When we talk about reaching others, in a sense we are talking about what most people would refer to as evangelism. This means actively trying to share the good news about what God has done through Jesus with the hope that people will respond to this news by repenting and following Jesus as King.
However, one potential trap that many people fall into is that if we’re not considerate in our efforts to do this, we begin to come across like a "Christian-salesman" peddling Jesus as our product and strictly focusing on ‘closing the deal’ and moving on to the next customer.
In order to avoid such a trap, I would like to propose a little bit more casual and sincere approach to reaching others. It's an approach that requires nothing extra added to your daily routine except a little more focus on the people around you and how you interact with them. It is so easy that we can simply call this approach, Coffee and a Question.
The Coffee and a Question approach goes something like this: You invite someone you know to join you for a cup of coffee, and then when you actually meet for coffee you ask them this simple question, "So what's your story?" Reaching others can begin with something as simple as drinking coffee with someone and asking them, "So what's your story?"
Once you're at the table with someone, and you've asked them this question, the hardest part is over. Now, you must simply enjoy the time together and let this person experience the love and goodness of God that ought to be noticeable in you.
We must remember what it means to be living temples with the Spirit of God dwelling within us. This means that people ought to experience the presence of God every time they experience our presence.
And so, to give us some direction in what this should look like, I want to give us four words that ought to describe our presence as we are sitting across the table with someone - Listen, Learn, Love & Language.
Too many of us are too quick to talk too much. In our effort to share the good news of Jesus, we feel this urge to immediately start talking to people about our faith, our church, our small group, our view on culture, our view on politics, our preference in books or music until we feel like we’ve gotten the message across in some form or fashion. We act this way and then when people seemed turned off by what we have to say we chalk it up to their own hardness of heart.
The problem here should be obvious. Nobody wants to be talked to and treated as if their opinions, beliefs, doubts and worldview are inferior, unimportant or irrelevant. Nobody wants to be constantly talked to and yet never listened to.
And so, to reach others, avoid talking to people and seek to talk with people.
Learn to be a good listener.
So many of us start by looking for opportunities to talk to people, but what if instead we started by looking for opportunities to listen to people? People like to talk. Become a favorite sounding board for those you interact with. When others feel heard, they will be more receptive to hear you.
It is important to be a good listener, but in our listening we need to be learning. This is what distinguishes a good listener from someone who is just good at letting people talk. We don’t listen for the sake of listening to someone; we listen for the sake of learning as much as we can about that person.
Again, there is a temptation to immediately try and teach others about our faith. But this can often come across inconsiderate and therefore ineffective. And again, we cannot just ignorantly blame it on the person we are trying to reach.
And so to reach others, make it a priority to try and learn more about someone before you try to teach them anything.
Learn to ask good questions.
This commitment to learn as much as you can about the people you are trying to reach will help you tremendously when the opportunity comes to actually share something with them. When you know more about their background, tendencies, desires, insecurities and goals you will be able to more thoughtfully discern why they view the world the way they view it. And when others feel known and understood, then they’ll listen to you.
The more you learn about another person, the easier you will find it to actually love that person. Also, this person will be more likely to feel loved by you because they feel known and understood by you. You are able to serve this person in the very specific and targeted ways that they need it the most.
We all know that we are commanded to love our neighbor, but too many of us are defining loving our neighbor as being nice to people around us. Although being nice is certainly part of it, simply trying hard not to be mean to people is not the same as loving your neighbor.
And so, to reach others, start going out of your way to serve the people around you.
If you find out someone is struggling in some way, invite them to have coffee and just spend time with them. When people experience sincere love from you, they will begin to trust you.
Perhaps this will be the most difficult adjustment for many of us. In our daily conversations with the people around us, we tend to talk most about work, weather, food and sports. We desperately need more substance to the things we are saying.
In his book, Follow Me, David Platt describes how many of us can have conversations all day without ever mentioning God at all. He says that we have a tendency to talk like atheists. Platt urges us to start making an effort to weave the good news of Jesus into the fabric of our conversations and interaction with the people around us. Others need to hear us speak about God as someone we know, love, experience and worship.
And so, to reach others, use language that acknowledges who God is and what he has done for you.
Learn to speak about God.
Do the people around you know how grateful you are for your reconciled relationship with God? Why would we expect others to want a relationship with God if they have never even heard us speak about ours? Is there anything in your life more worth acknowledging than your reconciled relationship with God?
When it’s important to you, it will be interesting to others.
The Follow Up
And this leads us to a very important step in the Coffee and a Question approach - the follow up. You have spent some time listening to the person's story and learning more about their background, tendencies, desires, insecurities and goals. Now, actively love this person by asking this question, "Would you mind if I prayed with you real quick about _____?"
All you're doing is picking out something important that you have learned about them during your time together and asking if you can pray with them about that particular thing. This is a way to love this person immediately and to let them experience the language of a life that loves and trusts God.
If the person declines the prayer then don't pray, tell them you enjoyed the time together and ask if they'd like to do it again sometime (go ahead and try to set an actual date). If the person accepts the prayer then pray with them, tell them you enjoyed the time together and ask if they'd like to do it again sometime (go ahead and try to set an actual date). Depending on how this first meeting together went, next time you will either ask more questions about something that was shared or if appropriate you can share your story with them which may present an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
So that's the Coffee and a Question approach to reach others, and an entry point to our mission of making disciples of Jesus. If we can remember the words listen, learn, love and language then we should have a good perspective on how to actually execute this approach.
Some of the more practical applications in this stage are:
Take advantage of opportunities to listen to people.
Ask good questions.
Look for opportunities to do random acts of kindness.
Acknowledge your relationship with God in conversation.
Ask to pray with the person about something they shared.
I mentioned at the beginning that this stage is what many people would define as evangelism. And although there are definitely evangelistic aspects to this stage, I do not think it is helpful to view this stage as the evangelistic stage and then the rest as more discipleship focused. The two should actually never be separated. Making disciples is the commission.
Our mission is not to make converts or believers but to make disciples of Jesus and to teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. Therefore, we must realize that camping out in this stage is not carrying out the great commission. We seek to reach others hoping for the opportunity to also one day be given the privilege to teach them a new way of life and a new way of seeing the world based on the life and teachings of Jesus.