We continue taking lessons from John Leonard’s book, “Get Real.” In the past couple posts, he has intentionally startled us with his opening thesis. Today, it seems like maybe he’s been with us on several occasions in our lives, maybe even hanging out with us at work or a group lunch!
“It has happened to every one of us. The conversation will turn to religion over lunch with a friend or with a group of coworkers during a coffee break. We want to say something, we want to witness, but nothing comes out of our mouths. Our Lord’s words ring in our ears, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10: 33). But there seems to be something more powerful than guilt at work in our lives—it is the fear of not knowing what to say. So we sit sheepishly with our heads hung, sensing how Peter must have felt when he denied our Lord three times. Traditional evangelism only takes place when we drive home our point over and over again—when we do all the talking. We have gotten the impression that on every page of the New Testament we are commanded to preach the gospel. We know what preaching looks like because we see it in church. The model for traditional evangelism looks a lot like what preachers do on Sunday mornings. Linking evangelism to preaching in our minds raises the bar so high that most of us feel unable to do it. How can we talk intelligently for thirty minutes on any subject, much less the Bible?”
Now Leonard opens up for us a consideration about this common view of evangelism affects our interaction or even our relationship with others….
“A one-way communication style puts us in the position of power; the truth is on our side. Our victim is in the position of weakness and cowers under us. Our position is comfortable; the listener, on the other hand, is shoved down into a position of weakness. What do you do when you’re in a position of weakness or feel attacked? What is your natural response? You cover up and protect yourself. This is our reflex response to any threat.”
“Adopting a preaching style will elicit any of three responses when people feel attacked: they will cover up, grab hold, or run. These responses increase geometrically the closer the person is to you. On the other hand, by listening more than you speak, you place yourself in the position of weakness and allow the person you’re speaking with to have the position of power. Why would we want to place ourselves in a position of weakness? Because the Scriptures tell us that God gives grace to the humble, and there is no better way of humbling yourself than offering to others the place of power or the place of honor. When we humble ourselves, we’re not just talking about grace—God fills us with his grace so that those with whom we speak hear it and experience it. They experience the grace of God not just in words, but in the way we communicate the gospel and in the way we treat them. What better way to witness than when our message, method, and life all communicate the grace of God in Jesus Christ? Offering the place of power to others puts them at ease. They don’t feel threatened. Instead of covering up and moving away, they may even move toward you with greater openness as you communicate empathy and compassion. In traditional evangelism we look for someone to share the gospel with. A better approach is not to go looking for people to talk to, but to look for people to listen to.”
What does a shift in perspective look like….in real-life day-to-day activities?
“When I go to the grocery store no one talks to me. You want to know why? I am on a mission. When I go shopping, it is to get in and get out of there as fast as I can. The sign I wear on my forehead is not, “Please talk to me because I’m open and interested in talking to you.” Rather it’s, “I’m not interested; leave me alone.” Not only do people avoid speaking to me—they move out of the way when they see me coming. Too many of us wear signs on our foreheads that read, “I’m not interested; leave me alone,” or “I haven’t got any time for you” as we pass by hundreds of people every day—some of whom are desperately looking for someone who will listen to them.”
“What brought you to Philly?” I asked. The young man paused, and looking down he said, “My brother was in a car accident and is on life support in the hospital. My mother and I have to decide in the next couple of days if we should turn off the life support.” What makes an absolute stranger a confidant? It happens when you’re desperate for someone to speak to, and no one else is available. These are not rare occurrences, if we’re willing to listen more than we speak. I had a neighbor who hardly ever spoke to me, but one day he had to talk to me because he needed to confess that he’d had an affair. Once on the streets of Philly, a young man told me that he was coming from his brother’s funeral. There have been parents who have spoken to me about their children, and children that wanted to talk about their parents. There are always wives or husbands who want someone to talk to about their marriage—all strangers who need someone to listen. You will not believe how many people will want to talk to you—if you’ll only take off the sign that reads “Not interested; leave me alone.” You will not have to go looking for people; they will find you. There will be many people who “just happen” to be in front of you or behind you in a line. They may be strangers standing beside you at a bus stop, or in front of you at the deli counter. They may ask you, “How’s the pastrami?” but what they’re really asking is, “Do you care enough about me to listen?” They are desperate to talk to someone. They may believe that no one cares, that no one wants to hear their story. They can’t think of any reason to live, or wonder if anyone would care if they chose to end their life. When they look at us, what will they see—the sign that says “I’m not interested; leave me alone,” or the one that reads, “I care; I’ll listen”?
“All it takes to let others know we care is to say, “Hi, how are you doing today?” If we say it in such a way that the person we’re addressing knows we have the time and are willing to listen to an answer longer than “fine,” we might discover that our lives will begin to resemble the life of our Lord—where our day, like his day, was constantly being interrupted by people who had to speak to him.”
An interesting application from Leonard about how listening more than we speak helps us speak in those circumstances where we are often quiet:
“We listen more than we speak not only to communicate real care and concern, but because listening will help us know what the Lord wants us to say to the person that he has brought across our path. In traditional evangelism you already know what you’re going to say. You’ve memorized an outline of the gospel with Bible verses and illustrations that go along with each point, and you use this presentation regardless of the person and the particular need he may have. You’ve got one tool in the toolbox—a hammer—and you’re determined to use it. I recommend that every Christian learn three or four different presentations of the gospel because there will be times when those presentations should be used. And yet, there is a better way. The gospel begins with the person you’re speaking to. We must listen more than we speak so that we might fully understand the person God has brought into our lives. As they speak about the immediate problems they’re facing or questions they have, we should be listening and praying, asking our Lord to help us gather together everything we have heard, read, or understand from the Scriptures in order to respond to their problems or questions. Our entire response should be based on the information that we have heard from the people we’re listening to.”
“In the West, we put far too much emphasis on the power of speaking, while overlooking the power of listening.”
“It is particularly important to listen when someone attacks our faith. Many times their attacks are nothing more than frustration and anger. They may only be crying out to see if anyone is listening. Nowhere are we better representatives for God than when we make it safe for others to bring their broken hearts and shattered dreams to us. It isn’t so much what we tell them—it’s about their discovering that God, like his people, is willing to listen and comfort those who mourn, even when the mourning is expressed in a hostile fashion.”
Questions For Thought Or Discussion
1. What are 3 places in your day-to-day life where you have a sign on your head that says “Leave me alone” that you could work to change to “I’m interested and listening. You can talk to me.”
2. Think about the experiences of evangelism in your life—they may be many or they may be few—does Leonard’s approach to listening more resonate with you when you think back on those opportunities?
3. If you wanted to implement Leonard’s idea in your life, do you think it would be better to do so with close friends and family or more with new people you meet or people you don’t know as well? Why do you favor the one you chose?