What comes to mind when you hear the word “evangelism”? A Gospel tract? A rehearsed Gospel outline? These are helpful tools for us when we are seeking to share the Gospel with others. But have you even thought about the role of attentive listening in the context of evangelistic conversations?
When we have opportunities to speak with people at work, in the neighborhood, at the family gathering, on the bus, in the airplane, I don’t think our main objective should be to empty a dump truck load of biblical truth onto the person. We first need to earn the right to be heard. Listening is a good place to begin.
When we look a person in the eye and listen to him or her share about the events of the day, or a current life crisis, or an exciting new development in life, or a hurt from the past, it is a way of showing that we care. Listening is a way to minister to others and serve others.
Listening requires patience
Sometimes we would rather be doing something else. Sometimes we would like to move the conversation forward quickly and share more of the Gospel story instead of taking the time to listen first. But patience is a fruit of the Spirit which becomes evident in our listening.
Listening requires humility
Many times, in our pride, we would rather hear ourselves talk instead of listening to someone else talk. It is an act of humility to shut your mouth and pay close attention to what another person is saying.
Listen actively with good questions
My point in emphasizing the role of listening is not to encourage silence. In fact, if you’re silent the conversation will probably end somewhat quickly. But if you are listening attentively and thoughtfully, and asking probing questions, then the conversation will most likely continue. And as it does, you can begin asking questions that might reveal the person’s hurts and hopes and hang-ups.
Listen while praying
As you begin to discern where this person might be spiritually, you can be praying that God would use you to speak Gospel truth into his or her life. Pray for discernment and boldness to do this in a fruitful way. Pray for God’s sovereign power to work through your words.
Listen while looking for ways to share the hope that is in you
There is a time for listening, and there is a time for speaking. Some of us are prone to erring on the side of cowardice and fail to seize opportunities to speak Gospel truth. Others of us are prone to insensitivity and fail to humbly, compassionately listen. May we have godly wisdom to know the balance, and may the Spirit guide us as we love others by both listening and sharing the great hope we have in the Gospel.
This article first appeared on July 30, 2013.