by Ann Sullivan
In middle school, we held mock elections for the best dressed, the most athletic, and so on. I snagged several awards, including the “Best Excuse Giver.” I remember hurrying home the day of the election results and sharing the exciting news with my family. Somehow, though, my parents were less impressed. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.”
The need to always be right is a sign of trouble. Desiring to be clear and avoid mistakes is one thing, but the obsession to defend ourselves or prove people wrong exposes an insecurity that exhausts everyone around us…even when we’re right. We become the resounding gong or the clanging cymbal the Apostle Paul talks about (1 Cor. 13:1).
Sharing the gospel can be a little like this. It can turn us into slick used-car salesmen. Our hearts may be in the right place, but our passion to “seal the deal” makes us unwilling to even listen to the objections of the potential buyer. We neglect to see things from their perspective, enter into their world, or identify with their pain. And when this happens, their lives are reduced to a quota to be reached or an argument to be won.
This becomes even trickier when evangelism gets personal. Those who are closest to us tend to challenge our ability to remain calm the most. It’s hard enough to be patient while God works on us, but watching and waiting as He works on someone else can be downright excruciating. So, at the first sign of trouble, we blurt out our words like a fast-running commercial. The problem is, if we’re not careful, our fervor to defend the gospel can run roughshod over people and alienate the very ones we’re trying to reach.
People earn the right to be heard by listening. If we’ve offended someone in the past by coming on too strong, before we can move forward with them, we might need to do a little fence-mending first. Reconciliation often begins by asking ourselves some uncomfortable questions, such as why we’re trying to “convert” someone in the first place. Is it to prove them wrong or win a debate? Is it to make our lives less complicated by conforming them to our image?
Let’s face it, it’s much easier being around shiny, happy people whose lives appear altogether. Insulating ourselves with people who agree with us gives us a cozy feeling inside too. But it’s hardly the model Jesus left for us. He was all about investing in the messier side of life and taking the time to see people as broken individuals. Becoming that safe place where someone can come clean about their secret sin, their abusive tendencies, or their urge to cut themselves, isn’t easy. But learning how to really listen to someone will reshape our evangelism.
We might prefer the conversions that come from our quick words and clever responses. But from the earliest accounts we have of God’s dealings with man, following Him was less about a dramatic encounter or a one-time event. Walking with God is an on-going process—a journey that ebbs and flows. Discovering His truths takes time.
Jesus didn’t come to simply win arguments or force us into His world. Instead, He took the time to enter into ours and connect with us on the most intimate level. His motive was pure and selfless. It was to love us without condition whether He gained anything or not. That’s how evangelism through reconciliation begins.
Ann Sullivan is an author, speaker, and freelance writer who works extensively in leadership with women’s groups across the country. She’s currently developing curriculum for her new book, Permission to Doubt (Kregel) to challenge and encourage people as they face a new generation of progressive ideas. Learn more at www.annsullivansimpletruths.com.