A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


Appendix 2: Winning The West

2-1 Missionary Work In The West: Trends From Canada || 2-2 The Potential Of The Unchurched In The West  || 2-3 Australian Church Surveys

Appendix 3: One To One Preaching: Sample Dialogues || 3-1 Building rapport in conversations 

Appendix 4: Why Do Some Areas Respond More Than Others?

3-1 Building rapport in conversations 

Sensitivity To Our Audience

If we really want to make encounters and conversations work, we need to consider who we're talking with. The Lord's parables of Mt. 13:44-49 make it clear that people have different motivations when they first encounter our preaching. Some are merely fish caught in the Gospel net and compelled to come in; others are as the merchant man who is searching for good pearls, who sells all he has to get that pearl and just have it, gazing at it with admiration and appreciation each day; others are as the man who finds something of value in a field, maybe he sees there's some precious raw material he can exploit there, and so he buys the field in order to get some benefit for himself. The strange (to my ears) comment in Mt. 13:44 that the man 'hides' his discovery appears to contradict the reality that we should joyfully share our discovery of Christ with others. Perhaps the picture is being painted of a man with all the wrong motivations, who comes to the treasure from the viewpoint of 'What can I selfishly get out of this' (it may be in our age... a desire for welfare support, a partner, a social club...). And yet all the same he has come to the treasure, been called to it, allowed to find it... that is perhaps the point. All these types of people have differing motivations, and need to be treated differently by us. Noah's ark is a well known type of the salvation which humanity can find in Christ; and yet close analysis of the Genesis record reveals that there were some animals whom Noah had to bring into the ark and take them with him (Gen. 6:19; 7:2); and others who came to Noah and entered into the ark of their own volition (Gen. 6:20; 7:9,15,16). The same Hebrew is found in Gen. 8:9, about how the dove came to Noah of its own volition, and Noah welcomed her and took her into the ark. Putting all this together, we are to compel men to come in (Lk. 14:23); and yet we are also to be there to welcome in the seekers who seek of their own volition. It's easier to do the latter; to put up a website, waiting there for some eager seeker to come and find. But we are also to compel people in, and to also bear in mind that there are some who will be attracted to the Gospel from selfish reasons, as the man who buys the field thinking that he can exploit it for his own benefit. These too we are to take on board and not turn away. Whilst people, with all their wonderful uniqueness, should never be pigeon-holed nor over-categorized... all the same, we need to consider the type of person we're dealing with as we plan out our approach. For if we seek them, we will consider who they are, and how appropriately we can engage them.

Preaching is essentially about building relationships, not platform evangelism. The Lord taught that His preachers were not to go "from house to house" but rather to remain within an acceptive household and make that their base (Lk. 10:7). In modern terms, I think we could interpret this as meaning: 'Focus on building relationships; don't build up a shallow relationship with a lot of people, but rather try to get deep with one household'. But in our internet age, how do we build relationships; how do we conduct ourselves in real face-to-face conversations?

- The Lord maintained eye-contact with His listeners: Mt. 19:26; Mk. 3:5,34; 5:32; 8:33; 10:21, 23,27; Lk. 6:10; 20:17; 22:61; Jn. 1:42. These are all separate occurrences; the fact is really being emphasized. This paying appropriate attention with eye contact is also a good strategy for matching the silences that occur from time to time in any serious conversation.  Most of us can tell when another is thinking by  observing the eyes, and when they are not their eyes will tell you.

- There is a sense of mutuality and rapport built up between the preacher and the hearer in all successful preaching. Jonah “cried” to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2; 3:2,4) and they “cried” to God in response to his ‘crying’ to them- the same Hebrew words are used (Jonah 3:5,8). As Jonah cried to God from the belly of the fish, so the Ninevites were inspired- presumably by what he related to them of his own life- to cry mightily to God for undeserved deliverance (Jonah 3:8).

- Be yourself, relate as a real person, not some do-gooding missionary with all the answers talking in his own in-house jargon, but behave appropriately to the circumstances, not only culturally but situationally.  Don't pretend to be an expert. Be friendly to the dog if you like dogs, but don't romp on the floor with it etc. Remember how the Lord healed the blind man and then told him not to tell anybody (Mt. 9:30). Clearly the man wanted to shout out his good news. But by quietly walking around, seeing life as it really is, being his normal self, this would be an even more powerful witness.

- The missionary needs to know why they are there. This sense of purpose helps us cope with the rejections better and also gives a positive feel to the contact.

