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There’s one community that we have easier access to than any other–our neighborhood. It’s where we can build community, make friends, and share Jesus all in one fell swoop!
Recently Cheri and I got to interview the Dave and Jon Ferguson, the authors of B.L.E.S.S.: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World. The time with them was so mind-shifting for me, that I had to share them with you too. You’re going to love what Dave shares here today about one of our main themes–listening– so when you’re finished reading, pop over to listen to Episode 211 and Episode 212 of our podcast, Grit ‘n’ Grace.
Please welcome Dave Ferguson!
If the Gospel is really “good news,” why did sharing it always end up feeling so bad?
I couldn’t figure out the answer. Like you, my life was changed by the love of God and the life of Jesus. And like you, I wanted my family, friends, and neighbors to experience the love of God like me.
So, I tried sharing the good news with my words as a verbal witness—that resulted in a series of awkward conversations and left me feeling like a used car salesman!
Then I tried a completely different approach to loving others. I would share the good news with simply how I lived my life. The result of that seemed to be…well, nothing. Nobody noticed!
It seemed like no matter how I tried to share the gospel—with my words or through my life—left either me or them feeling badly. What was I doing wrong? Where was the “good news” in all of this?
All that frustration led me to do some research on what my friends, family, and neighbors were really looking for in spiritual conversations. And what I found was both surprising and a relief. I discovered three reasons that sharing the “good news” of the gospel did not have to be awkward or stressful.
I came across an eye-opening study from the Barna Research Group who asked non-Christian people what they value in a person with whom they would talk about spiritual matters. Here are the top three qualities, in order.
1. Listen without judgment.
Listening is one of the purest acts of love! Our friends and neighbors want the most is for someone to lean in and just listen. They want someone who will assume the best. They desire to have another person absorb their questions and stories—not so you can come to a verdict, but so they can process their feelings and experiences in relationship.
The sad news is that two-thirds of the people surveyed said they had no one in their life would listen to them without judgment. None. This reflects the sad truth that Christians are known more for talking than listening.
As I reflect on many of my attempts to share the good news, the focus was always about what I would say. I did most of the talking. And if I did ask a question, it was not so I could actually listen, but so I could maneuver the conversation to give me a chance to respond with my answers. In retrospect, I talked way too much, and I pre-judged what other people needed.
Here is some very encouraging news based on the research: Listening without judgment is something we are all capable of doing. It’s love. It’s grace. It’s being a real friend.
2. Allow them to draw their own conclusions.
Your friends and neighbors are not projects; they are people. They are looking for someone who will “not force a conclusion” on them but someone who will trust them to have their own spiritual journey.
When I think about my failed attempts, I think my heart was in a good place, but I didn’t have a good strategy. If I was approaching a stranger on the street or using a canned approach to present the Gospel with a friend, I knew the outcome I wanted. I wanted them to say “yes” to Jesus. Good intention, poor tactic.
This is where both God and our friends want us to get out of the way. If the Gospel is true and someone is sincerely searching for truth, it will prove itself. We need to trust God to do His part and trust those around us to journey just like we did.
Our friends want us to love, listen, and interact with them, but let God draw them in. Jesus didn’t coerce or trick people into saying “yes” or into repeating a sinner’s prayer. He trusted them, and He loved them. Trust your neighbors and trust God.
3. Confidence in sharing your own perspective.
After you have listened to your friend—once you have given them space to come to their own conclusions—they will then become confident with us “sharing our perspective.” They want to know our stories and hear our experiences. But they also want to know that it is real, genuine, and that we’re coming from a place of confident conviction.
I call it “paying the relational rent.” Once you have invested enough in the relationship by listening to them and loving them no matter what, you will have a permanent place in their life. You’ll be able to speak with confidence about the difference God has made in you.
Your story is the best evidence you can offer anyone! Your story cannot be irrelevant. If you have a strong relationship with the person you’re sharing with, your story will be seen as empirical evidence. You cannot have an “eye-opening spiritual experience” for them, but you can share the difference the grace of God has made in your past, present, and future!
If I had to summarize what the research and my experience tell me about what those around us are looking for, I could do it in one word: friend!
The research confirms it. What else would you call someone who listens without judgment, offers you wise counsel but helps you make your own decision, and loves you no matter what? That’s a friend!
Friend /frend/ (noun) – a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection…
It’s that simple. It’s also that challenging. Do you know what Jesus’s nickname was? It was “Friend” (Matthew 11:16–19 NIV). More specifically, “Friend of Sinners.”
People are looking for you to be a friend. They are looking for a friend who will live the good news. Be good news and then share the good news in the form of their own story. In that order!
Dave Ferguson is the lead pastor of Community Christian Church outside of Chicago, president of Exponential Conference, and an award-winning author. His latest book, B.L.E.S.S.: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World—coauthored with his brother, Jon—is available nationwide and online January 5, 2021.