Meet Them Where They Are

Acts 22:3-16

There’s an old adage that has always stayed with me from my days in sales. It said, “In a sales situation, what the buyer has to say in the sales call, has much more potential to influence the success or failure of the call, than what the seller has to say.”  In other words, sales success is more likely to occur when the seller asks good questions and then listens for the answers, rather than blindly launching into a sales pitch.

 

To be effective evangelizers, there is an element of it that closely resembles that of an effective salesperson.  Both are about building relationships. To be an effective evangelizer, our focus must always be on the other person. We need to meet them where they are.

 

I saw a commentary that reflected on the question posed by Jesus to Paul in the first reading: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” That question prompted this thought: “Don’t you find it odd that these would be the first words from Jesus to Paul?”

 

One would think that a natural response from Jesus to Paul would have been to launch into a thunderous rebuke against Paul’s violent past. He could have commanded Paul to repent. He could have even tried to set him straight by employing one of his many parables.

But Jesus chose instead to ask Paul a probing question: Tell me, why are you doing this? In effect saying, what are you hoping to accomplish?

 

God makes use of questions in this manner in other places in the Scriptures. When speaking to Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, God asked a number of questions: “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree?”

We can remember Jesus on the road to Emmaus asking two disciples, “What are you looking for as you walk along?”

 

Of course, God knew the answers to these questions. He knew why Paul was persecuting him, but he chose a humble, other centered approach rather than a condemning, self-righteous, or condescending one. He invited these individuals to speak for themselves so that he could meet them where they were. By doing so, he allowed them to examine their actions and find for themselves the road to reconciliation with him. For the Good News to be meaningful to others, we must establish the connection between where they are right now and what is possible.

 

Some have tended to equate evangelization with having all the right answers. They interpret telling the Good News as winning an argument or proving someone else wrong, through the power of God’s “truth.” 

 

I read a reflection from a devout young woman who confessed that this errant view of evangelization caused her to push more people away from the faith than brought them to it. Why? Because that view was born more out of her pride and lack of charity than it was out of love.

 

She said that the use of apologetics (we can define apologetics as a systematic argumentative discourse in defense of faith or religious doctrine), might remove an academic obstacle that stands between that person and God, but (as she said) “it rarely moves anyone closer to him”.

 

She says, “What I have found works best when evangelizing others is to really listen to where they are coming from. Not in order to prove them wrong, but rather to truly accept that person who is in front of you as a son or daughter of God, made in his image and likeness, and uniquely made to glorify his name. When we are able to do this, we can truly love them where they are at, in order to help them grow closer to God.”

 

It isn’t our job to convert anyone – we can’t. Only God’s grace, chosen through a free act of the other person’s choosing, can allow conversion to take place. We are only a limited instrument of the hand of God. We are called to love others and help them journey to the light.

 

Here’s a sampling some of the potential thought provoking questions that she thought might facilitate evangelization: How do you handle the rough parts of life? What keeps you up at night? What are you most passionate about? Tell me about the role faith had played in your family growing up, if any? What brings meaning to your life? In what ways do you feel like you think God has a plan for your life?

 

Of course these aren’t questions that we’d ask at the checkout line at the supermarket, but they are questions that we’d be inclined to ask of someone we cared about and had the time to hear their answers.

 

Evangelization is about sharing the Good News. But to do so, we need to show a genuine interest in others, to meet them where they are, we need to pray for them, we need to ask good, probing questions, and then listen for their answers before sharing our own experiences. And lastly, we need to model love for them, being an attractive witness to our faith by what we say and do. That’s what a disciple does!

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