- Make constant affirmative response like " uh-hm, a-ha, yes, OK, right,” etc., just to affirm we are listening if the contact is talking for any length of time.  Also matching their speed of talking is another way of showing empathy.

- Matching, or mirroring,  non verbal behaviour and posture is another good rapport builder. Matching speed and tone of speaking and the speed of breathing, empathy is conveyed, if this has been done effectively then it is highly likely that if the missionary slows down his/her breathing, speaking, and shows signs of relaxing, then C may follow.

- Allow your sense of humour to come out if appropriate.   Focus on the contact's needs, not your own, you are there for your reasons, but your reasons are not to dominate. Empathise, i.e., walk with the contact in the conversation, sometimes leading sometimes following, but don't try too hard to lead.  Try to steer a balance between positively teaching truth and correcting error whilst at the same time constantly affirming the contact and showing signs of acceptance of them on a personal level.

Turning Conversations Around

In practice, this is what preaching is all about. We all mix with people. We nervously seek to start conversations about the Lord, and yet so often they go wrong. The person refuses to ‘play ball’, i.e. they change the direction of the conversation; or they get even more committed to their own position.

At the outset, we need to note that the majority of ‘conversations’ between people aren’t  conversation at all. Each person has their own agenda and point of view which they want to get across, talking at the other rather than listening and responding appropriately. We see it all the time- in dialogue between politicians, parents and children, husbands and wives, women and men.

Many people have strong feelings, stemming from past experience, in which they may have felt their opinions etc were discounted or of little value. They therefore become all the more desperate to make their point. There are so many people from abusive and dysfunctional backgrounds that this is getting a very common feature of society world-wide. Some will articulate this by talking  loudly  over the top of another, or constantly interrupting, dominating or trying to dominate the conversation. Some are more masked than others in the way they do this, but this desire to be heard and valued are so strong in the majority of those we meet with. If the impression we give is that we are here to prove others wrong and ourselves right, then we may be guilty of harnessing our knowledge of God’s Truth for our own ego. On the other hand, there is in Scripture the concept of ‘Truth’ and error. And we are to be a light to those who sit in darkness. And we are to perceive ourselves this way. And yet if we are going to lead others to Truth, we need to be aware of where they are coming from, and be all things to all so that by all means we may save some.

We have all walked away from verbal exchanges where we have sought to preach the Truth, wishing we had said something different, wishing we had had the presence of mind to give a better answer to a difficulty question; or berating ourselves, having forgotten a crucial point central to our argument etc. It seems to me that whilst on one hand preaching can be likened to a warfare, a tearing down of the bastion of unbelief, the Lord’s servant taking people captive unto the will of God (2 Tim. 2:26 RV), this is only one facet of the picture. Taken too far, we can become motivated perhaps by a fear of failure, we try harder and only get into a verbal battle, a jousting match, or worse. We will often ‘lose’ these exchanges, because we were unable to convince our 'adversary'. Thus such exchanges become like a court battle of who's right and who's wrong, one-upmanship and point scoring. We will then end up feeling that the person has rejected the calling of the Father simply because  my argument wasn't good enough. This need to win, this fear of failure, is the way of the world not the way of God, it is not " reasoning together" . There is too much ego involved. Preaching, though it might seem otherwise at times, is not a competitive sport. If we failed it's not because we did not try hard enough, nor is it because we did not  know enough, perhaps it's because we tried too hard driven by a fear of failure, or perhaps we have thought too highly of ourselves, thinking we speak for our God?

Before we get into situations we need to ask ourselves certain questions:

  • What's in it for me?

  • What is my motivation? why do I, personally, preach?

  • What do I get out of this activity or what do I expect to get out of it?

  • What am I afraid of?

The answer/s and other questions will probably be different for each of us. There are some other things we also need to be clear on too. Such as: What is preaching? What is it I am actually 'preaching'? What are my personal weaknesses and strengths?  We need to be clear on these sort of things as they impinge upon our
attitude toward who we are, what we do, how we do it, and most importantly how we consider others, particularly those to whom we, in this context 'preach'. This has a lot to do with how we perceive ourselves. As a distinctive minority group it was natural to be always on the defensive, and in the past our preaching has been characterised by a confrontative and at times an adversarial approach. It could be that because of our possession of Truth, of the right interpretations which form part of our covenant relationship with God, we have tended towards  self righteous invulnerability, to not admit any possibility of our being mistaken, to give the impression we have the answers to everything and our audience are totally ignorant. We forget that those to whom we preach have more knowledge, factually, both about life and often the Bible, than we assume. We need to get it in the right place and order for them, not only teach them new information.

