The Power of Listening

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The Power of Listening

(An excerpt from How to Revive Evangelism: 7 Vital Shifts in How We Share Our Faith, Zondervan 2021, by Craig Springer)

It all starts when John the Baptist sees Jesus in John 1:29-34. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said,

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

John is proclaiming that Jesus is the Lamb of God, God’s Chosen One. But what happens next is interesting. The following day, John says the same thing,

“Look, the Lamb of God!”

And two of John’s disciples hear him say this. They’re curious. They start walking after Jesus. As Jewish people in that era, they would probably have known how loaded that phrase was—“ The Lamb of God”—and they wanted to know more. As they follow Jesus, he stops and turns around. He looks at them. And he says his first recorded words in the gospel of John.

They arrive, interestingly enough, in the form of a question.

“What do you want?”

A few other translations interpret the question as,

“What do you seek?” or,

“What are you looking for?”

What jumps out to me is that, when confronted with his status as the Lamb of God—a phrase packed with all kinds of lighting-rod religious and political implications—Jesus didn’t choose to go into an exegesis of Old Testament prophecy or lay out the many ways he was fulfilling it. Jesus didn’t delve into a three-point sermon on the symbolism of the Lamb of God or what that would mean for him and his followers. Jesus didn’t talk about how they needed to change their lives, begin formulating a list of rules, or lay out the many characteristics they would need to give up if they were to follow him.

He asked a simple question, engaging in a conversation with them. He was drawing out their hearts, trying to get to the bottom of their thoughts, desires, and lives. And in doing so, Jesus provides the space for them to respond with a question of their own in verse 38. Their response is almost as telling as his question. “Rabbi,” they asked, “where are you staying?” Jesus, how can we find you? Jesus, where can we go to be with you?

Jesus, we want to know more.

What they wanted was not for Jesus to proclaim who he was or what John meant when he called him the Lamb of God. What they wanted was to find out where he was staying—to be with him. What if Jesus shut down their process with a hard-and-fast proclamation in that moment when what they simply wanted was to spend time with him—to begin journeying

with him?

And when Jesus replied, “Come and see,” he was telling them that he didn’t want to just transfer intellectual property to them or answer their questions with analysis. Jesus wasn’t interested in having them immediately consent to certain truths about him or who he was.

Jesus wanted to walk together with them in relationship.

“What do you want?”

“Where are you staying?”

“Come and see.”

Jesus knew that a powerhouse proclamation right there by the Jordan River would most likely not lead them into an all-out life transformation. He knew that kind of change would require walking together—a series of conversations, rooted in listening, and spanning over time. The ultimate invitation is to walk with him. To experience him.

The very first words of Jesus in the gospel of John do not come to us in the form of a proclamation—they arrive as a question that tries to get at the heart of who we are, followed by an invitation into an ongoing conversation and relationship journey with him.

One of the most fascinating stats from the Reviving Evangelism study (Barna/Alpha USA) had to do with the top qualities spiritually curious non-Christians in America are looking for in a person with whom to talk about faith. First and foremost was someone who “listens without judgment.” Spiritually curious people want to be able to bring things up, introduce controversial topics and doubts, and ask questions without feeling like Christians are judging every word they’re saying or dismissing them because of a long-held belief. In fact, 62 percent of non-Christians and lapsed Christians say that someone who listens without judgment would be the best person to talk with about faith: significantly higher than any other quality reported…

If you read the gospels through this lens, you’ll see that this is the Jesus way. He is constantly drawing people into conversations, listening, abstaining from judgment, and

allowing the person to come to conclusions on their own…

By the way, do you know what spiritually curious non-Christians say are the least helpful qualities when it comes to discussing faith?

Christians who have all the answers.

Christians who are quick to point out the inconsistencies in other people’s perspectives.

Christians who are good at debating topics.

And yet those three so clearly define much of the modern Christian approach to evangelism and evangelism training in our country today.

As my children have grown older, I’ve thankfully noticed how my parenting style must change along with their development. When they were six years old, a directive parenting style fit well: I would clearly proclaim the truth and what they needed to do. Now that my children are entering their teenage years, I’ve quickly realized how my parenting communication style needs to shift from directive to drawing them out. I can’t just pick up the proverbial hammer and nail some statement down for them like I used to. I need to involve their heart and mind in a conversational process. As I’ve studied the listening data on evangelism above, I’m wondering if we haven’t been approaching non-Christians with a parenting-a-six-year-old style of communication and then wondering why they aren’t complying with our direct proclamations.

Are we missing the qualities our changing and spiritually hungry world is longing for? What if, in order to revive evangelism, we have to move more toward conversation, not just proclamation? What if the skill of listening and spaces to be heard are the missing keys in our post-everything era?


If you want to dive deeper into building healthy teams, join Craig Springer and Todd Proctor in a FREE webinar on Tuesday, March 16 at 12:00 p.m. ET.

We are better together!

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:22-23

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