Gospel Fluency: The Art of Listening Well
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
We can have all the tools of evangelism in our pockets when it comes to sharing our faith with others in this world.
We may feel confident in our conversations and own the content in such a way that we can speak to it with ease and comfort.
We may be on top of the latest evangelistic language and strategies and be fluent in the gospel core of who Jesus is, what he’s done for us, of our need to respond and of what happens to us when we do.
But none of this will work if we haven’t learned to listen well enough to really know what the other person is saying to us, in both words and body language.
This is not about shoving what we know down someone’s throat in a brain melt of some sort whereby we regurgitate our content for somebody else.
In fact, true gospel fluency is as much about knowing what to say, as it is about figuring out where the other person is at in life. It’s also about what Jesus does, and how it can make all the difference, regardless of circumstance and situation in life.
To do that, you’ve got listen well.
To figure out where someone is in life requires incredible listening ability, so as to allow the Gospel to speak directly into the circumstance and situation.
This is not just hearing someone or even listening to words alone, but also to body language and to what’s not being said.
Remember how last Sunday we talked about a couple of assessment tools that allow us to have a sense of where someone is in life and how the Gospel speaks into it?
One was Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs, which identifies places in social development where people are.
This ranges from survival all the way up the ladder to finding fulfillment by living for God. Maslov covers the range of human experience including safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization.
Maslov’s point was that everyone is somewhere on this ladder and unless the Gospel speaks directly into who they are on the ladder there will never be a gospel connection.
And it’s up to us not only to know how the Gospel speaks into these areas but to also to be able to discern where someone is on that ladder.
Which is why I really like the work the guys at MB Mission have done around the topic of gospel conversations.
In case you don’t know, these are the folks that will provide the training for Awake Niagara’s Spring Open Doors next weekend.
These guys talk about gospel conversations in which we bring what the Gospel has to say to where someone is in life.
1) Salvation: Desire to be saved, forgiven from sin and to have the heavy burden lifted.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
2) Adoption: Yearning to be a part of a community and family and relieved of isolation and loneliness; having a sense of belonging.
“In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Eph. 1:5
3) Peace: Seeking peace, reconciliation, relational healing with God and people.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:7
Restoration: The need for personal repair, healing.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Cor. 5:17
Victory: Longing to overcome evil, release from bondage, experiencing justice and deliverance.
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Meaning: Aching to find purpose in life. Longing for, direction and significance
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Every single person whom the Holy Spirit will ever bring across our path will be somewhere in this list just like they will be somewhere on Maslov’s ladder.
“The typical Canadian will likely be experiencing one or more of these needs - each one connects to the Gospel story.” Phil Serez
For some it will be about salvation and to have their guilt lifted, while for others it will be about adoption and that sense of belonging to God and his family.
For some it will be about peace with God and people, while for others it will be about restoration and the need to be healed and restored.
Then there are those whose deepest need is victory and liberty over bondage and addiction, while yet for others it’s all about meaning and purpose in life.
This is the spectrum of human need, including salvation, adoption, peace, restoration, victory and meaning. These are the gateways into the Kingdom. These are the gospel connections.
Everyone that you will ever come across will be somewhere on this spectrum.
What you will need to do is listen closely enough and read people well enough, to get a sense of where they are on the spectrum.
Principles of Listening
The key to this is this ability to listen well.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is James 1:19 where it says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
It’s quick to listen and slow to speak and not the other way around.
The biggest mistake we can make is to be quick to speak, quick to spew off what we have crammed in, quick to regurgitate facts and figures without having listened first.
There is a reason why the good Lord gave you two ears but only one mouth!
“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Mark Twain.
Studies have actually shown that while speaking increases blood pressure, listening actually decreases blood pressure.
So the question becomes, how do we become quick to listen and slow to speak?
Being quick to listen does not just mean hearing the other person. This is not about getting the best hearing aid on the market, folks.
We are not talking about hearing but listening; the two are not the same. The two are completely different things. You can hear but never listen.
Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear, while listening is so much more than that.
The folks at Skills You Need tell us “Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body. In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.”
Therefore, a good listener will listen not only to what is being said but also to what is unsaid or only partially said and how it’s said.
The folks at Skills You Need talk about principles of listening which include such things as:
Nothing is more important than listening well to the other. It says like nothing else does that they matter, are important, and not a project or a target.
Not only does listening validate someone like nothing else in life but it also allows you to make that connection between where someone is really at in life and how the Gospel can make a difference!
The Listening of Jesus
Among the greatest listeners of his day was Jesus. He was able to see through people and read in between the lines like no one else.
From knowing that Nicodemus’ real concern was not a theological question, but a deep desire for salvation, to knowing that the woman at the well wasn’t interested in where and how true worship happens, but on how to make peace with God and the many wrecked relationships in her life. Jesus always showed us his brilliance in reading between the lines and listening incredibly well!
He sensed that the woman with the issue of blood needed to be fully adopted back into her community, that the leper needed to be restored, the demoniac needed to be set free from chains, and that the rich young ruler really needed to find significance and purpose in life by following Jesus.
While all of these came with many different concerns and issues, each one had underlying themes that were windows or gateways toward God.
