I’ve just been reminded of one key to relational evangelism. No training is required and no answers are needed. You don’t need to have practised your five-point testimony or edited your life story into a 30-second nutshell. You don’t need good small talk or strong Biblical knowledge. You don’t need that webinar on apologetics. You don’t need the Costa app or a saver card for Starbucks (or your preferred non-chain meeting point)! No need for the right words to say to comfort someone at a time of profound pain. Does it sound like I’m contradicting much of what you’ve grown to understand about friendship evangelism? Well, just for a few minutes, yes I am!
You just need three hours to listen and not speak.
I’ve just read an article by Third Space chaplain Luke Rollins that explains all. Luke writes:
I listen to him for nearly three hours. As he talks, the abuse, the pain, the disappointment, the shame spill out in unpredictable shudders of tears and sorrow. He has no prayer life, no concrete belief in a God who loves him, just a confused collection of broken dreams, empty promises and desperate requests.
I’ve really done very little but sit with him and not speak for a while. At times throughout our conversation I’ve wondered whether this is helping at all. No clever answers or contextual theology. No wise revelations or words of knowledge. Instead, I realise that God has quietly and simply made room for this man when no one else would. In the absence of my words compassion has surfaced. We arrange to talk again and I pray for him. Six months later and many more moments of connections, he agrees to come to church with me. The journey towards him hearing the truth has begun.
As for the ‘six months later and many more moments of connections,’ I imagine that the aforementioned tools were very useful. Luke probably met him in coffee shops, needed the right small talk to put him at ease, and shared Bible verses, his five-point testimony and his own struggles as they built a friendship together. He prayed with him. But all he needed to do when they first met was listen.
And as for those of us for whom not speaking is more of a challenge than speaking, I know plenty of people who, on that first meeting, would be relieved not to have to talk and expose all their innermost thoughts in those first three hours! So don’t always go silent. But in this circumstance, Luke explains that silence was the key and it’s well worth reminding ourselves of the benefits of listening:
So how can listening impact mission? Of course, we need to speak out and share our faith. I’m not advocating a compromised silence that withholds the only Answer who is ever needed. But we do need to love people unconditionally and, simply put, listening is an effective and genuine way of doing so. It ascribes value and worth to an individual. It conveys a respect for an individual’s views, identity and position whilst demonstrating that their life, experience and existence really do matter. Listening without judgement, condemnation or dismissive solutions breaks the mould of how many of us experience our human interactions. Relationships built this way are resilient and facilitate an authentic and inevitable sharing of faith. More often than not, if someone has been listened to, they too will listen.
When was the last time you sat and listened to someone for three hours? On a day-to-day basis, three minutes is often enough. As Luke so passionately explains, the key is to ‘love people unconditionally’. This means not reverting to a ‘quick fix’ suggestion for their problems to get us ‘off the hook’ and therefore absolved of potential worry or responsibilty for them. Hold back on the platitudes that make us feel more comfortable but often make people feel even worse. Ouch, I needed to hear that.