Tuesday, April 28, 2009

a cure for gospel tongue-tie

Tongue-tied adj. unable to speak. Synonyms: aghast, amazed, astounded, at a loss for words, bashful, choked up, dazed, dumbfounded, dumbstruck, garbled, inarticulate, mum, mute, shocked, shy, silent, speechless, stammering, uncommunicative, voiceless, obstructed.

I know people who talk about the gospel in a relaxed, friendly, winsome way. I'm not one of them.

I'm not bad at ‘God talk’, as they call it in the Two Ways to Live Training Course. I let people know that I'm a Christian, I tell them my husband is in Christian work, and I talk about praying for my children. I think this is supposed to produce gospel opportunities, but that's usually as far as it goes.

When an opportunity does come up in conversation, my mouth seizes up. I read suggested dialogues, like John Chapman's ‘Bus stop graffiti’, and I groan inwardly in despair. Put me in a situation like this and my brain races, my heart thumps and the moment slips away. If I say anything, I sound so nervous, we're both relieved to move onto a new topic. Later, of course, a thousand witty, helpful, penetrating responses occur to me.

I pray for courage, boldness and the words to say. I feel prepared (1 Pet 3:14-16)—I've learned a gospel outline, I can explain it in my own words, and I'm confident about responding to questions (although people seldom ask them!). I make friends with neighbours and school mums, and I try to love them, but in conversation, I suffer from gospel tongue-tie.

Every couple of months, I spend quality time with my hairdresser. We get along really well, and we've had a few chats around the edges of what we believe. I've learned so much from her about how to get past the block on my tongue. I've also learned a lot from Christian friends who don't see themselves as great evangelists.

So, from one inept evangelist to another, for those of you who find it hard to share the gospel, here's some things I've found helpful recently in overcoming gospel tongue-tie:

  • I practise what I want to say. It sounds counterintuitive, but when I rehearse what to say before a conversation, I'm more natural and relaxed. I know my friends will ask how I'm going, so I plan an answer. Last year, my father-in-law died. While I was driving to meet my friend, I thought of what to say, and practised it out loud: “He trusted in Jesus, so he knew he was going to heaven”. I felt silly, and people driving past me must have wondered who I was talking to, but my friend and I had a longer chat about Christianity than ever before.
  • I ask questions. It's easy to treat people as projects, not people. I want to love my friend by hearing her point of view. How can I speak the gospel into her life if I don't know her? Why should she listen to me if I never listen to her? I'd like to learn to ask more questions. “What do you find helpful about doing yoga?” “When you say I'm the only Christian you know, how do you see that as different from being Catholic?” “What's happened to make you dislike religion so much?”
  • I get to know her issues so that I can respond to them. I might be tongue-tied when someone talks about bus stop graffiti, but my friend talks a lot about how much she hates religion. Inevitably, I can't think of anything to say, so I've come up with some possible responses: “Jesus hated religion too. He gave religious people a really hard time!” “Yes, I hate religion as well. God isn't interested in empty rituals; he wants a real relationship with us.” “God agrees with you. He doesn't just want us to give him a bit of time at Easter, he wants us to serve him 100 per cent all the time”. I'll say it until it sounds like something I could say.
  • I'd like to follow up on our conversations. Sandy Grant suggests, "Sometimes it will be appropriate to go back to the person and say,
    You know what you said about X the other day, I didn’t know what to say, but I couldn’t get it out of my head, and here’s what’s come to me since.
    I was thinking more about what you said yesterday, and here’s something I’ve found helpful [or my minister or friend recommended] in reading on the topic… Are you interested in having a copy?
    It won’t always be suitable, but going back to the person shows you really take them seriously and they got you thinking. I suspect many people will respect that. (But don’t over do it!)"
In the end, none of these conversation starters is a substitute for getting to know the God of grace. Only his love on the cross can compel me to share it freely and fearlessly with others. Only as God helps me to love people more than I fear them will I begin to overcome gospel tongue-tie. It's the gospel that changes people's hearts; I need to open my mouth and start sharing it.

I sometimes wonder why God put me in my friends' lives; didn't he realize that someone else would do a far better job? But I can trust God's wisdom in choosing me to be Christ's representative to my particular friends and neighbours. I can trust his power to work in people's hearts through the gospel, even when the only Christian my friend knows is an inept evangelist—me.

What have you learned about overcoming gospel tongue-tie?

First published at Sola Panel.

image is from Katie Tegtmeyer at flickr.com

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