I've come to believe that's the wrong focus. Instead of thinking of what we're going to say, we need to focus on listening. What will we hear? How will we get the other person to open up? Can we learn enough about them to help them draw closer to God?
We need to know what a person's needs are. We need to know what their background is. We need to have a relationship of trust. These things are achieved through listening.
It's always easier to hear things when we know what we want to be aware of. When talking with non-believers, here are some of the key things to listen for:
- Felt needs that can be met by the gospel. Felt needs are the things that someone is aware of. While many people aren't aware of their need for forgiveness, they are aware of their need for community. Or their need for moral guidance. Some people are weighed down by guilt; others are afraid of death. We need to listen to know what aspects of the good news will especially speak to these people.
- Life changes that can create receptivity. Times of change often make people seek God. That could be a family change, like the birth of a new baby or a recent divorce. It could be a job change, whether it be a promotion or a layoff. For many, it's illness or death within their family. By listening to them, we can be aware of the times when their hearts are more responsive to God.
- Obstacles to be overcome. Many people have experiences in their past that make them hesitant to get involved with a church. It could be something that others have done to them or things they have done themselves. When we listen to someone's story, we can hear the things that need to be dealt with so that they can hear Jesus' story.
Those are just a few thoughts. The key thing is that we have to focus on other people and not ourselves. We have to concentrate on what we can learn from them, not just what we can teach them. To be able to speak appropriate words, we first have to listen carefully to what others say to us.
This material comes from a seminar called "Church Inside Out" that is available through Hope For Life, a Herald of Truth ministry. For more information, visit www.heraldoftruth.org/seminars.