In a book entitled Small is Big I found this story about the power of listening.
“People love to tell their own stories. A friend of ours, Tim Pynes, tried an experiment. One day he sat at a coffee shop with a sign that stated, “I’ll buy you a cup of coffee if you let me tell you my story about God.” Over a period of several hours, only one person responded. The next day he moved to another coffee shop with a different sign. This one said, “I’ll buy you a cup of coffee if you will tell me your story about God.” People lined up to tell him their stories. Many were in tears and thanked him profusely for listening. (Small is Big, by Tony and Felicity Dale, George Barna page 150)
Since I was about fourteen I have devoted my life to trying to influence people spiritually. I want to win and disciple as any people as I can. I have spent my life trying to inspire people to know and love Jesus Christ. At first my emphasis was on my own presentation. I spent a lot of time trying to learn how to be a good talker. Over the years, though, I am learning the power of being a good listener. I have learned that the best way to witness to people is to engage in natural conversation with lots of thoughtful listening.
I like think of a good Gospel conversation as three stories:
The first story is THEIR STORY. I encourage them to tell their story and I ask follow-up questions until they tell me their story of faith or belief or religion or values or philosophy of life. I try to take my time and listen deeply and sincerely at this point. It doesn’t matter if they are an atheist, a Buddhist, a Mormon or a practitioner of Wiccan. This is much more powerful and important than you would think. It is a powerful thing to really give the “Talking Stick” to another person and then show that you really listened by repeating back what they said. Listen for hurts. Listen for guilt, shame and regret. Listen to show them you really do care about them.
A few months ago I listened to Linda’s story for about an hour only interrupting to ask a question or two for clarification. She told me of her childhood experiences in church. She told me of her disappointment and confusion about the racial prejudice she encountered there. She told of the influence of a priest in her Corktown neighborhood growing up. She told of her relationship with a man and her abandonment. She told of her experience with Jehovah’s Witness practitioners. She told of her strong longing for social justice. I just listened and she opened her heart to me. I handed her Kleenex as she poured out her story for nearly an hour. When she was done I made a few short comments and encouraged her to continue to explore the message of the Bible with us. She has come to understand and embrace Christ and she will soon be baptized. I’m convinced that listening to Linda was a very powerful agent in her journey to Christ.
The next story is YOUR STORY. This is the story of how you came to know that Lord. Try to tell that story in a swift and clear way in about a minute so it will leave them wanting more.
After you have listened to their story (and this may require additional meetings) and told them your story, then you want to explore the best vehicle to deliver THE STORY, the gospel. I like to seek permission to do this. I like to set up a specific time, if possible, so they know the purpose of the meeting is to listen to the Story of God. You will do this more than once and in more ways than one. You may use media, a book, or a video. You may give them a booklet or a book or point them to a message on-line. You may draw them the Bridge Illustration on a placemat or napkin to explain “The Story.” (If you would like to read a great book about this try A Walk Across the Room, by Bill Hybels).
Ask them if they have questions. Be patient and interested in their questions. Most people will need more than just the words of the song of the Gospel. They will need words and the music. They will need you to do more than just explain the gospel to them, they will need you to demonstrate the gospel to them. They will need you to show them, not just tell them. When they don’t immediately drop to their knees in repentance and plead with you to schedule their baptism, just keep loving them. Just keep listening to them. It’s powerful.
The dance of spiritual influence might look something like this:
Listen to their stories….and take your time.
Tell your story…and make it quick.
Tell the story…and make it clear.
Think of ways to love them and keep the relationship alive and well
Tell them the story again
Love them more
Tell them again
You get the idea. But never underestimate the power of listening to their story, really listening from the heart.
Oh, and if you like, I will buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me your story.
September 26, 2012