One of the fundamental principles of Evangelize Today (the ministry I have been and will be working with) is learning to "listen to hear vs. listen to respond." To be honest, most of us Christians have the reputation of merely listening to unbelievers just enough to somehow convince them that we're actually paying attention, but in reality are busily formulating a response and eagerly awaiting the opportunity to share it. After all, we know the truth, they don't, we're called to share it, they need to listen to what we have to say, and if they don't then it's their fault and we can write it off to their unwillingness to believe. But here is what's closer to the truth ... deep down we don't really care what they have to say because it's obviously unenlightened and is not going to be right.
We must recapture and believe the theology we profess. Each person, believer and unbeliever alike, is created in God's image, thus has dignity and worth and is to be respected. And if we're wiling to show them this respect, patiently wait, and "hear" what they are saying we will eventually see the image of God shine through. And it is there that we can most certainly connect with them, often through a wound or disappointment, and get to the point of speaking Gospel truth into their lives.
But doing this with non-Christians requires us using certain "hearing" muscles that we're not accustomed to using. It takes practice, discipline, diligence, patience, and utter dependence on God's grace. But once we begin to "listen to hear" we discover a world of opportunities to connect with unbelievers that we never knew existed.
Allow me to give you the opportunity to exercise your "hearing" muscle. On Monday nights I gather with a group of unchurched folks who ask all sorts of questions about life, Bible, and whatever else they can think of! This past Monday night I was asked this question: "When we get to heaven will we be married to our first wife? If not, who will we be married to?" And as that question was being asked and initially discussed a couple of folks in the group literally said, "Well, wherever he/she (first husband/wife) is gonna be after I die, I want to go to the other place." So before you start trying to explore all the theology of answering that question (who will we be married to in heaven?), what did you hear? What's the back narrative in the minds of those who asked the question and responded by saying they want to be anywhere other than their ex-spouse? How might you as a Christian find a way to connect with these folks? They are saying a lot more than just expressing curiosity about a topic.
This is just a glimpse into the world of evangelism I'm exploring. It's not a strategy of "truthing" unbelievers into the Kingdom, but rather respectfully hearing them and figuring out what's beneath the surface so that when I do speak to them of the Gospel they will know I love them. I believe this is something all of us in the church can do. We've had a hearing problem, but the Lord graciously offers us the aid of His Spirit as He transforms and empowers us to respectfully interact with unbelievers.
By the way, the topic my group picked for discussion at our next meeting on Sept 10 (we'll skip Labor Day) is, "How are we made acceptable to God?" So don't tell me that the Lord doesn't provide opportunities to share the Gospel! Pray for me ... and for my Monday night group.