Part 2 Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman
Having ‘Cross-ward’ Conversations: Use What You’ve Got
Just throwing it out there
Some people are brilliant at small talk and starting conversations. I was eating at a Lebanese restaurant with my husband and young son when a friendly guy (also with a young son) sitting several tables away caught the eye of my husband and said, “How’s life?” And then they started talking. I had assumed that they must know each other from the park or around the traps. No. They had never met before. This guy just confidently threw a line out there and my husband went with it.
Then there’s the other way...
I once went to church with a woman who would reveal almost nothing about herself. In fact I spoke to her husband about this after another failed attempt to find out more about Jane* (not her real name) had ended in me talking more about myself and her continuing to remain a mystery. “I just tried so hard to get Jane to talk about herself but she did it again,” I said. Jane’s husband smiled knowingly, “Ah, the old jedi mind trick.” Jane was not in to talking about herself but was deeply fascinated by other people, “Don’t you just find people so interesting?” she asked. (See what I mean?) Jane engaged people in talking about themselves by listening well - giving them her full and friendly attention and by asking lots of questions and being interested in the answers. She didn’t need to share much of herself with others, preferring to keep that private. She was content to listen.
Use What You’ve Got
Where you sit on the introvert-extrovert scale matters less than knowing how to use what you’ve got. I learn a lot remembering how well Jane listens and how she draws people out. And how effortlessly that confident man in the restaurant connected with my husband, a stranger, through one friendly line.
Newman is a man unafraid to dive into a can of worms. And that’s really a big part of the appeal of a book like this. It’s good to see how conversations fail and also how people ask brilliant questions. Evangelism feels scary and is bound up for many with shame and fear. So it’s wonderful for Newman to share honestly about how his conversation style has evolved and what has helped improve the quality of his ‘cross-ward’ conversations.
Two words are at the heart of Biblical evangelism: wisdom and compassion. Newman writes:
Rather than trying to learn all of the right words, have all of the right booklets, anticipate all of the right questions, and memorize all of the right intros and Scripture, we should approach evangelism with wisdom. p. 40
Where would you turn to in the Bible for Wisdom?
Newman’s first stop is the book of Proverbs. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who wins souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30) Newman meditates on each clause before holding these two aspects of a Godly life together. The writer of Proverbs seems to be making a connection between inner righteousness and external outreach. Newman argues that the ongoing work of ordinary growing Christians sharing their faith wisely with the regular people in their lives is the kind of evangelism the Bible wants us to be involved in:
To “win souls” in the Old Testament doesn’t refer to a Billy Graham-type sermon in a stadium or an open Bible presentation of the gospel in a prison cell. Rather, it refers to influencing someone’s heart and mind. We’d be wise to influence someone’s “soul” and make that person righteous - in right standing before God and right in his dealings with others. p.50
Where would you turn Outside the Bible for Wisdom?
You might be surprised to discover that Newman gets lots of wisdom from secular books too. And it is a really important observation that the world has much to teach us about relating well and not relating well. If you think about it, a reading Christian who is also immersed in her Bible regularly is always reading at least two books at the same time. That gives them a distinct advantage in the compare and contrast game. Whether the book they're reading is great or rubbish they will still get value out of it as they read the Bible alongside it.
Newman shares how much Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends And Influence People has helped him. Many of the tips Newman takes from Carnegie are exemplified in the two people I began this article with: being genuinely interested in people, smiling, remembering that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest most important sound in any language and being a good listener.
Listening Well: An Untapped Resource
I had a lightbulb moment years ago reading Don't Sweat the Small Stuff By Richard Carlson where he said, “Don’t listen to respond, listen to listen.” And that has transformed the way I relate. I still catch myself waiting for the break to say what I want to say, or seeing the moment pass and wondering how I can weave in the really funny thing I was going to contribute. But I notice when I’m doing it now, that’s progress. And I appreciate the wisdom in letting it go and just listening to listen fully and try to understand. Your chance will come. It’s so much nicer for the other person. And it’s so much nicer for you. You can enjoy the flow of the conversation and trust that the Holy Spirit will prompt you when necessary. Newman writes, “Gracious listening flows from a heart that has been humbled, stilled, and transformed by the power of grace.” (p. 250)
I know you’re wanting me to get on to example conversations, and I promise to include lots of those next week. But I really want to emphasise the mindset and the softness of heart that is going to produce loving, thoughtful dialogue - and the key to it is to listen well. “Listening might be the most useful tool we have in sharing the Good News.” (p. 240)
The Fine Art of Gospel Conversation
Getting better at Gospel conversation is an art, we want to be comfortable in our own skin, enjoying a close relationship with the Lord and genuinely loving the person in front of us. Not every conversation is going to be the best forum to lay down your pearls.
Listening well doesn’t mean that you have to allow someone to totally control the agenda. If you feel that their talking might never end and the conversation is not going where it ought you can always cut it short. Newman politely excuses himself at the end of a one-sided conversation with the words that he, “needs to be elsewhere.” He prays and leaves. And in that context it is absolutely the right thing to do.
Next week as promised, we’ll look at some example conversations from the Christian world, the non-Christian world and the intersection between the two. I hope you find them inspiring!
Meet Katie Stringer
Katie is a lover of books, baking and beaches. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church and loves being part of the inner west community of Sydney. This year she commences a new job teaching the Bible at two local High schools. She would greatly appreciate your prayers for this endeavour.