Learning, Listening, Leading

Last week I bandied about some thoughts on WWJD and my own acronym WDJD. This week I'm looking at what got me thinking about all this. The point of last week's post is not wondering what Jesus would do in a given situation, but learning what He did do. The Gospels reveal plenty of situations applicable to those arising in our own lives each day.

Last week my wife and I got away for a simple celebration of 40 years of marriage. We traveled up the coast an hour or so to the Georgia wetlands. We wanted to go somewhere nearby and different. The place we stayed at lay along the barrier islands and wildlife was all about, including many varieties of insects (bzzz...thwack!).

It was also quiet. We enjoyed a pleasant sunset along the river the first evening and arose to a beautiful and serene sunrise the next day. As we went out kayaking, seeing myriads of birds and even dolphins, we were struck by the quietness of the tidelands. A couple times we stopped just to listen.

It's amazing what you can learn by listening—a lot! Listening is also important in leading others. Jesus showed this early on, as seen in Luke 2:46—After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. It might be imagined Jesus was teaching the teachers, but it says He was sitting, listening, and asking questions. This is what we see Jesus doing later during His public ministry. I think He was on to something!

Several years ago a good friend of mine, Danny Lehman with YWAM in Honolulu, HI, was teaching at a missions conference on the value of listening and using questions in personal evangelism. Danny knows a thing or two about personal evangelism. He's lived it out for more than four decades, written on it, and taught others by showing them. He used this same Scripture text (Luke 2:46) pointing out how Jesus was not taking charge, but involved in the discussion. Danny went on to share the value of engaging people through questions and conversation in sharing the Gospel.

This is also true with teaching. Listening and asking questions invites participation. It engages people in the process of learning. I've seen this over the past three decades discipling people overseas and in the US—in staff devotions, the classroom, Bible studies, and in workshops. The most productive times of mentoring and leadership development have come through informal discussions where participation was paramount, posing and probing questions kept things moving, and I did my best to stay in the background while mediating the discussion.

How can this apply to personal evangelism? Everyone has a story and they want to tell it. Why do you think Facebook is so popular? When I first saw the question—What's on your mind? Or, What are you doing? My first response was—Who cares?! Turns out, lots of people! Why else would apps like Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Pinterest, etc. be so popular?

So, just imagine the opportunities that open up when you're ready to listen. I find people are often waiting for someone to listen to their story, what's going on in their lives. Sometimes it's mundane stuff, sometimes it's tragic or even impressive. Point is, if you're only interested in saying what you want to say, you're not engaging people at a heart-level. People are more willing to listen when they know someone cares.

If you're interested in people—their lives and who they are—it can open up opportunities to share the most important story—God's story. But learn to listen and ask questions with genuine interest first. Then God will open up opportunities to lead them to Jesus, and His stories are never mundane.