My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God's sight. (James 1:19-20)
I have recently been involved with our church staff in an administrative project that involved listening to several sales talks. I have had telephone conversations and face-to-face conversations. We have met in my office and on one occasion we traveled to the salesperson for a demonstration. Although we have yet to seal the deal, I have learned a few things that might be helpful for those who are selling products, as well as for those who are interested in sharing your faith.
First, don't assume. I have known for quite sometime the dangers of assuming, but the frustrations were brought back to me as I found myself on the other side of the table. The representatives from one company came to my office assuming (apparently) that because we were a church we would want the cheapest equipment and the cheapest deal we could get. Understandably, that is all too typical for churches. Though we are not trying to go for broke we are interested in a quality product. Because of the assumption, we probably will not go with this company.
Sometimes when we talk to people about their relationship with God we assume too much. We may assume that they have a relationship when they do not. We may assume they don't have a relationship when, in fact, they do. We may assume their relationship is at the same spiritual level as ours. It may not be. They may be younger and weaker in their faith. They may be beyond us in our understanding of God. When we assume, we run the risk of missing where they are.
Second, explain it to me. One salesperson made a quick visit, left a folder with prices and descriptions of the product, and left. With an enthusiastic handshake and a broad smile he left saying, "Call me if you have any questions." I did not know enough to know what questions to ask. Needless to say, I did not call.
Sometimes we forget that everyone may not understand our "church" language. I wonder what some people think when they visit our assemblies and hear announcements about "Gospel meetings," "Devos" and sermons on "Propitiation." I suspect they feel much like I did when I traveled to a foreign land and had no idea what was being said and why people were laughing. We sometimes forget that not everyone has been reading the Bible since they could read, and that not everyone has been taken to church every Sunday and every Wednesday since their parents brought them home from the hospital.
I fear we do this quite often when we are talking about God, life issues, or getting to know someone. We may say, "How are you?" But do we listen for a response? Do we really listen for how they are? Or do we assume they are fine, or that they are going to give us the same answer we always give. "Fine. And, you?"
When I look at how Jesus dealt with people I do not see Him assuming anything. Of course, he could see into a person's heart and knew what they were thinking even clearer than they did; still He did not assume. I see Him explaining things in such a way that even a child could understand. And, I see Him listening to people. He took time to hear their words and to hear their hearts.
We have made a decision on which company and which product. We arrived at the decision for several reasons. The representative did not assume, answered our questions and listened to our needs. I think the same will happen when we share our relationship with the Lord. Most people do not want us to assume who or where they are in their faith. Most people need some explanation of spiritual matters. Most people want to be listened to. Let's try it.