Listening to others is important. Listening to others for the sake of God is important too. Francis Schaeffer once said that if he had one hour in which to share the Good News he would spend 55 minutes just asking questions and listening. To truly know how to share Christ in a “non-canned” way we must listen to the concerns, backgrounds, and objections of the people we want to communicate with. We also need to have our ear to ground when it comes to the culture around us; individuals are not culture-less after all. What are the objections? What are the concerns? What are the longings – both spoken and unspoken? To be an effective witness of Jesus in the real world we need to be careful listeners.
But when does the listening stop? When does it hit its limits? The idea of not imposing, carefully listening, being merely “present” has been en vogue in Christian circles. It has launched a 1,000 buzz words and mini-movements such as “emergent”, “missional”, and so on. The result is that there is such an emphasis on listening to those around and seeking to be a “presence” in their midst, that we’ve forget what we’re supposed to say. Or that we’re to speak at all.
John Stott, writing fifty years ago, had an almost prescient view of much of what is going on today. He writes in his superbly compact, Our Guilty Silence: the Church, the Gospel, and the World:
Others are actually equating evangelism with silence. They are not altering the gospel, but asserting that there is no gospel. ‘We have nothing to say,’ they affirm. ‘Our calling is to sit down alongside secular man and let him teach us. We cannot aspire to more than a Christian presence in the midst of the non-Christian world.’ But this is to abandon evangelism altogether. The need to penetrate into non-Christian society is agreed, but what is needed is penetration with a view to proclamation, not silence. Nothing to say? When did the gospel cease to be ‘good news’ and the Church cease to be the ‘herald’ God has appointed to announce it?
So when all the listening, asking, and being present is at an end, when all our understanding of where people are coming from is completed, what are we going to say? Do we still have a burden to ‘proclaim’? Do we still have good news to tell?