Learning to Listen
We live in an increasingly diverse culture, and surely one of the things we have learned is that American Christians can no longer claim the privileged position of guardians of our culture's morals, values and truth claims. I might even go so far as to say that our position today more closely resembles that of the Christians in the New Testament than the position of Christians over the past several centuries who lived in a church-dominated world. Serious Christians -- Christians who take their faith seriously and seek to live it out with integrity -- are a minority. This is why we find ourselves marginalized by the culture's elite institutions. We've largely done this to ourselves, but we now find ourselves on the outside looking in at those who shape and create culture.
If we ever hope to be taken seriously again, there are some things we simply must do, and the most basic among them is this: we must be willing to listen as much as (if not more than) we speak.
Listening communicates more respect than speaking. We're not good at this for several reasons, but I think the most generous reason I could give is that we're confident that we possess the truth. Listening suggests we may actually have something to learn. We're not often willing to admit that we could learn something from people who disagree with us over issues of faith and morality.
However, it is a basic tenet of the Christian faith that omniscience belongs to God and God alone. Thus, the idea that we may have something to learn from someone should not be a novel concept or one that strays too far beyond the pale of our particular brand of orthodoxy. Still, it is rare to hear anyone -- particularly anyone interested in the concept of evangelism -- advise Christians to actually listen to their non-Christian friends.
By listening, we not only show respect, we also affirm truth in a friend's position, at which point we can point him or her to a greater, deeper, more comprehensive and more satisfying truth.
More than anything else, the style we adopt should look more like Jesus than it has in the past. Any attempt to accomplish a godly goal using an ungodly method will ultimately fail.
Jesus looked at the crowds and felt compassion towards them, because "they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).
Jesus' tone and style stand in stark contrast to the Pharisees who said this of the crowds: "This mob that knows nothing of the law -- there is a curse on them" (John 7:49).
Which of those two do we most often sound like -- especially when we're engaged in political discussions or the "culture wars"? Are we more likely to sound like our overall goal is to crush our opponents or bring healing and salvation to them? If we really want to bring them to into a relationship with their Heavenly Father, we must rethink our tone and style.
I repeat: any attempt to accomplish a godly goal using an ungodly method will ultimately fail.