Sunday, 28 August 2016

Are you a space invader when you share the gospel?

How do you feel when a stranger or someone that you don’t know very well invades your personal space and stands too close to you?  Does it make you feel very uncomfortable, even to the point that makes you take a step back to maintain a comfortable distance?
“He that wins souls is wise” Proverbs 11:30
“Behave wisely in relation to the outside world, buying up your opportunities” Colossians 4: 5 Weymouth New Testament
I have seen this happen in churches many times over the years. People are so happy to see a new person arrive that they sometimes forget about normal social boundaries. They become personal space invaders without realising what they are doing.
I have even witnessed a first-time church visitor being greeted with a full-on frontal body hug accompanied by a sloppy kiss on the cheek. The person looked horrified and they never returned.
It is the Holy Spirit that convicts hearts and His word never returns to Him void. Being aware of the way you interact with a person can be the open door to build a bridge so that you can witness for Christ. It could give you the opportunity to share your faith. Sharing your testimony of salvation or the Gospel is a powerful way to be used by the Lord.
An example of space invading would be travelling on a busy train.  The carriage you are on is pretty full with a couple of empty seats left.  At the next stop, a few more travellers get on board and move towards the area where you are seated because there is a space next to you.  At this point, you deliberately fail to make eye contact with the person coming nearer to you and you may even make your body spread out and carefully place your newspaper on the empty seat while thinking, “Oh please don’t sit next to me”.  It is also very likely that you have experienced similar feelings when you have been in a busy cinema.
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” Colossians 4: 5 New American Standard 1977
The truth is that most people are like this.  When strangers keep about four feet away from us, we subconsciously feel comfortable and safe.  Scientists and psychologists believe that these feelings stem from the days of evolution.  I firmly believe that these natural instincts are the design of God.
Paul was absolutely right when he wrote about behaving wisely.  We do need to be careful about the way that we act toward outsiders or unsaved.  Importantly with regards to the way that we live our lives.  For instance, do we have a good testimony that gives us credibility when we witness to those people who know us?   See my
See my blog “Are you a credible witness”?
I believe another view of interpreting the scripture is the way that we behave in conversation with people.  Especially those that may be new to us.  In my communication classes, I often ask my students if they are aware of how their behaviour and body language effects people around them.
From experience, I have discovered that in many cases that people are completely unaware of how people read and interpret the meaning of what we say through our non-verbal communication. Added to that, people make very quick judgements about us, predominantly about our appearance and the way that we act.
If when witnessing on the streets or an outreach for example, a Christian immediately moved too close to the person they were trying to share the Gospel with. It would be made more difficult because the person goes immediately  go into a defensive mode.
You may not do this, but it is worth checking.
Some years ago I went on a door to door evangelism evening with members of my local church.  I was teamed up with a man that was quite a few years older than me.  We knocked on our first door which was answered by an elderly lady.  My colleague didn’t move away from the door at all after he had finished knocking, staying in the same place.  The lady was surprised to find my smiling friend standing so close to the door, which made her take two steps back. She held the door handle and arm’s length so that she was about 5 feet away from us.  You will not be surprised to learn that we didn’t spend very long with her.
It is really critical to understand the use of proxemics or proximity as it is known in communication psychology.  Being aware of how this can have a dramatic effect on the response or reaction of the person we are in conversation with will make us more effective.
In today’s multicultural society we need to realise that this can change with regards to differing ethnic groups. In Western society, there are four zones or distances that people use below conscious levels to determine how comfortable they feel in the presence of people.  These are as follows:
The public zone: This area starts at about 10 feet plus.  It is very often the distance that teachers and lecturers and even preachers use to get their message across.  Because people are further away, the speaker will have to exaggerate their body language movements in order to communicate more effectively.
The social or acquaintances zone: if in general terms this tends to be at around four feet.  At this distance, people will sometimes introduce themselves to strangers by shaking their hands and then immediately move back out to the zone where they feel more comfortable.  It also means that during conversation neither party needs to shout or raise their voice.
The personal zone: This starts at the area of approximately 1½ to 4 feet and is an area where you experience a degree of feeling comfortable. It is believed to be the most appropriate for when people are in conversation. In this zone, it is much easier to be able to see the other person’s eye movements and expressions, as well as their overall body language.
The friendship or intimate zone: This area, under 1 ½ feet is only for people that you close to, such as family, courting couples or close friends. Immediately entering the space of a person that you do not have a close relationship with can be extremely disturbing.
Having conversations in the personal zone, without the person moving away from you is a very good sign that they feel comfortable with you. This can lead on to them allowing you to move in closer and pray for them.
Be aware of proximity.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Does my body language matter when I share the Gospel?

The way that we communicate and interact on a one to one basis is very important. Recent discoveries in communication tell us that the words that we use are very important.  Even more than that, the tonality that we use when we speak and the way that we utilise our body language can have a dramatic effect on the people we are speaking with.

