I used to work with an evangelist called Dennis Pethers. He would often use the phrase “we’ve got two ears and one mouth; evangelism is more about listening than talking.”

At first glance this may seem counterintuitive. The word evangelism derives from the idea of announcing or proclaiming good news. How might listening relate to an activity that has strong links to the act of speaking or proclaiming? The key is the context in which we find ourselves in the UK.

Whilst we live in a country that has strong Christian foundations that can still be seen in many facets of our society, most of the population no longer have a Christian worldview. Consequently, conversations about the good news of Jesus may miss the mark because we are potentially offering answers to questions that people are not asking.

I hope that we all know the feeling of being listened too. I think the act of being heard conveys to us a deep sense of value and worth. At the same time, I imagine you know what it feels like when you are simply being talked at, or the person you are speaking with is simply waiting for their turn to speak next. Through the Story Bearer Sessions, we are exploring the connection between God’s story, our story and the story of the people we are having conversations with.

Listening is crucial because Jesus taught us to treat others as we would like to be treated and to love our neighbours as ourselves. We listen because we value hearing the story of our friends, families and colleagues. We listen because we want them to have that experience of being heard. We listen because only then will we be able to know and understand the longings and desires of the people around us, their existential cries.

In his book Evangelism in a Skeptical World, Sam Chan identifies how most of our conversations stick at the interest level. By that he means we talk about things like sport, films, coffee, or whatever interests we have. Sam goes on to suggest that we rarely take conversations beyond the initial level of interest to discussing our values, let alone our worldviews. Listening is central to helping us develop deeper conversations with the people around us because as we pay attention to what a person is saying, we are better placed to ask more meaningful questions that then helps people share more of their story with us.

First and foremost, developing our listening skills and asking good questions are important because they help us all become better friends, family members, or colleagues. Secondly, we become better placed to articulate elements of the good news of Jesus in ways that resonate with the longings and desires that people are expressing. Potentially our listening might help people unlock key questions about life that they didn’t even realise they’d been asking.

Up to this point the Story Bearer Sessions have explored the importance of praying, matching up our actions with our words, and taking time to reflect on our own story of faith. This week let’s all practice becoming better at listening. Sharing our faith could well begin with the simple act of asking how are you?” and being prepared to properly listen to someone’s response.