I submit that because we have been too ‘confrontational’ in our perception of preaching, too based around winning an argument, that there was until a few years ago a reluctance to 'preach' because for one reason or another, many brethren & sisters feared they will not measure up and fail in their own eyes and let the rest down. Both the adversarial approach and the fear of failure are unscriptural. And it is a joy to see the younger generation far more committed to witness. This can only be a positive sign.  Preaching is done as a natural response to the grace we have ourselves come to know, from a desire to share the Hope of Israel with our fellow human beings, not out of the shoulds, oughts or musts of blind obedience, obedience without content, or fear that if what is perceived as an 'order' is not obeyed one's eternal life is in jeopardy.
We will avoid being patronising, preaching at rather than to people,  if we remember we are no better than they and that the way to pass on this Gospel is through a genuinely sincere relationship of equals, of men and women who know their desperation.

To be able to gain the trust of others one needs to show oneself trustworthy and in this atmosphere of mutual consent, one can at times, guide or lead the conversation. In the end, this is what we are seeking to do. And it is easier than it may seem as most people genuinely want to be able to trust others, to be trusted themselves, and be treated as equals or at least feel valued. So what we need to do when we are in such situations is to be genuine, be oneself. In every situation in life we can choose to either play a role or be ourselves. Though in the past we may have tried to be, none of us are experts with all the answers, we all have vulnerabilities, doubts about ourselves and even about our understanding of some difficult passages in the Bible. We can pretend to be otherwise but this will soon be noticed and acted upon even if only subconsciously. We need to know these things about ourselves and be OK with them. God will speak through us if we allow it, not so much with expert answers but with love, charity, and empathy for the human condition. The focus in this relationship is not upon our needs but upon the needs of the other. So rather than churning over quotes in our own minds, talking to ourselves, and just waiting for the opportunity to 'blurt' them out, we need to listen to the other person make a conscious and thoughtful response. By at least acknowledging to our God and ourselves that we are not perfect in the sense of being 'all good' and righteous but that we make mistakes, have failings etc., we can be more 'real' in our relationships. The more real the more believable, the more believable the more willing the other is to let us lead at times. By being real, not behaving as others say we 'should', 'ought' or 'must' we attract others who may feel oppressed by the " obedience without content" control structures of our/their society. Paradoxically, people want a leader. They want to be themselves and be valued for who they are, to be listened to, but yet they also realize deep down how they are floundering in a cruel and hard to understand world.

And so to the skills of good communication. We must show a value for what the other person is saying.  This is also called " active listening" which is basically letting the other know we are focusing on them and giving them our full attention. Included in these are the appropriate use of expressions like, " a-ha" , " uh-hum" , " yeah" , " OK" , " right" , " oh" , " I see" " I hear what you say" , " I understand" etc., with the accompanying tone of voice and non-verbal behaviour such as eye movement, facial expressions, body posture and rate of breathing which mirrors that of the other. It is very important to maintain a high level of eye contact, but not to stare as this may be disconcerting. Focus on the other while they are speaking rather than rehearse the next response no matter how many times one may have heard the same thing. Silence will probably indicate the other is thinking about what has just been said and is important, there is no need to fill the gaps, it is more important to be friendly and real than have all the answers off pat. On the other hand when the other has stopped thinking, (the eyes will indicate this) it may be worthwhile to:

1. Paraphrase or reflect the content of what the other has just said. Paraphrasing is not the same as parroting, though this is sometimes useful in helping the other finish a sentence. The former is reflecting the important content in one's own words. Reflecting the content, though we may not always get it right, helps the Other clarify their thoughts and get to the real issues which may not be what is presented. For example " Oh yeah, well if God is so good and loving why does He allow so much suffering?" may be presented whereas the underlying issue may be of some kind of abuse being suffered by the other or someone known to them, or an untimely death in the family. By accompanying the Other on their walk along their own path of thought rather than trying to defend God which may also include some element of self defence, we allow the other to think more clearly and in a constructive way. By  defending God, or ourselves by launching into some monologue on " good and evil" in this encounter we put the Other on the defensive and serve only to entrench the possible thought that God is unloving and unjust.