Whether we like it or not, people make assumptions about us according to the way that we behave. Our body language is simply a range of signals that we give off that relate to how we think or feel about something. It is nonverbal communication, where our thoughts, intentions, or feelings are communicated and expressed by physical behaviours such as our facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch and the use of space or proximity. We all give off body language signs without realising it most of the time. Very often we are also unaware that below conscious levels we are constantly reading the signals that people give while we are communicating with them.

The scripture below is a very interesting one, as well as being one of my very favourites.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. Colossians 4: 5-6 NIV

Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. Colossians 4: 5-6 Message. 

This scripture can be interpreted in a number of ways.  I am going to look at it on the basis of witnessing for Christ.  Especially when you consider the fact that it is something that Jesus commanded each one of us to do.

Other findings from communication studies have produced facts that have become widely known.  Understanding this information will certainly improve the way that we interact with others.

The first area is that of congruence.  When someone is using communication that is congruent, it basically means that while they are talking on a face to face basis, the words they are using, their tone of voice and their body language are all in harmony or agreement.  In other words, they are all saying the same thing.

A simple example would be to ask you to imagine me not being congruent while telling my wife Desiree that I love her.  If while saying “I really love you”, I used a tone of voice that demonstrated I was unsure, I didn’t make direct eye contact and shook my head from side to side at the same time it would be obvious that my communication was certainly not congruent.

It is essential then that we do our best to ensure that when we share the gospel with an individual or a group of people, that we make sure that our communication is congruent. When we are intentional about what we say as we witness and rely on the Holy Spirit to help us it means our effectiveness is sharpened.

A good question to ask ourselves is, “When I share the Gospel, do I really sound like I believe what I am saying and does my body language also demonstrate that belief”?  This is very important when we understand how people take in and comprehend what we are saying.

When we share the gospel with somebody, especially scripture, we need to stand on the word of God that says, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” Hebrews 4: 12

Key Point: The word of God is powerful, and we should expect something positive to happen when we share it

Experience has shown me that it will be even more powerful if we look and sound like we believe it in our interactions.

When we talk to people on a face to face basis, we know from research that people form an understanding of what we are saying in the following ways:

Words: only 7% on what we say is comprehended from the words are we use in conversation.  This may surprise you but the facts are now well known.

Tonality: this area accounts for 38% of our comprehension. The way that we sound when we speak really does make a huge difference.

Body language: is by far the largest area because 55% of our understanding is through our reading of it.  The way we stand, the way that we use our arm and hand gestures as well as the expressions on our faces when we speak can have an enormous impact when we share the gospel message.

Think about it for a moment. That means that 93% of a conversation isn’t really understood by the words we are using.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not what you say, but it’s the way that you say it”.

In my communication classes, I explain that we are all experts on the understanding of the tonality of a person’s voice, or by reading body language.  Many of us don’t realise that we are able to do this, so I will give you a few common examples.

To read a person’s tonality we don’t always need to be face to face.  I’m pretty certain that at one time you have telephoned somebody close to you, and when they answered your call, the sound of their voice made you ask the question, “Are you OK”?

If I was to come home from work to find my wife standing in our entrance hall in a particular way, I may instantly say without even thinking about it, “What’s the matter”?  Or, if a salesperson was trying to sell me a product or service without making direct eye contact with me, I would immediately detect that something was wrong and start to become suspicious.  We all do this, every one of us, every time we communicate with people.  So it would be na├»ve of us to think that people don’t read us as we speak to them.

I am only touching on this because it really is a huge subject.  I will go through different aspects of this in more detail in future blogs.

How do you think that people read you when you speak to them?  When you’re speaking, is what you’re saying congruent or are you producing a mixed message that creates confusion?

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Complicated, Complex and Convoluted

