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.

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