Listen . . . For Heaven’s Sake! The Confessions of a Recovering Evangelist
Several years ago, I was invited to speak at one of the largest churches in Colorado. After flying into Denver, I was shuttled over to my rental car company to pick up my ride for the weekend. While I was filling out the paper work for my car, I couldn’t help but overhear what was happening to a young man in his early 20’s.
His attempt to rent a car was being denied because his driver’s license had recently expired. Sensing a nudge from the Holy Spirit to be a “Good Samaritan”, I offered him a ride in my car. He seemed quite touched by my offer and gladly took me up on it. As soon as he jumped into my car, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was an author and speaker and that he could actually help me do what I do better.
He was intrigued enough to ask me how he could do that. I responded with the following question. “If I invited you to go with me this weekend to speak to a Christian audience on the topic of what not to do to have a spiritual conversation with you, what would you tell them?”
The speed and the passion by which he answered my question indicated that I had struck a nerve. He said, “I don’t know why but Christians never want to listen in a conversation; they always want to do all the talking.”
I replied, “It sounds like your conversations with Christians haven’t been very positive.”
He immediately confirmed my suspicion and then made a statement that will I will never forget.
He said, “Do you know what Christians don’t get?” I said, “No, what’s that?”
“The whole time Christians are doing all the talking what they don’t realize is I’ve already made up my mind. I don’t want what they’ve got because I don’t want to become rude and disrespectful like they are. Furthermore, if they are not going to listen to me, I’m not going to listen to them.”
In five minutes, God used this conversation with a “lost” person to forever “save” me. All of a sudden my entire experience as a trained Christian worker began to replay in the theater of my mind. Most of my conversations were dominated by my worldview. I had been trained to be “a teller”, not a listener. No wonder why so many of my monologues were often “one and done”. They were not truly conversations, but presentations. I had been trained to perform, not to engage. I had not showed up eager to listen, but eager to be listened to. Stephen Covey might have described my first 15 years in ministry the best when he said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with an intent to reply.” Ouch!
This young man had unknowingly been used of God to jump-start my recovery as an evangelist. The admonition of James 1:19 to be quick to listen and slow to speak was like “a holy hurricane unleashed within my soul”. On a micro-level, I soon came to see if I truly wanted to be heard, I needed to start by listening first.
On a macro-level, it’s caused me to wonder if the mass exodus from the American church might be due in part to the reality that God’s people are not listening . . . for heaven’s sake. What do you think? I’d love to hear what you have to say. By the way, my name is Doug and I’m a recovering evangelist!
Quotes to Ponder: “I’m willing to bet the farm that in this post-modern culture we live in the most important evangelistic skill is listening.” (Todd Hunter)
“I have found it very difficult to influence someone while talking to the back of their neck.” (R. C. Sproul)
Questions to Wrestle With:
Do you think the young man’s comment from my story “if they are not going to listen to me, I’m not going to listen to them” is being played out on a macro-level in our culture? In other words, do you think the church is reaping what we’re sowing?
What do you think it might look like to “listen people into the Kingdom” today?
A Faith Adventure Challenge to Try: Invite the unchurched and the dechurched to help you by coming to your faith community for a time of “Listening For Heaven’s Sake”. Keep the spotlight entirely upon them! Hear their stories, seek to understand their disconnect with the church, give them an opportunity to share their angst, doubts, skepticism, hurt, and to raise their questions about the faith.
For more information on Doug’s ministry, visit GodsGPS.com.
Author of God Space and Activating God Space, speaker, YMCA chaplain, and minister with Athletes in Action since 1983, Doug is a reflective practitioner whose focus is to help Christ followers worldwide increase the quality and the quantity of their spiritual conversations in practical, doable, and authentic ways. To learn more about his ministry go to GodsGPS.com.