Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Silence is Golden

Somehow witnesses and many other folks, too, have received the message from who knows, that it is important to keep talking and avoid silence at any cost in a conversation. William Isaacs in Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together wrote that people don't listen, they reload. Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations recommends "letting silence do the heavy lifting."

Silence is good. Silence is golden in witnessing conversations. Silence allows the Holy Spirit to work in the heart of the lost person AND the heart of the witness.

In a recent class on Story Listening Evangelism (SLE), two of the participants voiced concerns they face with this issue as they listen and witness. One said that it becomes awkward if they wait too long in the silence and it seems like they should have come up with something to say in the glaring gap of time that has passed in silence. the other said that here challenge is that she is already formulating what to say, even before the other person has finished speaking. That usually means the witness is missing something of what the person is saying.

For the second challenge, Isaacs recommends allowing the sound of the last word a person says to cascade into silence before the other person(s) in the conversation speak(s).

If the witness truly has no response at the time, then it is OK to say, I need to think about that. I'll get back with you. Christians do not have to appear or act like they have all the answers to be credible to another person. Being honest and modeling faith go a lot further than appearing as a know it all.

As for the first challenge, Susan Scott would say that the more complex the issues discussed in the witness, the need for even more silence. If the person witnessed to gets antsy about the witness's silence, the witness can simply, non-anxiously say I am giving what you said serious thought. Or the witness can do a perception check and say, It looks like my silence is leaving you a bit uncomfortable. Could I be right? Or I am wondering what your anxiety over my silence means?

Once again, these examples describe what is important in the SLE witness--the process.

In the next blog I am going to begin to introduce you to the newest tool in the tool box--applying the principles of Fierce Conversations(c) by Susan Scott to SLE. I will contend Evangelism should be Fierce (c).

See you again, then! Blessings

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Another Affirmation for SLE

ABP and the Baptist Standard recently carried Tony Cartlege's North Carolina Biblical Recorder story Ron Martoia's presentation at a recent ministry conference. Martoia is reported to have said that there is little evidence that many Christians are experiencing true life changes. He encourages churches and ministers to think beyond a point-of-sale witness that focuses only on heaven to the biblical model of salvation that includes the whole person. He says that the Gospel is the fulfillment of the Old Testament's promise of shalom that suggests wholeness, wellness, and peace. He goes on to argue that Christian witnesses to the Good News need to speak a language that people understand in their own culture.

Story Listening Evangelism (SLE) fills that bill. SLE has as its starting point the lost person's story and the witness responds in the lost person's language, including cultural as well as sub-modalities like visual, auditory, and kinesthetic predicates. These matched predicates build rapport. As rapport continues to be built, the lost person is led toward an aha! moment where there is an incredible release of energy for life--the wholeness, wellness, and peace Martoia talks about. Yes, SLE is a powerful vehicle for presenting the eternal demands of God AND it is a powerful vehicle to enter into an ongoing conversation with a lost person toward that shalom.

Let me know how you are doing in your practice of evangelism. Send me you most difficult situations and I will look over your shoulder through the lens of SLE and coach you in the direction your next conversation with that person should take.

By the way, Houston Baptist University and Union Baptist Association are hosting an Introduction to Story Listening Evangelism on the HBU campus May 2, 2007. You can contact Dr. James Furr for more information, if you are interested in attending. His campus e-mail is jfurr@hbu.edu.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Simple Scoop on Role of Dialogue in Evangelism

After last week's blog on evangelism applications of William Isaacs' work, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, even I have felt the need for a Readers' Digest or Cliff Notes version of why dialogue is an important component of the Story Listening Evangelism (SLE) toolbox!

Essentially using the skills of dialogue in the evangelistic conversation helps keep the conversation open and going. The characteristics of Thinking Alone (abstraction/fragmentation, idolatry of memory, certainty, and violence) as described by Isaacs tend to shut the conversation down. Isaacs calls the characteristics of Thinking Together (participation, unfolding, awareness, and coherence) cures for Thinking Alone. The process of SLE is informed by the skills of dialogue and are used by the witness to be authentically present with the lost person.

That's the simple version. AND dialogue takes practice, practice, hard practice.

What was not included in last week's blog is the flow of the dialogue conversation through different fields. Fields are spaces in the conversation where there is a particular quality of energy and exchange (Dialogue, p. 257). Movement from one field to the next occurs only through crises that are caused by the people engaging in the dialogue ( p. 257). In essence these are thresholds through which the participants must cross over in order to have dialogue, and I would say, continue in the evangelistic conversation.

The first field is that of civility. This stage is characterized by a politeness going on between parties in the conversation. there is no capacity to carry on an intense conversation. People tend not to talk about what they really feel or think. Sometimes the witness in this stage is hit by the lost person's criticism of what is wrong with God, religion, the church, or some teaching. Very little reflection takes place in this field. the crisis, or turning point, in this field comes in the form of emptiness as Isaacs describes it (p. 263). For the witness the emptiness is a feeling of the need to empty oneself of any expectations if anything is to happen in this evangelistic conversation. Nothing is going to happen if the witness continues to expect this unique conversation to happen the way a tract says the conversation should flow.

the second field is called breakdown. Here the participants in the conversation begin to say what they really think. The witness creates a safe enough atmosphere for this to take place on the part of the lost person. And through effective use of counterstory and tracking of clues in the conversation, the witness is real, too. As it becomes safe to talk, the lost person may say what is really on his or her mind and the conversation can break down into blame or the taking of a position, or digging heels in more deeply. The challenge faced in this field is the surfacing of the pain in the lost person's life and in turn the pain that is kicked up in the witness's counterstory. This step is necessary for the conversation to go forward as both the witness and lost person realize just how difficult the journey is that lies ahead in facing sin, brokenness, a holy God, and letting go of self to embrace the Kingdom of God. At times in this field will become angry and talk about things in the past which feels like a safer way to deal with what is happening in the present. the past becomes a metaphor for the present. Tension rules this field and silence seems dangerous. Here is where the mettle of the witness is tested to provide silence and safety for these feelings to emerge and be examined without shutting the conversation down.

The third field is reflective dialogue. This is where the lost person begins to come to the aha! moment. They let go of the fight and begin to reflect on their story as it is mirrored back to them by the witness. together witness and lost person experience and explore God's story of salvation. Silence characterizes this field and time seems to disappear from awareness as a listening fro God's story to unfold becomes more intense.

Isaacs calls the fourth field the rarest. This is what SLE calls the aha! moment. Heart to heart conversation takes place between the witness and the lost person. The witness is a servant to the lost person as the conversation simply flows. Isaacs notes just how hard it is for participants in a dialogue to go back home after experiencing the fourth filed because people back home will have no idea what that experience was like. Imagine the townsfolk in the Decapolis region attempting to understand the now healed Gadarene demoniac as he shares what Jesus did for him alongside the Sea of Galilee.

What you have just read is my adaptation of Isaacs fields of conversation. While in purist dialogue as Isaacs describes it there is not a one-to-one correspondence to an evangelistic conversation, dialogue can be used to inform, guide, and experience an effective witness, all the while keeping the conversation going.