Using Questions and Listening Effectively in Gospel Outreach
Created by Jon Taylor - Friday 16 Nov 2018
Jon Taylor
Using Questions and Listening Effectively in Gospel Outreach
Iron sharpens iron. Recently I had the privilege of spending a day with someone who has a similar role to myself to do some gospel outreach. We discussed and swopped ideas about how we share the gospel and questions to use that steer the conversation towards the essentials of our faith. Early on I will often ask, “Do you have faith in God?” to ascertain where they are coming from followed by “Do you have an assurance of where you are going in the next life?” to determine who they are trusting upon or not even. This saves preamble and going around the houses and after I have listened to them carefully, will explain succinctly why I have an assurance based on what the Lord has accomplished that is not based on my efforts to be ‘good’.
Similarly, my friend will ask “Do you have an opinion about Jesus?” very early on. That will usually determine whether they think He is, or was, a good man, prophet, something else or the Son of God. We both agreed resoundingly that listening is vital. One thing I gleaned from him, was to respond to questions with questions more frequently, rather than relying mostly on solid apologetic responses.
Answering a question with a question
It is easier to ask questions than to provide meaningful answers, which requires more thought and understanding. However, answering a question with a question causes someone to think and assess their worldview, instead of discharging a question as a reason for not believing something without thinking through the implications of the view they hold.
Someone may state “I don’t need God or a religion because I’m basically a good person”. A great initial respond is simply ‘How would you define good?’ This will quickly serve to illustrate that it is easy to consider oneself as good if we compare ourselves with someone we think doesn’t measure up to our standard. Of course, our standards and morals are completely arbitrary unless they are based on the word of God. Even with almost universally accepted patterns of ‘good’ behaviour if we attempt to take God out of the equation our reasoning may be from a consensus but remains subjective.
Someone may say “No one really knows!” In my head I am thinking, “what you really mean is that you don’t know so you are assuming that means that the other seven and a half billion in the world don’t know any more than you do.” Instead, if you respond with “How do you know that?”, it quickly and helpfully enables that person to think through the implications of their statement rather than sounding off a groundless presupposition.
Someone else may “God doesn’t exist because I can’t see Him, and He doesn’t speak to me.” There is certainly a time for explaining how God has revealed Himself in various ways and in various times through the prophets, His Son and the word of God and that His invisible attributes are clearly seen by the things that are made. Initially though a question in response is “Do you have to see and hear everything to know that it exists?” That will again help that person think about their assumption and consider in a more constructive manner whether God may exist.
Another may contend “Evolution disproves the Bible.” You respond, “How so?” They reply, “It’s a fact!” You remark, “How do you know it’s a fact?” They add, “Scientists have proved it!” Before you know it, you will often find that person is going around in circles and hasn’t really thought through whether evolution does disprove the Bible but is just repeating what they have heard many times. It can however, clear the air to help others to start listening. Similar early questions might include ‘Is it scientific to believe that something can be created from nothing or that an explosion would result in the perfect conditions for sustaining life on earth?” That could be followed by “Could it be the case that God created the world and it is incredibly well designed and that says something about the Creator?”
Yet another might pronounce “The Bible is full of contradictions.” Whilst it may help to demonstrate the vast number and accuracy of texts and the consistency of the Old and New Testament and the harmony of the gospels and the express audience they are aimed at respectively, a good question to respond with is, “Can you give me an example?” That will cause someone to really think rather than just to regurgitate something they have heard or haven’t thought through. Some of the most hardened sceptics upon investigating the claims of Scripture have later become convinced of its truthfulness.
Lastly, another may ask “How can a good God be reconciled with so much suffering in the world?” There is a need to explain that God is perfect and created a perfect world and that we live in a broken world and that much suffering is caused by humans against other humans though obviously, not all. God will judge the earth in righteousness. However, showing empathy to that individual and asking them why they ask is almost always more helpful since it is often comfort in their circumstances and reassurance of what God is like and will do rather than a thorough theological explanation that is required, at least initially.
To summarise, answering a question with a question early on in a conversation is likely to make that discussion more productive, enable that person to re-examine their view and be more inclined to listen more thoroughly when you respond fully to their question. Allowing the other person uninterrupted time to respond to your question frequently results in another person taking seriously what you have to say.
Friday 16 Nov 2018