Is 'Listening' The New Holy Grail of Evangelism?

c1310I breezed through this article on the Huffington Post’s religion section last night before I went to bed and it gnawed at my conscience all night.  It’s called “How I Kissed Evangelism Goodbye,” and it is a REALLY GOOD article.  But, I think it’s full of bad assumptions and reflects a poor missiology & ecclesiology.  Here are some quotes from the article:

The biggest problem I have with evangelizing is that you enter into a relationship with a prescribed intention, and that stands in the way of listening well.

Of course we have a ‘prescribed intention.’ It’s making disciples of people by ‘going’ to them, and in that going ‘preaching the gospel to them,’ (Isaiah 52:7) (Mark 16:15), ‘baptizing them,’ and ‘teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded.’ (Matthew 28:19,20) (Acts 14:21) All the while we love them as we love ourselves so that they and we can love God with all of our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. (Luke 10:27)  If we’re not making disciples of people, we’re not loving them.

“You can’t listen well when you are carrying an agenda.”

Sure you can. It’s not the agenda that impedes listening, it’s dull ears and hard hearts (Matthew 13:15) etc. These dull ears can belong to the not yet evangelized and the evangelizer.  Besides, the ‘agenda’ of ‘listening’ is still an agenda. The agenda is a divine one because God is a God of agendas. Our agenda is one of agency. It is to be the ambassadors of the King and His message. (2 Corinthians 5:20) We speak it, announce it, appeal to it, and live it. Luke 9 & 10 bases evangelism in the context of whether or not THEY want to listen. If they don’t, we’re to move on until we find someone that does.

“You can’t listen well when you are looking for ways to fortify your own position.”

Totally agree. But likewise, we’re to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Not ‘defending our faith,’ but giving reasons for the hope within us (Jesus). (1 Peter 3:15) And, at times ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.’ (Jude 1:3)

“You can’t listen well when you are searching for what is broken in your conversation partner, in order to introduce the solution.”

I understand what she’s trying to say here, but the gospel touches on ALL brokenness. Listening is not the magic key. The multifaceted gospel is. The problem is not poking and prodding looking for a soft spot to determine the malady, it’s never offering a robust, freeing, healing, and reconciling gospel to begin with. A gospel of Kingdom, of peace, of grace, of eternality, of salvation, and of Christ not only exposes brokenness, it becomes its salve.

The Pope’s quote, “The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.” Is just wrong. In the first place, he’s only talking about his kind of church. The kind of church that proclaims “Extra Ecclesiam nulla sales,” which means “outside the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation.”  That church is not what the bible speaks of when referring to church. The church does not grow by attraction or addition. It grows by multiplication, the multiplication of discipleship. The church does not grow by attraction, it grows by mission. The church does not grow by attracting, but by sending. The church does not grow by gathering together, but by being sent together and gathering ‘along the way.’

“Proselytizing limits the wildly beautiful story of God and God’s people into a sample script.”

Yep, it sure can, but it doesn’t have to by necessity. The word ‘Proselytizing,’ sounds ugly. It is. Its focus, after all, is to make proselytes of religion. Our task is to make disciples by the means of relaying, relating, and discipling.

Finally she said,

“Our best hope for connectedness lies in having our stories heard. We earn our right to speak into other people’s lives when we have logged enough hours listening to their truths, and been willing to be changed by their beauty.”

Our best hope for connectedness does not lie in having our stories heard, it’s in having HIS story heard. The good news is a story about God, His Son, and His people. The gospel connects. Consider the multitude of scriptures that talk about the ‘message being heard’ or received, or spoken, etc. I think we get it backwards when we try to build community first, then ‘church,’ and then attempt to insert the gospel. The gospel is the catalyst of community, of Kingdom.  Can we presume to speak into another’s life without permission? No, I don’t think so. But, invitation and permission are worlds apart.

So much of what she said here makes me want to scream “YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT,” but likewise urge caution to not make listening, or any other thing apart from discipleship, the holy grail of evangelism.

If you’re reading this and have read the article itself, am I off base? What do you think?


0 thoughts on “Is 'Listening' The New Holy Grail of Evangelism?

