Keep Your Mouth Shut!

by Lon Allison

listening in evangelism, Wheaton Bible Church, Lon AllisonThe most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned in engaging someone with the gospel is this: Listen first and keep your mouth shut longer!

Listening first and talking second is a good witness principle. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. When it comes to our witness lives, there is great wisdom in this.

Listening and asking good questions precedes giving gospel words. In a conversation with a either stranger or someone I know, I begin by listening to the person talk about his or her life and situation. Sometimes, I don’t even need to start the conversation—they may start it! God places us into people’s lives to represent Him in that moment. We are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). He makes His appeal through us, but in the context of a real person in a real moment (often in a time of need).

Jesus displayed this with both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman (see John 3 and 4). He started by entering into their worlds and hearing their situations. From there, he carefully presented gospel words to each of them in their setting.

Jesus listened to Nicodemus’ comments regarding God. He seemed to be wrestling with Jesus’ identity and whether He was sent from God. After listening, Jesus responded that Nicodemus needed to be born again. Nicodemus, one of Israel’s leading religious teachers, heard Jesus’ gospel words, asked a question in return, and a deep discussion of the new birth was launched.

With the woman at the well, a discussion about drinking water led to a discussion about Jews and Samaritans, which led to a discussion about religious truth, which led to a discussion about the brokenness in her life, which led to a gospel discussion about her need for a God-centered life that would quench her deep longing for meaning and relationship. Listening opened the door to relevant gospel dialogue.

Today at lunch, a pastor friend and I were at a restaurant we occasionally frequent. We recognized the server although we had not seen her for quite a while. One of us commented positively on the unique colors in her hair. She had dyed it a couple of colors and it was noticeable.

She then said she was going to dye it pink this fall. We asked why she was going to do that. With a tint of sadness, she said, “In order to show solidarity with those fighting cancer.” In less than a minute, we had moved from a peripheral issue (hair color) to a personal life issue, namely, cancer.

I asked, “Kelly, have you lost someone you cared about to cancer?” She was quiet for a few moments but then said yes, and proceeded to talk to us about two friends lost to the disease. We listened and had empathy for her.

I then said, “Kelly, my father-in-law died of cancer last night.” My friend then said, “And I lost my wife to cancer several years ago.” She then said how sorry she was. From there, my friend and I gently told her of our belief that in both our aching losses, the people we loved were now with God. Then, we told her why and said we believed Jesus had died for all the wrongs in our loved one’s lives and offered them eternal life with him.

lon-allisonLon Allison (@lonallison) is pastor of teaching and outreach at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, Illinois. Previously, he served as executive director of theBilly Graham Center for Evangelism.