pain, then begin to learn what they see as the fix in their life. It may be a restored relationship, or a new one, or even developing a life of self-sufficiency. Then we can begin to show how real restoration comes not through relationships with other broken individuals but with the one who loved us perfectly.
None of this is easy. It takes learning to listen to what people are really saying, and learning to listen for promptings from the Holy Spirit for insight and wisdom. However, as we begin to take time to listen and wait to speak, we should find that what we do say has more power and impact.