This blog begins a series on evangelistic skills. My intention is to bring you into a vivid living color picture of reaching our world.
“We don’t do the church thing in our family.” This rather curt, walk off, response came from Liz to her friend Anne. What do you do when a non-believer shuts down an attempt to discuss faith? Ever been there? Do we put our tail between our legs? Should we just let it go, and make a mental note to never bring it up again since we would not want to force anything? Most of us have had these moments. Here is my input to Anne.
First, you need to practice what Jesus modeled in his pattern of “circling back.” Her response is not an end, but can be a beginning to a rich conversation. In faith sharing, establishing an ongoing dialogue is the goal. You must, like Jesus, circle back and then draw out. Your aim, as a caring friend, is to find out what is going on inside Liz. Evangelism always begins with their starting point. Typically, we don’t know where that is until they express it.
So, as you reconnect enjoying time together, when the moment is right, circle back saying, “The other day, Liz, when you expressed that your family did not engage with church, I didn’t understand what you meant. As a friend who values knowing you, I wondered if you would be willing to explain your thoughts or feelings?”
If asked in a caring sensitive tone, Liz will most likely open up to share something. If she does not, that may be indication of deep wounding. If Anne discerns a strong reaction, she will want to draw out the pain by getting Liz to talk about it so healing can have a chance to begin. Sometimes we work through healing at the initial stage of the evangelistic process. It may require more circling back and drawing out. The structure looks like this: Ask a question. Listen. Then ask a follow up question to get more clarity, or to draw out what is undergirding their response: “What do you mean?” “Why do you feel that way?” “Can you explain so I can understand you more?”
If Anne can draw out the true thoughts and feelings from Liz, then she would know where the conversation could develop in a meaningful projection. The only thing that is clear about Liz’s initial statement is its ambiguity. Her family’s “Not attending stance” could mean a number of things such as: (1) I grew up in a non-Christian home and church was never part of our lives, (2) I had a bad experience when a Christian I didn’t even know attacked my beliefs, so I made it a rule to not ever talk about religion with people again (3) When I lost my dad and watched my mom suffer it made me angry at God. Consider the disparity of sentiment behind these very common responses.
At this juncture, however, Anne truly does not know what is happening inside her friend. Therefore, she must first draw her heart. This is the only way for Anne to see clearly what is needed for her friend’s progression to faith. When Liz shares her true thoughts, Anne will be able to process what an appropriate conversational path would be. Sometimes we respond right then. Sometimes later. Each example noted above requires a distinct direction. Let’s assume Liz’s response is the simpler number one. Anne, now knowing what Liz’s words meant, could respond saying something like this,
“Liz, I know the faith subject is not always easy to discuss, but I believe it can be so meaningful with a friend. I would love to meet with you. It’s a great discussion. Rest assured, I want you to know that you don’t need to do anything, and you don’t ever have to come to my church. We could just meet to talk.”
Let’s dissect these words to surface important elements. The first lines are an attempt to “frame up” an ongoing discussion. Again, this is the goal. I like to say we must, “Have a conversation about having a conversation.” When we do this, we always want to create positive anticipation of what that experience will be like (It will be meaningful). If Liz agrees to get together, the discussion often leads to dynamic results!” The last qualifying lines about lowering expectations are critical to create “safety.” If a conversation is “safe,” that means you can discuss things without pressure to make changes or threat to the existing relationship. Anne would want to make sure that Liz knows that she can remain disengaged from church, and disagree about everything they talk about, and this in no way will change or jeopardize their friendship. Anne loves Liz as her cherished friend unconditionally. If you can establish “safety,” then you can release an honest, incredibly impacting, relationally rich, conversational journey!
Here is another faith-sharing principle, “We converse, God converts.” The Holy Spirit alone has the power to draw faith. However, when you converse, it creates opportunity for the Spirit to draw in his miraculous ways! We are then partnering with God in his mission activity. This is when evangelism gets super exciting. If you can establish an ongoing conversation, chances are high you will lead them to faith!
Can you see why learning the skills of probing and framing up are crucial? Without drawing out and initiating an ongoing conversation we do not get positioned to reach them. Referring to our real life example, Liz would remain in her place of distance. Stuck! Anne would stay on the sidelines of God’s greatest activity, being put off by a one-liner. Without reaching Liz, all the people she has influence with will potentially remain untouched by the gospel. Correspondingly, the church movement lags.
For the sake of Christ, and friends like Liz, let us learn his ways. Circle back. Probe with questions. Draw out. Frame up a meaningful dialogue. Create safety. You are learning the skills of a Soul Whisperer! Of course, we are only scratching the surface. I hope you freely subscribe to my blog posts by hitting the White Envelope in the top corner. God bless you!
Note: “Faith” is the word I encourage you to use in your conversations with non-believers. It is less loaded than other terms, and the end goal!