Many Christians want to share their faith but miss opportunities by not actively listening or recognizing cues, evangelical trainer Margaret Slusher said in eight workshops across the Pacific Northwest this spring.
The isolation and loneliness people feel today leaves them wanting to talk, Slusher said. “While it is hard to listen, you must hear what they are really telling you.”
Overcoming the habit of “talking and entertaining everyone,” Slusher said, often can yield a “tremendous opportunity to share the gospel” in conversations that move toward many of the Bible’s instructive stories.
“Start by looking for things to talk about with a stranger, including their book or an interesting piece of clothing or jewelry – and catch people’s eyes so they will talk to you,” Slusher said in the one-day “story witnessing” workshops sponsored by the Northwest Baptist Convention.
Photo by Sheila Allen
“People will often tell their personal issues within the first couple of sentences of introducing themselves,” evangelical trainer Margaret Slusher said in witnessing workshops across the Northwest Baptist Convention this spring.
Many things distract from listening, including personal agendas, pride, thinking about a next response and being a problem-solver, Slusher said, encouraging workshop participants to “practice engagement” with open body postures, such as standing with arms and legs uncrossed, palms open, leaning forward and maintaining eye contact – social cues that can lead to more rapport with people.
“What people receive with their own filter or worldview and body language accounts for 55 percent of what is believed,” Slusher said. Believability diminishes “if the tone or body language doesn’t match what they are hearing,” she said.
Biblical accounts show that while Jesus taught crowds, He also modeled active listening by stopping, listening to strangers and asking questions.
The practice of “story witnessing,” Slusher said, begins with hearing “the hidden struggle which is told through the stories the speaker shares with you” – “listening for the unconscious meaning in a person’s story,” often drawing from themes and metaphors in the conversation.
“People will often tell their personal issues within the first couple of sentences of introducing themselves,” Slusher noted.
Paraphrasing others’ words and mirroring back conversations, she said, can help determine if an accurate message was received and demonstrate interest and caring.
“There is no such thing as multi-tasking, and other things must shut off to begin building rapport,” Slusher said, citing the apostle Paul’s intent to “become all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel.”
After hearing a person’s story or struggle, Slusher said, a transition can be made to spiritual concerns by mentioning a story from the Bible that relates to the situation at hand. While a broad understanding of the Bible is desirable, many familiar Bible stories can be part of various conversations, such as the prodigal son, the Samaritan woman at the well, Noah building the ark and Daniel in the lion’s den.
Then, questions about the person’s story and the Bible story can help determine the possibility of deeper conversations, Slusher said. An assessment of someone’s openness to following Christ also can be made by watching body language, she added.
If a person is receptive, a salvation story can then be presented and guidance given to making a commitment to Jesus, Slusher said. If the individual is not ready, a follow-up time can be suggested. And prayer can be raised for other witnesses to come into the person’s life.
“Interest in others must be prefaced by prayer, asking God to help you love people,” Slusher noted. “We must be burdened for the lost because God wants them, so we must take a genuine interest … which can be started with just a smile.”
Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, said this spring’s workshops are part of a commitment to provide evangelism resources to churches across the convention, which spans the states of Oregon and Washington and part of Idaho.
The convention’s cornerstone My316 five-week curriculum for children through adults is online at nwbaptist.org/nwbc_resources/my316.
The gospel presentation in My316 uses John 3:16 and personal testimony, Adams said.
Story witnessing, then, “combines listening skills and the telling of a Bible story that speaks to the other person’s issues and needs,” Adams said.
“Too often we speak before we listen and understand,” he said. “I have learned that people will reveal a great deal about themselves if only we will listen and ask the right questions. Often relational or spiritual matters will surface, giving us the opportunity to share Scripture that addresses the issues.” A multitude of Bible stories address the daily concerns of each of us.
“Whereas many people might get defensive at a Gospel presentation that seems like a memorized sales pitch, most are open to hearing a story that relates to their need. And they don’t mind that the story comes from the Bible,” Adams said.
Churches in the Northwest convention reported 2,007 baptisms in 2015, “which was a 19.5 percent increase over the prior year,” he added. “We believe that placing evangelism front-and-center is making a difference.”
This spring’s workshops were held in Spokane, Richland, Lakewood, Bothell, Burlington and Vancouver, Wash., and Eugene and Central Point, Ore. A three-day intensive workshop is scheduled Sept. 20-22 at the Northwest Baptist Center in Vancouver, Wash., for training in teaching a story witnessing method for evangelism.
Slusher is president of Lead Plus, an Atlanta-area training and coaching organization. She formerly served as the Leadership Network’s director of church planting learning community and the North American Mission Board’s director of equipping initiatives. Earlier, she served as associate director of missions for the Noonday Baptist Association in Marietta, Ga., and director of church development for the Montgomery Baptist Association in Montgomery, Ala.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sheila Allen is managing editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)