Jesus really saw these people especially in the conversations he had with them, and was able to connect them with the gospel point relevant to them.
He had amazing listening ability.
I know that some of you will assume that this was because Jesus was God, and after all if God can’t read in between the lines then how did He ever become God.
Hate to burst your bubble but the Jesus of the Gospels was completely human and his ability to read people incredibly well had as much to do about his listening ability as it did with his reliance upon the Holy Spirit.
Paul was clear that Jesus “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Phil 2:7-8
This all means that any divine insight he received into where people were at was the result of the Holy Spirit providing him with that insight and not because he was God.
Remember what Peter said:
“Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” Acts 2:22
That same God will also provide you with additional insight into where someone is in life, in addition to you figuring someone out by listening well. Both work hand in hand.
Ask, Listen, Respond
So let me wrap it up this morning. Every gospel conversation is highly relational, empathetic, mutual, and respectful.
Gospel conversations are never memorized lines or mechanized four steps this or three points that. You can’t just memorize the Four Spiritual Laws or know the stops along the Romans Road to Salvation.
Gospel conversations are exactly that, conversations about life and faith.
They are relational, mutual and above all else respectful that requires not only gospel fluency but also great listening, so as to determine where someone is in life.
And above all, there must be great reliance on the Holy Spirit whose job it is to bring someone to a place of conversion and new life.
Along that journey to new life God wants to partner with us.
While it’s true that the Holy Spirit will bring about conversation and new life, which at times happens without any human input, more often than not the Spirit works through people like you and me. We are his witnesses.
Therefore, be always on the lookout for natural gospel connections as you lean in to listen and be fluent in the gospel core as you seek to connect and respond.
And a great little reminder of all this is a nifty little tool that our friends at MB Mission call ALR, which stands for Ask, Listen, Respond.
ALR helps you explore the needs of the person you are speaking with and to respond in a relevant, compassionate manner.
While they will unwrap this further at the Gospel Fluency workshop on Saturday, let me give you the trailer version of this:
Locate a point of connection by being spiritually attentive, personally caring and simply interested and curious.
Most people are surprisingly eager to talk about themselves if they feel attended to. God compels us to 'go first' and ask open-ended questions (questions that evoke more than 'yes or no' in reply).
So be sure to engage in conversation, be sure to ask, be curious and open.
Be attentive both to what are they saying, and what might be behind what they are saying. What is the Holy Spirit saying? Ask questions that clarify the situation.
Be gentle but bold. If they are willing follow the plot that emerges before you.
You will be amazed at how people will be glad to share. Why? Because the Lord is with you, and ahead of you, setting up the encounter.
Keep at it until you arrive at the underlying need, and then discern which of the six Gospel Conversations are the gateway to use.
So look for hints of salvation, adoption, peace, restoration, victory and meaning.
Hints of Salvation: Desire to be saved, forgiven from sin and to have the heavy burden lifted.
Hints of Adoption: Yearning to be a part of a community and family and relieved of isolation and loneliness; having a sense of belonging.
Hints of Peace: Seeking peace, reconciliation, relational healing with God and people.
Hints of Restoration: The need for personal repair, healing.
Hints of Victory: Longing to overcome evil, release from bondage, experiencing justice and deliverance.
Hints of Meaning: Aching to find purpose in life. Longing for, direction and significance
So ask, listen and then respond!
Share what the Lord quickens your heart to say. Respond with your own story of God’s good news.
Talk about the heart of God for that person through the relevant Gospel Conversation that you have identified (Salvation, Adoption, Peace, Restoration, Victory, Meaning).
Ask them if they would like to know more about this good news? Maybe an invitation to pray, come to church, meet again later this week, etc.
But never be shy about asking if they would like to have Jesus come into their lives. Use whatever place they are coming from as the gateway to Jesus.
Salvation – Talk about how Jesus lifts the heavy burden of sin
Adoption – Talk about them how to be part of God’s amazing family
Peace – Talk about the peace of God and how God helps us live at peace with others
Restoration – Talk about how Jesus makes us into brand new people and those he restored like the woman at the well
Victory – Talk about how Jesus sets people free from bondage such as the demoniac by the sea.
Meaning – Talk about how God has created us to do amazing works through Jesus.
Use where they are in life as a gateway to Jesus, and help them invite Jesus into their lives. Do this in the moment instead of telling them to do it while alone later.
Satan’s greatest trick is to divert away from the actual decision, which is why Jesus always pressed for a decision.
How often did he tell people “follow me”? Not go home and think about it. Not mull this over until we meet again. It was always follow me now. Follow me today. Make the decision in the moment.
Of course always respect where people are at and if someone is not ready for the step then allow for that. Yet be always probing for someone to be ready to have Jesus step through the gateway of their reality.
In fact, why don’t you begin right now by asking the Holy Spirit to put people on your mind with whom you can have gospel conversations even this week at your place of work or at school or where you volunteer.
Then think and pray about this Saturday’s Spring Open Doors. Plan to attend. Book a table for the yard, craft or bake sale as a way to strike up conversations with people.
Volunteer at one of our events as a way to meet people that the Lord is brining that day. Or just walk around and strike up conversations with strangers (what could be easier than that J?)
Be convinced that God is on your side as you seek to ask, listen and respond!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.