Before moving back to the USA from Germany, Robin and I walked the last 140 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain (the medieval Catholic Pilgrimage immortalized in the movie “The Way”). We chose the Norte route through the mountains because less “pilgrims” travel it. It provided us a lot of time to pray and reflect. The scenery was beautiful, the people were welcoming and the food and coffee were delicious! It gave us some time to confirm that God was truly directing us to move back to the US after 13 years of training and coaching leaders, teaching in Bible schools and planting churches in Europe.
There were a few lessons we learned on our trip that apply to churches. If you haven’t noticed, our culture is rapidly moving from postmodern to Post-Christian. Christianity, believers and churches are rapidly losing their influence in society. But there are some things we can do to create a larger footprint for the Kingdom of God. Over the next few blogposts I’ll cover a few of them that are pertinent to North American church leaders.
Having helped plant numerous churches in secular Europe (planting and pastoring the last one ourselves), we learned how to effectively minister in this environment. If North American churches want to connect with an unchurched Post-Christian audience we need to make some changes.
Teach your people to listen
If you truly believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, you have a responsibility to tell as many people as possible. Unfortunately too many people fulfill this responsibility irresponsibly. They treat everyone they meet as an “opportunity to preach.”
Although we prayed that God would use us to invest in the lives of others along our Camino journey, that was not our goal. We wanted to hear from God personally. But we knew that if we paid attention God would open doors for us. We chose to listen rather than just talk. And it opened a LOT of doors!
We struck up conversations with our fellow Caminantes (Camino “Pilgrims”) as we walked, as we ate together and as we settled in for the night at pilgrim hostels. We asked a lot of questions. It was fascinating to hear people’s life stories. We learned that one of our fellow travelers dealt with severe depression and had attempted suicide a number of times. Another had recently gone through a devastating divorce. One lady was taking a much-needed vacation, and had been coming every year for several years to hike another stage of the Camino. A couple was contemplating beginning a new life in another country. Two ladies had been hiking together for 20 years. Two of them told us their fathers expected them to carry on the family business, but they didn’t want to.
As we truly listened, we heard stories of great joy and great loss, of progress and pain. We laughed a lot. And our hearts broke for the hurts people carried. But the very act of listening itself opened the door for us to be able to share our story. I spoke with a young man one day as we walked, and we had the most amazing conversation. He told me he had been studying the Law of Attraction. He was trying to get his life back on track and he felt this was a positive way to do so. I explained that many of the principles of the Law of Attraction are actually found in Scripture. I was able to share about my experience with God’s love and His mercy, and how this had radically changed my life. It was a dialogue that would have never taken place had I used our walk to launch into a monologue.
Do you want people to listen to what you have to say? Then you have to listen to what they have to say… and do so without an agenda! Don’t formulate your answer while they are still speaking. Don’t preach. Just start a conversation and let the relationship build naturally. You have to earn the right to be heard. People will usually open up if you’ll first listen. Remember: Sow first what you want to reap.
Tweet This: Do you want people to listen to what you have to say? Then you have to listen to what they have to say – and do so without an agenda!
God desires to use us to influence the world around us. But a lot of times we screw up God-given opportunities with people. Commonsense people skills can help us tremendously in this area. In his amazing book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says we need to, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” What would the world look like if we really did this? I believe we would discover a LOT more opportunities to share our faith!
Join the conversation… your comments can help pastors and church leaders as well. What other advice do you have for church leaders that want to help their church members be more effective in sharing their faith?
For more insights and practical application on this subject, pick up a copy of my book, The Coming Post-Christian Tsunami from our website or from amazon.com. It is available in both paperback and Kindle versions.