  1. Ed Waken says:

    Hi Miguel,
    I did read this article and there were a few good thoughts mixed in with a lot of rubbish in my opinion. She is trying to be cute (ie “I became a missionary, the Protestant equivalent of achieving sainthood.”) and snarky (ie “Listen to other people’s stories as if your salvation depended on it, because I think it might.”) at the same time. I like your thoughts on all of the points that you hit upon. I feel sad that this woman was taught that evangelism is a form to be practiced and perfected instead of an overflow from a life saturated in the love of Christ. I do think someone needs to hear her story and offer her comfort and then help her rediscover in Christ, that which will bring her healing. There were a lot of bad comments in this article but the worst one to me was “We earn our right to speak into other people’s lives when we have logged enough hours listening to their truths, and been willing to be changed by their beauty.” Instead, I would encourage followers of Jesus to practice what He taught us regarding evangelism (Matt. 10:16-20, Mark 13:9-11, Luke 21:12-15)…to not worry about what to say or how to present the truth but to say what God gives us to say in the moment. That is freedom from man made forms and success to accomplish what God intended in that interaction. Thanks again for excellent thoughts to stimulate conversation!

  2. chosenrebel says:

    No. I think you are right on target. My one ammendment might be saying that the Pope is wrong. He’s wrong about a lot but on this particular issue I would say he is more incomplete than outright wrong. The church does grow by attraction, and existentially, many churches are not growing by heralding the news but only by some attractive quality resident within them.

    That said, the question and answer as to how the Church should grow, as you put it is right on target.

    Articles like this are frustrating because for all the good thoughts (We do need to be learners as we go into other cultures, or others lives. We do need to be good listeners. etc.) the underlying assumptions are unspoken but determinative to the conclusions. Most readers are not discerning of the former and vulnerable to be latter (the conclusions).

  3. Jim Wright says:

    That article illustrates the new legalism:

    Because such and such offends the author’s postmodern sensibilities, it must be wrong regardless of what scripture says. She then seeks to enforce conformity to her own postmodern sensibilities through charming and witty blogs that diss anyone otherwise called and motivated to actually submit to Christ’s external written word of scripture.

    I get so tired of the new legalists, because they and their sensibilities seldom result in any tangible fruit. Instead, they remain stuck in their own well-intended but ultimately self-referential proclivities as they try to serve a Jesus of their own creation.

    But they do write well.

  4. Claudia says:

    Your post and the following comments thus far make very sound points of truth and logic. However, the one bit that just doesn’t sit well with me is the blaring lack of “empathy”. This comment: “Listening is not the magic key. The multifaceted gospel is. The problem is not poking and prodding looking for a soft spot to determine the malady, it’s never offering a robust, freeing, healing, and reconciling gospel to begin with.” True! Listening is not the magic key, but Jesus listened! And then He often asked a question in response. I assume in part that was His style to spark a sense of “listening” to one’s own heart and self and recognize their position. I often hear evangelist types say that people must recognize they are broken, thus we need to tell them the bad news first in order that they can fully understand the Good News. Listening, in true empath style, affords us an opportunity to ask the right questions, to allow people to recognize the bad news within. Some may find that a bit wishy-washy, but then I would argue that perhaps those some might not have a developed gift of empathy, if an ounce of empathy at all. Jesus seemed to express a perfect empathy. So, those who don’t have it shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss those who do. Perhaps there is an imbalance seen by hard core evangelists that tips the scale in a direction they find amiss, and that is likely a right judgement. But the balance of empathy is required in ministry and mission, and if you don’t have it, you are just as off balance. THIS IS WHY it is good to partner with others who are strong where we are weak and vice-versa. Don’t beat empaths! It’s a better option to team up with them for a more robust and equally merciful ministry. The false dochotomies we create serve more to detroy the body than strengthen it. Just sayin’..

  5. gibby says:

    I don’t think you’re off base. What you’ve presented is the true form or perspective of evangelism. That being the call to make disciples. The issue we face is that most folks see evangelism as an act of making converts. Discipleship is not part of the equation until after the conversion.

    You know, like I do, that Western missionaries are taught to present a semblance of the gospel and get a convert to a denominational way of thinking. Sadly, that doesn’t always result in true followers of Jesus the Christ.

    When all “Christians” understand that evangelism and discipleship are intertwined it will change the landscape of what a missionary is and does. You and Claudia are the truest missionaries I know. By that I mean that you have committed yourselves to make disciples they way it was done in the NT instead of the way of the Western Church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.