Perspective is an interesting thing. Our personal backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, or current circumstances can all impact how we view an idea or situation and cause us to see it in a different way than others.
Just ask any police officer! He will tell you how ten eyewitnesses can yield eleven different accounts. One saw the gunman wearing a red shirt. Three are positive it was green. The rest aren't sure if he was wearing a shirt. Seven of them think he had brown hair, while two think his hair might have been blond. One thought he was bald, but later admits the sun was shining in his eyes. Five of them saw the gun as a huge sawed-off rifle. Three thought it was a small, hand-held gun, and two of them didn't see a gun at all. One isn't sure, but she thinks the gunman might have been a woman.
What makes people who witness the same thing see it in such different ways? Let's take a closer look. Mary is pro-gun control and is only five feet tall. She's the one who was held at gunpoint. How big do you think the gun was to Mary? Eyewitness Bill is a big man who has extensive security training and is a 30-year member of the National Rifle Association. Bill was watching the gunman from behind the aisle. How big was that gun, Bill?
It turns out that the gunman's shirt was red with green stripes. The woman who wasn't sure he was wearing a shirt was only able to see the back of his head. The seven witnesses who thought he had brown hair were standing in the shadow while the three who saw lighter hair were standing in the sunlight. The witness who thought the gunman might have been a woman was the same witness who was only able to see the back of the gunman's head and his long hair.
What kinds of things can affect the way someone sees the world? Just about everything we experience will have an impact on how we view the world: childhood memories, upbringing, religious training, health issues, life events, experiences, and sensitivities all have an effect.
A person's experiences and beliefs affect how he sees political and religious issues as well. Those who have been repeatedly hit over the head with the Bible by antagonistic Christians more eager to make a point than demonstrate Christ's love have built a wall around themselves to protect against further attack. Those who feel convicted about something they have done in their lives may be searching for information about God. Still others have never seriously thought about eternal life. It's all Greek to them.
How should we tell the truth of the gospel to others when everyone sees and reacts to things differently? When speaking about Christ, sin, grace and faith it is important to remember two very important things about communication skills:
1) communicate so that people can understand, and
2) know your audience.
The first rule of communication is that it is the speaker's job to be understood, and not the listener's job to understand. It is my job to speak in a way that allows you to understand what I am saying. It is not your job to try to decipher what I just said. If we understand this principle, we will make more of an effort to make our communication clear, and we will not get frustrated with our listeners if they need clarification. In addition, we will tailor our communication to speak directly to them.
In order to tailor our communication to a specific listener or audience, we will need to understand them better. This is called knowing your audience. The more you know about the people you communicate with, the better you will be able to relate to them. An obvious example would be that if you know Mildred's mother recently passed away, you wouldn't ask her what she got her mother for Mother's Day. Similarly, if you knew that Sally's aunt had badgered her for years about going to church, but that she was open to a discussion about God, you could share what you believe with Sally and be reasonably sure that she would listen unless you invited her to church on Sunday.
It would be helpful if everyone had a sign hanging around their neck that gave you a synopsis of their worldview, wouldn't it? How about introducing a new communication custom whereby each participant in a conversation announces their beliefs so that all parties involved understand them better before engaging in a discussion? The likelihood of these ideas being implemented anytime soon isn't high, so how can you get to know your audience better?
God gives us discernment, and effective communication skills can help bring people's views to light. Sometimes the person will come out and tell you what they think about a topic: "I'm Pro-Choice!" Sometimes you can discern what they think by their body language. If, after you begin sharing your faith, John suddenly takes an unusual interest in the floor, he is probably uncomfortable. If he changes the subject, suddenly develops an uncontrollable craving for borsht, or remembers that he has to pick up his grandmother from the airport in five minutes, you can be reasonably sure he isn't open right now. Knowing your audience requires active listening. Active listening allows us to hear what they say as well as discern by what they do not say. Active listening takes some practice to cultivate.
Knowing your audience is vital because it isn't just what we say but how we say it that can draw people closer or push them further away from the Lord. When we share our faith with others, the goal isn't to get them to church. The goal is to have them make a thoughtful decision to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. When we treat evangelism as a one-size-fits-all proposition, we not only limit our ability to reach an individual and bring him or her to a point of understanding, but we can actually push our listener further away from it.
Consider Fred. Fred is an atheist who has been badgered by relatives, tricked into going to church on the pretext of going out to breakfast, and had people knock on his door shouting "Sinner!" and "Repent now!" He thinks he is a good person because he is kind to others and respectful of their beliefs, but he doesn't feel that Christians are respectful of his.
Enter Jane. Jane is a new believer and on fire for the Lord. She takes evangelism seriously and can often be found telling strangers on the bus about what Jesus did for her. She begins all of her attempts at "conversion" with "Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" If they answer no, she follows it up with, "Well, then you're going to hell!" As you can imagine, if Fred ever met Jane, it probably wouldn't be pretty!
Along comes Nelly. Nelly is a sweet patient lady who understands what it's like to wrestle with the decision to accept Christ. She knows that every encounter is a stepping stone leading the unsaved closer to that decision. She begins each evangelistic opportunity by getting to know this unique individual. She shows God's love in everything she does and everything she doesn't do. She is never pushy, but she never misses an opportunity to gently lead her willing student ever closer to Jesus by sharing what she knows and who she is. She sets the example and follows through, showing how much she cares for him. Eventually, perhaps a few years later, Fred is finally willing to discuss the possibility of learning more about the Bible. A few months later he agrees to go to church with her, just to see what Jesus is all about.
Fred may not ask Jesus into his life right then, but he has allowed a precious child of God into his life to minister to him. One day Fred just may go forward in church or get down on his knees and pray the sinner's prayer, asking Jesus to be the Lord of his life. One day, because of the gentle patience of one Christian, Fred may even lead someone else to Christ!
Each person is a unique individual with special qualities and unique talents who sees the world in his own way. He comes to his decisions and understanding of the world honestly, as do we. As Christians, it is our responsibility to share Jesus with others, but we must do it in a way that is respectful. This, in turn, is more likely to be effective. If we don't, not only is our message lost, but it is tainted so that the next Christian God sends along will be met with an even bigger challenge. He or she will not only have to share the gospel, but will have to get the gospel through all the filters that have been put up to defend against Christian attack.
With the knowledge of the Bible and effective communication skills, we can go out and make disciples to the glory of God. Amen!
JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication. Her Christian and humorous approach to communication skills has made her a sought-after speaker. She is the author of the "Say What You Mean" communication curricula, including "Say What You Mean: Defending the Faith."
Her latest project is "Grace Talk Soup," where each Thursday morning she serves up God's Word with a side order of grace and humor. JoJo and her husband live in Southern California, where she homeschools their two children.
For more information, please visit www.ArtofEloquence.com.
Adapted from the original article published in the July/Aug '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more details, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com