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The Evangelistic Power of Listening and Asking

When’s the last time you shared the gospel with someone, my friend Claire asked me recently. Not just talked about Jesus but really told someone the gospel story?

Well, its been a while. In some ways, this feels like the wrong season for evangelizing. During the past two months in my city, weve had riots, protests, and spiking coronavirus cases. It feels like a time to listen rather than speak.

Rebecca Manley Pipperts new book,Stay Salt: Stay Salt: The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not, shows how those two thingslistening and speakingdont have to be in conflict. For Pippert, both are necessary for sharing the gospel. This insightful synthesis of sharing and hearing is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book, making it uniquely suited for our moment.

Stay Salt: The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not

Rebecca Manley Pippert

Stay Salt: The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not

Rebecca Manley Pippert

The Good Book Company. 256 pp.

The world has changed in so many ways, and many of us no longer feel confident when it comes to evangelism, especially with the rise of hostility towards Christian points of view. Keeping quiet is becoming our default position. Yet the world has not changed in one way: it still needs Jesus.

Renowned evangelist Becky Pippert draws on decades of conversations about Christianity around the world to call and equip ordinary Christians to share Jesus through their ordinary day-to-day conversations. She shows that by leaning on our extraordinary God, such conversations can, and often do, have extraordinary results. They will transform hearts, transform society, and transform the world!

Weaving Bible teaching with compelling stories, Stay Salt is the next generation Out of the Saltshaker for this new era. It will give readers the confidence to share Jesus like Jesus: relevantly, thoughtfully, and effectively.

The Good Book Company. 256 pp.

Pippert has spent most of her life teaching about evangelism. Her book Out of the Salt Shaker was written four decades ago, but was still required reading at my husbands Bible college in the late 1990s and a part of Christianity Todays 2006 list of the The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals. Pippert says she wrote Stay Salt to teach Christians how to share their faith in this new, post-Christian world.

But how? Through both hearing and sharing stories.

Beginning: Ask an Interest Question

Stay Salt is premised on a sober reminder: evangelism isn’t optional for Christians. Christs last words to his followers were to go and make disciples. Pippert points out that Jesus didn’t say, “Go therefore, all you extroverts, all of you with dynamic communication skills, and all those gifted as evangelists, and make disciples. The rest of you, just hang out. Sing some hymns and wait until I return. But Pipperts guidance on how to start obeying isnt to grab a soapbox or log onto Twitter. Instead, she suggests we begin by listening.

Stay Salt is premised on a sober reminder: evangelism isn’t optional for Christians.

First, we listen to God. Knowing Gods story in the Bible and learning how it’s shaping our own story provide the message, model, and motivation for talking to others about Christ. The late Ravi Zacharias writes in the book’s introduction, So many of us simply have no idea how beautiful the message is and how powerful the truth is.” We desperately need to grasp this, though, because “today a tepid Christianity is set beside a scorching paganism.” In other words, we begin evangelizing by listening through God’s Word to the Spirit, who provides the ability to speak when the time comes.

Second, we listen to the stories of the people around us. Because men and women are created in God’s image, and thus have unfathomable value, we should take an interest in them. One way to do this is asking an interest question: showing an interest in someone by learning what interests him or her. Pippert tells the story of one atheist friend who was overwhelmed with inexplicable wonder when she looked into the eyes of her newborn baby. Another friend was an extremely gifted violinist with an intense intellectual rejection of God who discovered, nonetheless, that playing Bach felt like worshiping something outside of herself. Everyone has a story. By asking sincere questions and listening attentively, we have the privilege of hearing others’ storiesand catching glimpses of how they fit into Gods bigger story.

Development: Ask an Issue/Opinion Question

Next, Pippert suggests that a helpful way to deepen a conversation or a relationship is to ask an opinion/issue question, or a question about how someone views a particular topic.

Shes right. I’ve had numerous opportunities in the past month to take a deep breath and ask people I know and love to share their views on racial injustice in America. Ive not only learned a lot that I didnt know about racial injustice, but Ive also learned a lot about the people sharingtheir passions and beliefs.

Everyone has a story. Sometimes, we can have the privilege of hearing those stories, catching glimpses of how they fit into Gods bigger story if we start by listening.

Pippert advises us to pay special attention when people respond with emotion. Luke 6:45 tells us the words we speak reveal the depths of our hearts. Pippert sees passion, anger, sorrow, or joy in a story as possible signs of the Holy Spirit at work. These may also be excellent opportunities to simply show someone the love of Christ by hearing and responding like Christ hears and responds when we open our hearts to him.

Denouement: Ask a God Question

As we talk to people about their interests and passions, Pippert says its often easier than we think to ask a God questiona question that gets people to engage with their own worldview and consider what difference God would make to this topic. By asking questions about someones beliefs, particularly their beliefs about God, we open the door to know that persons story but also, perhaps, to share Christ with them in response.

Pippert has made a practice of sharing her gospel story. Before she became a Christian, she read the Gospels and was astonished to hear Jesus talk like a revolutionary, saying things like Ive come to set the world on fire! She remembers reading John 2 for the first time, thinking, Jesus is as upset about religious hypocrisy as I am. She didnt even believe the stories she was reading, but she was moved by their power. That power came from the heart of the gospelthe cross, where God executed his justice, and our hunger for justice and goodness was fulfilled.

Loving well is listening well.

For Christians, loving well is listening wellfirst to God, then to the people around us, and then speaking Christs story, with love and courage, to a world that needs it.

Sharing the Great Story with Love

Stay Salt offers a strong basis for helping Christians obey the command to tell the story of Christs love and sacrifice for the world. Its also full of stories about MLB players, hairdressers, NASCAR drivers, violinists, fashion models, and people sitting next to her on airplanes who were astonished to learn that they’re part of Gods story, too.

Indeed, there are so many stories in the book that, at times, the thread of Pipperts argument is hard to follow. But those stories also point to where Stay Salt truly shines: the emphasis on listening to each person and responding with truth and love. Pippert reminds us that we aren’t the Author. Our goal in evangelizing, she repeats throughout, isn’t to save the masses. We cant save anyone! Our goal is obey the Lord by listening to the stories of those around us, and to remind ourselves and others of the Great Story we all need to hear. Her model of evangelism recognizes that every person in the world has a story that’s a chapter in a much Bigger Story.

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