2. Reflect feelings. Rather than launching into a speech about " good and evil" or asking a 'why' question in response to the above, the reflection of content response may also include a reference to feelings, " It sounds as if you're angry at God. That He  can't possibly be loving if He allows so much suffering." Twist  your face up if the Other recounts suffering to you. This sort of response allows the Other to explore their feelings more fully and feel the pain that is hidden by the anger. The result of which is the dissipation of the angry feeling and the exploration of the real problem. Of course its not that simple in reality and there may be a few more steps before the underlying problem is reached. There is also a problem in our  response to the anger or any other strongly expressed feeling. In our culture we learn to deny our feelings and encourage others to deny theirs, to philosophise about our problems as if they are 'out there' and don't really belong to us. This is a coping or survival mechanism. Staying in our heads enables us to cope with the fiery darts of the wicked and not show our vulnerability, but there is a price, unexpressed feelings warp our  discernment. Reflection of feelings enables the other in recognition of these repressed feelings. We need to realize in such situations that though the expression of feeling may be directed at us or what we have said may have elicited an emotional response, in most cases we are not responsible and should not take it on board nor feel guilty.

3. There are three predominate modes of sensory perception and communication; they are seeing, hearing and feeling. These correspond to three different ways of thinking, visual imagery, mental self talk or auditory, feeling or bodily sensation or anaesthetic. Often in our communication we mix up these modes of awareness, we say " feel" when we mean " think" , " see" or " hear" when we mean " know" or " understand" , that sort of thing. Though some people may be equally versatile in all three modes, most of us rely more strongly on one mode, by carefully listening to the words used by the other one can identify their generally preferred mode of thinking. This is helpful to good communication in several ways. It give insight into personality, mutual understanding is increased and by matching the words used in the conversation, trust is facilitated and strengthened.

4. Asking questions is a way of controlling the direction of the conversation. Asking too many questions though can be intimidating and the other will either shut down and wait for the next question, become angry and stone wall, or feeling violated will become defensive and possibly even offensive and aggressive, or withdraw and possibly even terminate the exchange. Be that as it may There are two major categories of question, some are called " open questions" and the other " closed questions" . Closed questions are a form of control, leading to specific answers, often already known or presupposed, are used by lawyers in courtrooms to restrict witnesses in their range of answers and in other instances where the questioner like a government instrumentality has power or seeks to gain such. Usually the answers to such questions are short. The other may choose to expand on their answers but is unlikely to do so if feeling threatened. However when the other makes generalisations, as is sometimes the case with " open questions" , closed questions are a useful tool in helping them define and focus on the real issue.

One type of question falls between and that is the " Why" question. We are usually taught very early on in our social development that the " I don't know" response to a why question is not adequate and to avoid a punitive response from a usually angry parent or other authority figure we need to have a well thought out intellectual response even if it's not true. Such questions in adulthood may elicit a similar intellectually thought out reason in reply which as in childhood are often, to varying degrees, unconvincing and frequently fall into the category of " excuses" , " rationalisations" or outright lies, as the childhood pattern of denial to escape consequences has been frequently and successfully indulged in a shame-based society where such denial and lack of trust is commonplace. Open questions are very different in their effect particularly if a bond of trust has been formed. There is still room for a pre-programmed response, for the other to read between the lines or give an answer they think one wants, but given such freedom is more inclined to be open and give a freer answer. The open question is an invitation to explore what is important or of most interest to the other person.

5. Summarising is a bit like paraphrasing but like the word suggests it is a summary of a number of statements picking out the salient features and presenting them in such a way that self and the Other have an overview of what has been discussed until that point. Summarising clarifies what has been said and puts it into a fairly organised format which enables the Other to absorb and ponder what has been shared. This is a necessary part of the process as often people are confused, in denial and resistant or are unable to think or talk through their belief structures coherently.

6. After summarising there is an opportunity to do a little ‘Reframing’, something our Lord did a lot. We all get stuck at sometime or another in a frame of reference the  origin of which is exterior to ourselves and likely reflects how others see us, or think we should, must or ought to be and what we have come to believe about ourselves. The idea behind reframing is not to deny the way the Other sees the world, as inappropriate as this may seem to be, but to carefully present another, perhaps expanded, view of the world based upon what has been revealed in the conversation and though specifically articulated is known to the other. This enables the Other, if they so choose, to see things in a new way, from another point of view which may be more appropriate. Reframing allows a shift in attitude out of a false self of shame or grandiosity, where projection, blame (shaming others), denial etc are the survival tools or coping mechanism of a dis-eased self worth, where the ego or self is the God-like centre of the universe, 'imbued' through 'socialisation' by cultural agents e.g. parents, older siblings, other family and educators with a God-like responsibility for the feelings and actions of others, into the light of the reality of individual self-responsibility.

Note: This is the outcome of discussion with John Stibbs, who should take credit for much of the above.