The Evangelistic Power of Listening and Asking – Ginger Blomberg

“When’s the last time you shared the gospel with someone,” my friend Claire asked me recently. “Not just talked about Jesus but really told someone the gospel story?”

Well, it’s been a while. In some ways, this feels like the wrong season for evangelizing. During the past two months in my city, we’ve had riots, protests, and spiking coronavirus cases. It feels like a time to listen rather than speak.

Rebecca Manley Pippert’s new book, Stay Salt: Stay Salt: The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not, shows how those two things—listening and speaking—don’t have to be in conflict. For Pippert, both are necessary for sharing the gospel. This insightful synthesis of sharing and hearing is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book, making it uniquely suited for our moment.

Pippert has spent most of her life teaching about evangelism. Her book Out of the Salt Shaker was written four decades ago, but was still required reading at my husband’s Bible college in the late 1990s and a part of Christianity Today’s 2006 list of the “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.” Pippert says she wrote Stay Salt to teach Christians how to share their faith “in this new, post-Christian world.” 

But how? Through both hearing and sharing stories. 

Beginning: Ask an Interest Question

Stay Salt is premised on a sober reminder: evangelism isn’t optional for Christians. Christ’s last words to his followers were to “go and make disciples.” Pippert points out that Jesus didn’t say, “Go therefore, all you extroverts, all of you with dynamic communication skills, and all those gifted as evangelists, and make disciples. The rest of you, just hang out. Sing some hymns and wait until I return.” But Pippert’s guidance on how to start obeying isn’t to grab a soapbox or log onto Twitter. Instead, she suggests we begin by listening. 

Stay Salt is premised on a sober reminder: evangelism isn’t optional for Christians.

First, we listen to God. Knowing God’s story in the Bible and learning how it’s shaping our own story provide the message, model, and motivation for talking to others about Christ. The late Ravi Zacharias writes in the book’s introduction, “So many of us simply have no idea how beautiful the message is and how powerful the truth is.” We desperately need to grasp this, though, because “today a tepid Christianity is set beside a scorching paganism.” In other words, we begin evangelizing by listening through God’s Word to the Spirit, who provides the ability to speak when the time comes.

Second, we listen to the stories of the people around us. Because men and women are created in God’s image, and thus have unfathomable value, we should take an interest in them. One way to do this is asking an “interest question”: showing an interest in someone by learning what interests him or her. Pippert tells the story of one atheist friend who was overwhelmed with inexplicable wonder when she looked into the eyes of her newborn baby. Another friend was an extremely gifted violinist with an intense intellectual rejection of God who discovered, nonetheless, that playing Bach felt like worshiping something outside of herself. Everyone has a story. By asking sincere questions and listening attentively, we have the privilege of hearing others’ stories—and catching glimpses of how they fit into God’s bigger story.

Development: Ask an Issue/Opinion Question

Next, Pippert suggests that a helpful way to deepen a conversation or a relationship is to ask an “opinion/issue question,” or a question about how someone views a particular topic.

She’s right. I’ve had numerous opportunities in the past month to take a deep breath and ask people I know and love to share their views on racial injustice in America. I’ve not only learned a lot that I didn’t know about racial injustice, but I’ve also learned a lot about the people sharing—their passions and beliefs. 

Everyone has a story. Sometimes, we can have the privilege of hearing those stories, catching glimpses of how they fit into God’s bigger story if we start by listening.

Pippert advises us to pay special attention when people respond with emotion. Luke 6:45 tells us the words we speak reveal the depths of our hearts. Pippert sees passion, anger, sorrow, or joy in a story as possible signs of the Holy Spirit at work. These may also be excellent opportunities to simply show someone the love of Christ by hearing and responding like Christ hears and responds when we open our hearts to him. 

Denouement: Ask a God Question

As we talk to people about their interests and passions, Pippert says it’s often easier than we think to ask “a God question—a question that gets people to engage with their own worldview and consider what difference God would make to this topic.” By asking questions about someone’s beliefs, particularly their beliefs about God, we open the door to know that person’s story but also, perhaps, to share Christ with them in response.

Pippert has made a practice of sharing her gospel story. Before she became a Christian, she read the Gospels and was astonished to hear Jesus talk like a revolutionary, “saying things like I’ve come to set the world on fire! She remembers reading John 2 for the first time, thinking, “Jesus is as upset about religious hypocrisy as I am.” She didn’t even believe the stories she was reading, but she was moved by their power. That power came from the heart of the gospelthe cross, where God executed his justice, and our hunger for justice and goodness was fulfilled.

Loving well is listening well.

For Christians, loving well is listening well—first to God, then to the people around us, and then speaking Christ’s story, with love and courage, to a world that needs it.  

Sharing the Great Story with Love

Stay Salt offers a strong basis for helping Christians obey the command to tell the story of Christ’s love and sacrifice for the world. It’s also full of stories about MLB players, hairdressers, NASCAR drivers, violinists, fashion models, and people sitting next to her on airplanes who were astonished to learn that they’re part of God’s story, too.

Indeed, there are so many stories in the book that, at times, the thread of Pippert’s argument is hard to follow. But those stories also point to where Stay Salt truly shines: the emphasis on listening to each person and responding with truth and love. Pippert reminds us that we aren’t the Author. Our goal in evangelizing, she repeats throughout, isn’t to save the masses. We can’t save anyone! Our goal is obey the Lord by listening to the stories of those around us, and to remind ourselves and others of the Great Story we all need to hear. Her model of evangelism recognizes that every person in the world has a story that’s a chapter in a much Bigger Story.

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