Monday, February 05, 2007

Story Listening Evangelism as a Process, Part 2

All evangelistic conversations have a beginning and an ending, even apparently unsuccessful ones. Sometimes a witness is not aware of the beginning because he or she did not hear the cry for help from the lost person. Story Listening Evangelism (SLE) equips the witness to hear those clues as they are revealed, even those clues which the lost person is not consciously aware of.

The first thing a person says to you as an available witness contains in highly symbolic, metaphorical form, what the person is struggling with. Do not problem solve the first thing said because you will get resistance. Just listen to the next thing the person says. Use the first thing said, held in abeyance as a measure against all the subsequent things said by the lost person. That will help you to hear the person's meta-story and later mirror that back to the lost person as a story check. Here's an example of a first thing said. I was in the bank talking to the young woman who was my teller:

Ernest: Hi! How are you?

Teller: Can't complain! (first thing said)

Ernest: Would you like to? (notice my attempt to problem solve)

Teller: Oh, nobody would listen. (notice the resistance)

Ernest: I would.

The teller then began to share her story with me as I stayed open to what she was trying to say. I need to note that there was not any other customer in the bank at the time so I had the time and opportunity to keep on listening to the teller's cry for help. Can't complain is an acceptable way to say hello in America. It is not a neurological accident. She had something to say and was not being heard.

How well the witness deals with the first thing said will determine if there will be a middle to the evangelistic conversation. Suppose the lost person said he went fishing yesterday and caught 10 fish. You come back with your own counterstory and tell how you caught 50 fish yesterday. Every fisherman knows what happened to the 10 fish caught story! The same thing happens in witnessing if you as the witness tops the lost person's story. The evangelistic moment is over!

Witnesses do this when their plate or cup is full, even with good, Christian stuff. When your cup is full, there is no room or capacity for you to enter into the story, the pain, the sin of the lost person. You will tell your own story, change the subject, or tune the person out. You will throw a circuit breaker because you did not at the time have the capacity to hear that person's story of lostness.

I picture SLE much like what Red Adair did when his team put out raging oil well fires. He had to get close to the fire to put it out. Likewise, witness have to belly up to the lost person's hellfire, sin, in order to provide a witness that God can use to put out that fire.

To build the capacity to get close to a lost person and his or her sin, I think the witness has to have his or her own aha! moments that empty them of their own painand sin and make room to hear other people. Practicing the listening skills of SLE also builds capacity. Holding your own counterstories in abeyance will also allow you to stay with the lost person's story. Later, you can share the counterstories that arose in the witnessing experience with a trusted friend or colleague so you can be heard.

The end of a wintessing conversation will either be an aha! moment when the lost person experiences the intersection of his or her own story and God's story of redemption and salvation, or the conversation will be broken off by the lost person when their is no rapport, the witness moves too fast too soon, or the witness does not have the capacity to stay in a conversation with the particular pain of lostness that the lost person shares in his or her own story.

The middle of an evangelistic conversation may contain all sorts of twists and turns. There may be changes of subject by the lost person, silences, anger, confusion, pieces of free information (things said by the lost person that the witness did not ask for), an increase in animation, clues from body language, and diffferent levels of story told by the lost person.

Next week we will look at the levels of story listening and illustrate them with more details of what happens between the first thing a lost person says and the hoped for aha! moment of salvation.

I welcome your feedback as I continue to lay out the design of SLE.


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