When I was a child, I loved to play the game Whack-A-Mole. Do you know the game? You stand in front of a platform and wait for plastic moles to appear from one of several holes. They appear one at a time with greater speed and more sporadic movement. Your job is to spot and strike the moles before they disappear. When time expires, you typically have a few tickets that can be exchanged for a trinket of some sort.
I believe most of us approach evangelism like Whack-A-Mole. We are charged, reactive, and often miss the mark. We focus on the surface rather than deeper issues. We see little fruit and can grow discouraged over time. At least, that has often been my experience.
What are the deeper issues and concerns of our neighbors (e.g., fear of rejection, financial hardship, loneliness, or death)? I recently heard an evangelist say that many of us are hardwired to listen to respond. We wait for an opportunity to discuss our faith and strike before really understanding the deeper issues and longings of those around us. A neighbor expresses a concern with the Bible’s teaching on a particular issue and we pounce on it, only to see another and another issue emerge.
What is your stereotype of evangelism? Do you believe that good listening is part of evangelism? I recently talked about evangelistic listening at a CTK church gathering and highlighted a few skills that could help us feel more proactive and encouraged in engaging our neighbors. We live in a rapid-fire culture with non-stop distractions. We are called to love neighbor as self, but our cellphones and schedules so often get in the way.
When was the last time that you asked a neighbor an open-ended question simply to listen well and hear what was said? It could start with a relatively innocuous question (e.g., What are your plans for the holidays? What do you like about your job?), but it has the potential to develop into more pointed questions (e.g., What do you believe about God? What is your experience with church?). The key is that you sincerely want to listen and learn more about the experience and deeper burdens of those around you. Consider the love of Christ, the one who took flesh to dwell among us and who sacrificially engaged those who (at least initially) saw no need of him.
During the Advent season, would you pray for one new conversation and one new question that could take you deeper into relationship with a neighbor? Would you pray for a trust, patience, and wisdom in engaging and loving neighbors as self. After all, what is evangelism? Doesn’t it boil down to love of neighbor as self? It is amazing where a good question can take you and how the Lord might use that engagement to deepen your faith and lead another to faith. In the process, perhaps the Lord might even give you the opportunity to invite a neighbor to church.
Bryan Loney pastors CTK Roslindale/West Roxbury, which started in 2013. He and his family live in Roslindale.