“Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue. . . . In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.”
James 1:19, The Message.
One of the most important, yet least recognized evangelism techniques is the ability to listen to other people. Why do we underestimate the importance of listening in evangelism? Perhaps because it seems like such a passive occupation. We are much more eager to speak, or act in defense of the faith. But, as is usually the case with God’s truth, what seems to make sense is not necessarily his way.
When we want to go, he often asks us to wait.
When we want to do, he asks us to pray first.
When we want to hold on, he asks us to let go.
Waiting, praying, letting go are all acts of faith, and none of them come naturally, even when we claim to trust him. And listening doesn’t come naturally either. Our first instinct is to talk, but until we’ve listened, sometimes for a long time, we haven’t earned the right, or gained the insight we need to interact wisely with another person. Listening is a skill that needs to be consciously cultivated if we are to share the Lord Jesus appropriately and effectively with others.
10 Questions to See if You’re a Good Listener
So how do we know if we’re good listeners? Here’s a checklist that will help us analyze our readiness to be used of the Holy Spirit in another’s life by listening.
1. When the conversation begins, do I make myself comfortable and forget about the clock? Good listening does not happen within a tight schedule. We need to give God authority over our appointment book and trust him to deal with interruptions, or help us make time for other things that need to be done.
2. Do I make eye contact and notice body language? This is an obvious requirement, but I’m amazed when I look back over my day, remembering the conversations I’ve had, at how many times I can’t remember anything about the eyes or the bodies of those I’ve listened to. Eyes are especially important. If we’re alert and observant, we can read things in the eyes that fall between the lines of what the lips are saying.
3. Do I speak less than 50% of the time if two of us are talking? Less than 33% if there are three involved in the conversation? If I don’t, I’m talking more than my share of the time, and others are doing the listening. It’s hard to measure at first, but if we pay attention to this detail once or twice, our sense of how much time we should be talking soon becomes instinctive.
4. Do I resist helping others say what they’re trying to say? Do I finish their sentences, or supply words they may be struggling to find? Sometimes it’s helpful to do this and people appreciate it as a sign that we understand them, but if it happens often, we’re not granting them the dignity of choosing their own words, and we may be hindering the verbal processing they need to go through to gain clarity for themselves.
5. Do I respond as they speak, using body language in a way that affirms and encourages them to keep talking? A nod or a smile, or even a laugh when it fits can draw others out and encourage better communication.
6. When I speak, do I ask questions because I really want to know more, or do I have another agenda? If I listen just to be polite, or to earn the right to speak back, or even just to make them feel better, I’m listening for the wrong reason. The only valid reason for listening is to hear what another person is saying, and, in evangelism, that’s sometimes all God asks of us.
7. When I don’t understand something, or haven’t heard clearly, do I stop and ask for a repeat of what they’ve said? Or do I “fake it” and let them continue, hoping to catch on later? There’s an honesty in stopping to ask that is necessary if we are to listen effectively, and others will appreciate this candor and respond positively to it.
8. Do I count to ten and pray hard before I begin giving feedback or advice? And when I do give feedback, do I keep it short and to the point, giving them only as much as they’re ready to hear? It’s sometimes hard to resist dumping my wisdom on others, especially if I’ve been listening for a long time. But Jesus never dumped his wisdom. He gave out samples, inviting people to taste and make a choice about whether or not they wanted to come back for more.
9. Do I focus on others in my responses? Or do I give in to the temptation to approach their situation from my own limited perspective? Am I humble enough to realize my experience might not work for them? It’s true that God will use our experiences to help others, but we need to make sure we don’t share from a myopic perspective. If we’ve been listening properly, we should be able to share our thoughts in ways that are relevant to them.
10. Do I leave the conversation in God’s hands when it’s over, without worrying about what I’ve said or not said, or done or not done? God wants us to walk step-by-step, moment-by-moment with him, trusting that he will do his redemptive work through us, even if we haven’t said or done all the right things.
God doesn’t ask us to do much. He only asks that we be restfully available and instantly obedient, so he can do much through us. When we realize this, evangelism becomes a natural and joy-filled exercise of faith.