Home Equipping Leaders Evangelism Evangelism In a Changing World, Part 3

Evangelism In a Changing World, Part 3

By Bryan Tener

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In part one of our series, we sought to discern our “why” or purpose as we thought about our life of faith and the changes that occur in the world around us. Our “why” involves not only why we follow Jesus but also understanding what about our purpose would lead us to develop certain gifts to do certain tasks. The “why” is the core of gift development and task fulfillment. In a changing world, the “why” remains even though the context may change.

In the next article, we reflected on the various “third places” in our local communities – places where we may already be going and where other people are going. Then we looked at how to live out our “why” (purpose) in those places. One of my “third places” is the CrossFit gym. There, as I live out my “why,” I attempt to create spaces so that others have an opportunity to learn. Over time, I’ve been able to build lifelong friendships, and I have been invited to be a part of many life-changing moments, from weddings to funerals to deep faith conversations about justice and where God is at work in the world. My “third place” (the gym) has led to many opportunities to share God’s love and build relationships.

As we go about living day to day, we realize that those “third places” can enable us to live out our “why,” but we need a few things. We need patience. It takes consistent presence and time to build trust with others. We need humility. We must give up trying to have all the answers or taking immediate action or giving advice right away. Seeking to be empathetic, accepting, and respectful of others means having the humility to put others above self. Of course, love is a requirement. Love, patience, and humility allow for relational evangelism; and when we’re focused on relationships with God and neighbors, then we can begin to really listen.

You might be familiar with the Stephen Covey quote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” (Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). If we aren’t intentional about active listening, we may rush through a conversation focused only on our replies, or we may find ourselves rushing to get away from the conversation altogether. Either way, the other person in the conversation does not feel heard or understood. With love, patience, and humility, we can begin the practice of engaged listening.

Love, patience, and humility allow for relational evangelism; and when we’re focused on relationships with God and neighbors, then we can begin to really listen.

Engaged listening begins as we allow ourselves to be present with those we are with. Often, it is difficult to put away distractions, whether it is a work task or stress. We may even be distracted because we’re thinking of our replies in the conversation (maybe before the person we’re speaking with has even begun talking). One practice that has been helpful for me is to turn to a short phrase I treat as a breath prayer as I enter into different “third places”: “God, help me to be present in this space.” It helps me find focus and sets my mind toward being intentional and prayerful. What phrase or short prayer could you use as a way to center yourself as you enter into “third places”?

As you engage in conversations with others, keep these questions in mind as you begin the practice of listening:

  • What can you learn from them?
  • What are their concerns, passions, and dreams? What do they value?
  • What gifts are present? Is there someone who would be a good connector with those gifts?
  • What experiences have shaped their lives?

These questions can help us focus our listening in conversations, offer us a chance to listen more deeply, and offer potential connecting points with other people.

Beginning a conversation is not always easy. Sometimes we don’t know what to ask to get a conversation going, or we expect people to come to us and begin a conversation. Here are some questions for a “third place” conversation and some questions focused on the neighborhood.

  • What’s something that you love to do?
  • When situations are tough or you’re feeling weighed down, what helps lift you up?
  • What’s a hobby or favorite thing to do that people might be surprised to learn about you?

Neighborhood/community questions:

  • How did you come to live in this neighborhood?
  • How has the neighborhood/community changed over time?
  • What’s your favorite thing about the neighborhood?
  • What’s something exciting that has happened in this neighborhood?
  • What’s one thing you’d change?

As you listen, what are you hearing? What are the emotions, concerns, hopes, and dreams?

What response could you offer that would identify what that person is feeling but not say that you know what the person is feeling and going through? Try saying something such as, “I imagine this is a challenging time. Can you help me understand more of what you’re going through?” or “Tell me about…”

Open-ended questions move us toward intentional listening. Active listening is an opportunity to be present and to experience another person’s heart that may be in pain, full of joy, overwhelmed with heaviness, hope-filled, or empty. All people have a story that needs to be heard. By intentionally listening, God’s grace can be offered, and you can be that person who offers it. The conversation can become the opportunity for healing and wholeness to take place as you live out your discipleship and share the good news.

Next month, we will finish the series by focusing on shaping an evangelistic community focused on transformation through action that reflects God’s love, mercy, and justice.

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