Is listening and asking questions a good way to do evangelism?
This was a question I received recently from a student. In this post, I will share a few thoughts related to the question of listening, asking questions and evangelism. It is a good question because we do find passages in the Bible that clearly tell us to proclaim, persuade and also warn people. What is then the place of listening and asking good questions in our efforts to communicate the good news to students at the university? Here are some thoughts that could help.
Warning has a place in evangelism
It is true that warning has a place in evangelism. The student mentioned Ezekiel 33:7-9 where it says that God made the prophet a watchman over his people. The prophet’s responsibility is to warn the people of the dangers that are coming on them. If he will not warn the people then he is not a good watchman. How does this apply to evangelism? It has to do with stewardship and accountability. It teaches that those who have knowledge about a certain situation and do not share this knowledge with others will be held accountable.
Stewardship and evangelism
The apostle Paul expressed similar thoughts about our responsibility as Christians to communicate the good news with others. He says in Romans 1:14 (NIV) “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.” Here he talks about our responsibility by using the image of a debtor, someone who owes something to others. The idea here is that God gives something to us so that we will pass it on to others. In this sense, we owe it to them. It is destined not only for us but also for them.* A student ones told me “if it is important for us (Christians) then it is important for them (non-Christians) too.” She was 100% right! Take a few seconds to reflect on this. C.S Lewis once said that “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
Initiative and evangelism
Here is the question then, how can we warn others in the university setting? We can warn them by making the effort to initiate conversations about God, the meaning of life and truth. This can be done in a gentle and friendly way. During these conversations, we can listen carefully so we understand what others think. We can also ask good questions and challenge the students to think further. Sometimes a good question can make the whole difference in a person’s life. At the same time, we share what the Christian faith has to say on these topics. In this way, we function in a real sense as their “watchman.” The Apostle Peter reminds us of the importance of a good attitude, ” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:15. (NIV)
Different levels of evangelism
It is also important to remember that there are different levels to do evangelism. Lindsay Brown, a university evangelist in Europe, used to say that there are at least three levels of university evangelism that we have to use interchangeably and continuously throughout the academic year. It is like a pyramid, the first level from the ground is person-to-person evangelism. The second level is small group evangelism. The third level is public proclamation. What follows is a short description of these levels.
Person-to-person evangelism can be done in two ways. We can share the good news with those we know and meet on a daily basis. But we can also go to the university and initiate conversations, with those we don’t know, by using conversation tools such as a questionnaire, the perspective cards or soularium. During these conversations, we can ask good questions and help students either correct some of their assumptions of the Christian faith or share what we think about it. Sometimes all it takes is an explanation. “Explanation” is important in evangelism and apologetics because there are many myths circulating about the Christian faith. In my experience in university evangelism, this is indeed often the case.
Small group evangelism
Small group evangelism is either a Seeker Bible study, a Student Alpha course or a Christianity Explored course. It can also be an Open House where students meet in an informal way to socialize, eat together and also talk about a topic that the students find interesting. In this meetings, we can openly share what the Christian faith has to say on these topics. It is an enriching experience to have these Open House meetings.
Public proclamation has to do with presenting a clear Christian view on a certain topic. The talk is focusing on making clear what Christianity has to say. For instance, it can be a topic that has to do with science vs faith, the basis of morality, the dignity of human beings, and any other existential topic that is dealing with origin, meaning, and destiny. At the university setting, this is usually done during a mission week.
Why is listening and asking good questions important?
Listening is important because we first need to understand what other students think about a certain topic. We also need to understand their worldview, their experiences, struggles, and questions. Someone said that in a postmodern society the most important evangelistic skill is listening.
Good listeners wanted
A good listener is always appreciated. We usually get irritated with people who don’t listen carefully and therefore have the tendency to misunderstand us. Alister McGrath ones mentioned that people have different reasons to reject Christianity. Reasons of the mind, of memory, of culture, and of the heart. If we become good listeners then we will be better prepared to understand them and therefore also ask good questions to help them think further. We read in Proverbs 20:5 (NIV) “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
Asking good questions helps to clarify things. For instance, If someone rejects the reliability of the Bible then a simple question as “have you looked at the evidence about the reliability of the Bible?” can help that person become aware of a “myth” he might have accepted without investigating the resources.
Some useful resources for students
For a short training on listening and asking good questions and book suggestions, you can have a look at our European website, look for training for evangelism. If you have any questions or thoughts to share then leave a comment.
* You can find a good explanation of this in John Stott’s commentary on the epistle to the Romans chapter 1.