‘You’d better get on with it – you’re not getting any younger’.
Her words punched me in the stomach and left me choking back tears, whilst my mind whirred with a thousand witty and cutting retorts that I would never utter.
This well-intended comment came from a lady I’d never met before, during small-talk, at the back of church, over a cup of tea.
The lady didn’t know me at all, or that my husband and I were exhausted from four painful years of trying, unsuccessfully, to have children. But she assumed that she knew what I needed, as if it wasn’t etched at the forefront of my mind, and jumped in to tell me how to fix it. If you happen to be that lady, bless you – I’m sure you are actually really lovely.
But you’re not, right? You are reading this, thinking that you’d never be so insensitive, and I’m glad of that. But how often is our personal or church’s evangelism just as blunt a tool?
Evangelism without understanding, without listening, can not only be ineffective, but dangerous.
We are like the favourite wedding verse, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.’ Does the hearer ignore the clanging cymbal? No, she runs from it, and makes a mental note not to go there again.
Listening is not just for touchy-feely types, for people with time on their hands, for women. It is deep, it is rare, it is love. It is for everyone who wants to share the Gospel. It shows we care enough to give time, to keep an open mind, to meet people exactly where we find them and stay with them a while. And if we really care, then we will love them too much to leave them there. We will point them in the right direction and trust them and God that they will find the way for themselves. And we will support them on the journey.
And if we don’t love, then we must question why we are wanting to share the Gospel with this person in the first place.
This is why I take delight in my new job as communications manager for the Christian Enquiry Agency. Part of my work is the true honour of engaging in email conversations with people who get in touch to discover more about Christianity. If they simply want ‘answers’ they can (and do) find them on our website. But it is a joy also to provide a service where I can listen to people via email, correspond personally, and pray. It is quiet, it is unassuming, it is powerful.
Someone, possibly Theodore Roosevelt, said, ‘People won’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.’
And so it was with me and the lady at church. Those few throwaway words she said were factually true, all too true, but they didn’t help me.
In contrast, my doctor, busy man though he was, listened. He supported and advised us through the many months of appealing an IVF rejection. He spent long evenings of his own time researching information that would help our case. He kept in touch through the emotional and difficult IVF process.
And he attended the dedication of our daughter.
Cherry Hamilton is the Communications Manager for Christian Enquiry Agency (CEA)
CEA is an Agency of CTE and hosts www.christianity.org.uk
Information on evangelism and the agency: www.christianenquiryagency.org.uk