We need to figure out how to get into people’s lives enough to know their personal needs, so we can share the personal good news they’ll find most compelling.
by Matt Mikalatos, author of Good News for a Change
They used to call me “Dr. Love.”
It’s not what it sounds like. I was, in fact, relatively terrible in my relationships with the ladies for most of my single life. I certainly did not receive a doctorate in loveology.
My wife, Krista, and I used to spend a lot of time with college students, getting into their lives, and getting to know them, and talking about spiritual things. One fun activity we started was going into the dorms for “hosted conversations” about relationships. It was called “Dr. Love,” and the whole idea was that we would come in, talk about relationships, and teach interpersonal and relationship skills in a workshop setting. It was goofy, and funny, and quite popular in the dorms.
During one of our Dr. Love seminars, there was a kid named Tyrone in the back. He seemed less connected, less interested, and less interactive than everyone else. He perked up a little bit when we talked about certain things (dealing with depression, say), but complete disinterest set in if we were on topics like how to know if you’re in love or finding a compatible partner. He seemed more engaged when we talked about dealing with a breakup, but even then, his attention seemed, well . . . sort of sideways.
We were there to build relationships, and yes, if the opportunity arose, we definitely were hoping to share the good news with people like Tyrone. In the meantime, some of our relationship advice came from the Bible, and we always talked about the importance of having spiritual conversations with your partner.
Tyrone didn’t seem to care. All our conversations were built around this assumption that good news for these kids would be related to the question, “How can I have a successful, fulfilling relationship?” but that didn’t seem to be true for him.
During a get-to-know-you section of Dr. Love, one of the questions was “What do you do with your free time?” Tyrone shared that he volunteered at a suicide prevention hotline. We asked him why.
“Because about a year ago my girlfriend committed suicide,” he said.
And with that, Dr. Love was done. Our goofy, funny, popular little presentation seized up and ended. It wasn’t fun or entertaining anymore. I sat to talk with Tyrone, and the rest of the students chatted quietly with one another as they went back to their rooms.
Learning to Listen
We made some assumptions about the people in the room when we did “Dr. Love.” They were pretty fair, easy assumptions: that people coming to our relationships workshop were interested in talking about relationships, for instance. But in trying to connect with Tyrone’s needs about relationships, we were missing the mark. He wanted to talk about grief and loss because of a previous relationship. That’s pretty different. If we had done a straight-out lecture, we would have never had this insight . . . or at least, not in the context of our presentation. “You can have healthy relationships” wasn’t good news for Tyrone, or at least not compelling enough good news to overcome his greater need. “You can have true healing,” though, was good news that could draw him toward Jesus and the universal good news.
We need to figure out how to get into people’s lives enough to know their personal needs, so we can share the personal good news they’ll find most compelling. Here are five things to remember as you start spiritual conversations with people:
1. Ask questions.
Let people share where they are in life. You don’t have to guess what their needs are—just ask them. It’s important when you’re asking questions, too, to make sure you’re truly listening. Don’t spend time thinking about what you want to say in response, or how to connect this to the good news, or what your next question will be. Be present and listen to their answers. Most people will reciprocate with questions of their own in time. It’s okay, sometimes, to wait to be asked a question rather than pushing your statements into the conversation.
2. Build a relationship, not an agenda.
Have you ever met one of those people who sees you as either a project or a stepping stone? You know, the guy who wants to connect because you’re friends with Taylor Swift? Or the lady who keeps inviting you over and just happens to mention how great her ionized water filter is and did she mention that she sells them? Most of us can sense ulterior motives. Which means that we need to not have ulterior motives when it comes to sharing the good news. You don’t make friends so you can share the good news. You make friends because they are people you care about and want to get to know . . . and you share the good news because they are your friends.
3. Take your time—the good news often starts out small.
The good news is a seed. You don’t have to plant a forty-foot maple in the first conversation. Maybe in this conversation you’re only going to get to “God loves you.” Or maybe you don’t even get that far! Maybe you’ll just get to “I believe there is a God.” If you’re going to be in relationship with this person, you’re going to have opportunities to move the conversation forward in the weeks, months, and years to come. Ah, but what if it is a stranger, or someone you know you won’t see again? Two things to remember: One, most people like new friends. It’s
okay to say, “Hey, I really enjoyed this conversation. How can we stay in touch?” Two, God isn’t going to lose track of this person. Maybe you’ll plant the seed, and someone else will water it. But it is God who makes the seed grow.
4. People before presentation.
What if, when Tyrone told us about his girlfriend, I had said, “Well, that’s sad, Tyrone, but we’re here to talk about getting new girlfriends and boyfriends.” That would have been both insensitive and terrible. Sometimes we get so focused on telling people about Jesus right now that we end up trampling on what they’re trying to say to us. Sometimes, like with Tyrone, it’s even the deep hurt that might lead them to understand the good news about a loving God who brings life. Remember this: Evangelism is always, always, always about people. We have to learn to see people before we can share with them.
5. Ask permission to go deeper.
Sometimes we are so eager to push our spiritual conversations to the next place that we can scarcely contain ourselves. Our friend says, “Hey, I got some good news today!” and we burst out, “Is it about how God loves the world and sent his only Son?” That’s not bad—it’s great to be excited. But it shows a lot of respect for your communication partner to ask for permission to talk about deeper things. So, for instance, with Tyrone: When he shared about his girlfriend, it would be so simple to ask a question like: “What do you think happens after you die?” (That’s not, incidentally, a bad question at all . . . it could be a great way to transition to that conversation.) It shows so much more respect and care, though, to ask a question like: “Tyrone, this is such a painful and important part of your life. I’d like to talk about spiritual things with you. Would that be okay?” Then Tyrone gets to choose whether he wants to walk into that conversation, and he knows that if he wants out of the conversation you’re going to respect him and his boundaries.
This deepening relationship starts to do a variety of things. Someone like Tyrone, for instance, starts to experience the good news through your care, kindness, and questions. Believe it or not, it’s rare to find loving people when you are in the midst of crisis and trauma. Also, you start to get insight into the sort of person Tyrone is, and what his needs and questions are. You start to understand what his gospel is: the good news about Jesus that he will find most compelling. Which is going to take us to the place where we’re ready to initiate with the most important message Tyrone will ever hear in his life.
Good News for a Change: How to Talk to Anyone about Jesus by Matt Mikalatos
Imagine an atheist sending you regular prayer requests. Or your coworker grabbing you by the arm and asking you to stay late at work to talk about God just a bit longer. When Jesus talked about the Good News, people ran to him.
We should expect the same response. Good News for a Change is about working together with Jesus to share the gospel in ways unique to each person’s situation.
You will enjoy evangelism because it is a fun, deeply personal, community and person-oriented way to connect with people. You’ll be energized and focused on helping people discover why Jesus is good news for them.