Have you ever met people who seem to explain things in a really complicated way? 
I am not only talking about the Gospel, because it can involve any subject. I have met individuals over the years who enthusiastically spoke about their subject in such a way that they used terms and phrases that often seemed to go over my head.
On occasions, people can also combine their technical knowledge with a rapid speech pattern which leaves me even more confused. They are so involved in what they have to say that they don’t realise that are losing me.
When we communicate the gospel message it is very important to consider how we may sound to our listener. Firstly, are we easy to understand? Could a child comprehend what we are saying? Do we share our message in the form of a conversation or, do we just keep on talking in the hope that the message will get through?
As well as being an evangelist, I teach communication-based subjects to adult classes. During sessions, I will often go to great lengths to explain that effective communication is a learned a skill. It is something we can all develop and improve upon. Time and effort spent in this area will ensure that we are much more effective when we share what Jesus did for us.
Key point: The gospel message is basically simple one. We need to make sure that we don’t over complicate it.
Essentially, the message of the gospel simple one. As ambassadors for Christ, we need to make every effort to ensure that we don’t make it more difficult to understand than it needs to be. We need to have a plan in mind so that we keep things simple.
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” Psalm 119:130
“And when I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming to you the testimony of God [concerning salvation through Christ], I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom [no lofty words of eloquence or of philosophy as a Greek orator might do]” 1 Corinthians 2:1 AMP
A while ago, I attended an evangelists networking event where I listened to a great communicator who explained the gospel in this way. He basically said, “Jesus was born and lived in sinless life. He died for our sins at Calvary. He rose again after three days. He did all of this so that we might spend eternity with him”. He finished off by saying, “That is the Gospel, don’t mess with it”. On hearing that I remember thinking to myself, “That’s good advice”.
There are many people who have had a great influence on my life. One of them is the evangelist Marilyn Harry. She has an amazing ability to be able to present the most complicated subjects in a way that a young child could easily understand. It’s no wonder that through the many years of her ministry that she has seen many people acknowledge Jesus is lord of their lives. I have known her for a long time I know and that she gives all the Glory to God.
As a young salesperson, part of my job involved explaining and selling complicated financial investment products. I was taught that during the presentations that I should occasionally ask questions like, “Does that make sense”?, or, “Do you follow me”? This simple approach always seemed to work because clients would always let me know if they didn’t understand. The important part being, my presentation was part of a conversation and not a lecture that literally went over my customers head”.
We were also taught an important concept that was, “Telling was not selling”. It was drummed into us that if your presentation was complicated or you droned on and on, you would eventually talk yourself out of the sale and effectively buy the product back from the customer.
Let me make it clear, in no way are we trying to sell the gospel. But truth is that the principle still applies. If we complicate the message, or we don’t involve the listener in the conversation it is very likely that we will lose the person we are talking to. It is really vital then, that we keep things simple and think about the way that we explain the most important truth there is there to know.
The seven C’s of communication explains that  conversation should be:
Clear: Be clear about your message. If you’re not sure, then your listener won’t be sure either.
Concise: When you are concise in your communication, you keep to the point and keep it simple.
Concrete: When your message is concrete, it will be easier for your listener to understand.
Correct: In simple terms, correct communication is good communication.
Coherent: Using coherent communication means that your listener will easily be able to understand what you’re saying.
Complete: if your message is complete, your listener will have all the information they need to understand.
Courteous: Make sure that your conversation is open, friendly and above all honest.
Be objective and ask yourself the following questions. How do I come across when I share the gospel message? Do I talk too much? Do I overwhelm my listener? Do I ask questions to get understanding? When I share the gospel am I making a conversation or am I just telling the message.
Like me, you probably had a teacher at school that used to teach only through the medium of speech. In other words, they would just go on and on and leave the class in a bored stupor. For the first two years of my senior schooling, I loved the subject of geography. However, my enjoyment of the subject dramatically declined when a new teacher who taught us just by speaking took over the class. We need to make that we are not the same.
Keep it lively, be enthusiastic and keep it simple.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Are you a credible witness?

Many people that I speak to have a great desire to reach their neighbours or co-workers with the Gospel. I find that they want to know how they can witness effectively to colleagues at work or to their neighbours During our discussions many people share how they have often struggled to get a point across when they felt an opportunity arose. While others have explained how frustrated they felt when it seemed that no one really wanted to listen.

I sometimes answer them by asking a question which is, “Do you think you have gained the credibility so that people will listen to you”? It is a question that is worth asking ourselves on occasion. It will mean asking ourselves whether we have demonstrated that we have the quality of being believable or are worthy of trust. In witnessing to someone that we know, it is absolutely critical. 

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” Collisions 4: 5-6

“Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise” Ephesians 5: 15

Building good relationships in order to witness is a type of witnessing is that is sometimes known as relational evangelism. It is the personal type of witnessing that we carry out amongst our work colleagues or close friends letting the light in our lives shine so that people who know us can see the way we live our lives on a regular basis.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16

 Let me make it clear. Jesus didn’t say, “Go and build relationships, then preach the Gospel to all creation”. We must still use every other method to reach people. This longer term approach is not a modern replacement for street preaching, door knocking, using tracts amongst many others. These are all very effective if they are done in the right way.  

Using the type of approach, we must consider that very often in order for someone to listen to the Gospel, we must first earn a right to speak. It makes good sense then to remember that our neighbours and work colleagues are really watching us. If our lives consistently point towards Christ and what we believe in a good way, it will provide much-needed credibility for when the opportunity arises.

Key Point Very often in order for someone to listen to the Gospel, we must first earn a right to speak

This is the reason that we are to always be prepared, behaving wisely in our relationships enabling us to take opportunities as they arise. So that it will win us the right to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For some time as an adult lecturer, I taught on communication psychology. On the courses I ran I would often explain a well-known fact which is that: People make assumptions about us according to the way we behave.

It’s absolutely true and we should be mindful of it. People judge us by our appearance, by what we say and what we do. That is why we need to work on building our relationships so that we can earn the credibility to take an opportunity arises.  Lifestyle and relational evangelism focus on doing good, setting a good example so that our lifestyle attracts curiosity. 

For example, imagine that a co-worker was a bit of a gossip and used the odd profane word in conversation. If that person was to share the Gospel with another colleague, there would be an immediate credibility problem because of the way they behaved in work didn’t match up with the way a good Christian should be acting. In other words, they wouldn’t have earned the right to speak. Let alone to get a person to seriously listen.