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The Confessions of a Recovering Evangelist

In a society full of people who would rather speak than listen, people are starving for someone who is willing to offer them their ears.
The Confessions of a Recovering Evangelist
Image: Photo by Anna Vander Stel

Years ago, I flew to Colorado to help people increase the quantity and the quality of their God conversations in a church in Colorado Springs. On the shuttle ride over from the Denver airport to my rental car company, I struck up a conversation with a young man in his early twenties. He had just flown back into the U.S. after a year of graduate study abroad. We started talking about his career aspirations after his studies were finished.

We got off the shuttle bus and headed to the counter to pick up our rental cars. As I was getting my rental car, I couldn’t help but overhear the bad news this young man was getting about his. Unbeknownst to him, his driver’s license had expired while he was out of the country. Nudged by the Holy Spirit, I offered him a ride. He was totally taken back by my seemingly small offer of kindness.

As we headed into Denver, he asked me what I did for a living. I had a “holy hunch” that if I told him I was an evangelist, our conversation might have ended quickly and awkwardly.

So I told him I was an author and speaker. He quickly asked me what I write about and I responded that he could actually help me with what I was writing about. Intrigued, he asked, “How can I do that?” Here was my response: “I’m on my way to speak at one of the largest churches in Colorado. If I gave you 30 minutes to tell these Christians what not to do to have a spiritual conversation with you, what would you tell them?””

Without any hesitation, he said, “I’d tell them if you are not willing to listen to me, I am not going to listen to you. Every conversation I’ve ever had with Christians has been one-sided. They always want to do all the talking and expect me to do all the listening.”

I reflected back to him in my own words what I thought I’d heard him say: “It sounds like your conversations with Christians have left you feeling very disrespected and angry because it’s been more of a monologue than a dialogue. Am I hearing you correctly?”

He replied, “Absolutely, and it ticks me off because it’s quite obvious all they are concerned with is getting their point across. It comes across as very arrogant and rude. You know what most Christians don’t get? The whole time they are talking I have already made up my mind. I don’t want their Jesus because I don’t want to become rude and disrespectful like they are.”

Kaboom! God had just flip-flopped my 30-minute “Good Samaritan” ride into Denver. God used my attempts to reach out to someone to reach me instead. I was trained to be a teller, a presenter of the good news—an evangelist.

This young man unknowingly helped me to realize that far too often I was reaping what I was sowing. People were often not listening to me because I was not really listening to them.

More importantly, they were saying no thanks to Jesus because of the way I was coming across in the conversation. I was awakened to my great need to listen for heaven’s sake. I was on my way to becoming a “recovering evangelist.”

Recent research by Barna validates what this man was saying to me. Listening without judgment is the number one thing not-yet Christians want but very rarely experience when talking to Christians.

This has caused me to reach the following conclusion: In an increasingly polarized culture, the great need of the hour may be to embrace the admonition in James 1:19 to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” If we truly want the message of Jesus to be heard in a world that is hard of hearing maybe then we’d get further ahead by listening than speaking.

If this is true, the quality of our listening skills becomes extremely significant. Here’s a test to help you get in touch with what kind of a listener you are.

Answer the following statements with a yes or no response. When you finish, total the number of yes responses.

When others are talking to me…

1. I find myself finishing their sentences.

2. I give my opinions before hearing them out.

3. I get restless and impatient.

4. I lose track of what is being said.

5. I mentally rehearse what I’m going to say next.

6. I take control of the conversation.

7. I interrupt with frequent comments or questions.

8. I try to diagnose and help them fix their problems.

9. I worry about what I’m going to say next.

10. I am suspiciously listening for hidden agendas.

If you had three or more yes responses, then you may want to memorize James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” and ask God, the greatest listener of all, for some help by praying the prayer below.

A Prayer to Listen

God help me to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Grant me the grace to offer my ears to others so that I might truly listen for heaven’s sake. Help me to give up my agenda in conversations and to join the conversation you have been having with others. Amen!

I am now well along on my path to recovery. I have learned that if I’m willing to listen to others, they will eventually be willing to listen to me.

I have learned that when I humbly offer my ears as an act of kindness, “God Space” is created for spiritual conversations to happen naturally. I have learned that when I give up my need to steer conversations, the Holy Spirit allows me to join the conversation God has already been having with others.

If this is all true, just imagine what might happen today if we learned how to lead with our ears instead of our words, if we spent more time in dialogue than monologue, if we sought to understand before we sought to be understood, if we lead with questions rather than answers. If the thoughts you’re having right now stir up Godly excitement in you, maybe you’re ready to join me on the road to recovery. For more info on how to join me, go to GodsGPS.com.

Doug Pollock is a speaker and author of God Space. He is also a YMCA chaplain and minister with Athletes in Action since 1983. Doug seeks to help Christ-followers worldwide increase the quality and the quantity of their spiritual conversations in practical, doable, and authentic ways.

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