Turn These Four Emotional Barriers Into Pathways To A Spiritual Conversation
The sign outside our church building heralded a scripture verse. It was a declaration to those driving or walking past our entryway that all have sinned. As I grew-up in my faith, I read it countless times as I came to the building2, 3, 4 times a week for worship, discipleship groups ministry team meetings, prayer gatherings. It was not only a declaration to the community, but it was also a reminder to the members of our call to evangelism.
As I grew in my understanding of the Bible, I began to think about what our scripture choice revealed about our evangelistic emphasis. I began to see the connection between our Pastor’s passion for the apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans and our church sign’s headlining of our guilt before God due to our sin. Our communication of the Gospel of Jesus focused on sin, guilt, falling short of the glory of God.
While I am grateful for the foundation laid by the leaders and teachers in my childhood congregation, I have long ago realized that, while the verse we chose and the teaching emphasized by our Pastor throughout Romans is biblically accurate, it is not the sole way in which to invite people to investigate the Gospel; news that is good. Understanding our guilt is essential to understanding salvation in Christ, but it is not the only way to begin spiritual conversations.
It seems to me Jesus began conversations partly based on the emotional status of the person or group he encountered. For example:
- The woman at the well was shamed and shunned by the community, having been discarded by pervious husbands
- The woman in sin knew she was guilty and was in fear of her life
- The Pharisees were angry at how Jesus threatened Jewish traditions and their security
- The crowds gathered to listen with great anticipation and spiritual hunger
- The lame and the lepers were social outcasts, thereby poor, hungry, lonely
He, himself, was always the ultimate direction and destination of Jesus’ teaching: “I am the way…” but he began those encounters in-the-moment. He discerned the ‘what’ (situation) and ‘where’ (location) but especially the ‘who’ (condition). Following the leading of the Holy Spirit, he made a connection with each person or group in a way that related to their emotional state.
Every person you interact with has a primary touch point, an emotional path your message must travel. As people listen, they are thinking about the content (text) of what you say but are also wrapping their response in an emotion or feeling (context). They are not merely listening to determine if they agree or disagree or need clarification. They are taking their emotional temperature as to how your ideas make them feel.
- Do they fell as if you telling (talking to them) or selling (seeing them as a customer)?
- From their perspective, does it feel as if you are yelling (scolding or preaching)?
The dictionary and thesaurus have scores of terms that designate an emotional disposition. These four categories provide a simple template to categorize those many descriptors.
- Bad – Feeling guilt for wrong action or motivation; remorse, inferior, judged
- Sad – Feeling discouraged, dismissed, ignored, shamed, hurt by another’s action, lack of response or loss; desperate, despondent, dejected, pessimistic, sorrowful
- Mad – Feeling angry because of words said to them or about them, responding to the injustice of a person or an event; offended, annoyed, bitter, indignant, hateful, rage, unforgiving
- Glad – Feeling good, positive, or loved from an experience or a relationship; pleased; content, peaceful, hopeful, joyful, elated
Being sensitive to the primary attitude/feeling of the person we speak with does not indicate we are modifying our beliefs or reshaping the Gospel to fit the mood or whim of the hearer. We are praying and listening for the discernment and wisdom that will empower us to relate well to someone who needs the gift of eternal, endless and limitless, life.
- Is their emotional status a barrier or an open door?
- Would a question from you help hem reveal more about how they feel about life?
- How can you affirm the value of the person you are conversing with?
- Do you identify or have you had a similar experience or emotional response as the other person?
- Does a Scripture come to mind that has enlightened or inspired or convicted you?
- “Would it be ok with you if I said a prayer?
- Continue to listen to their story, until you see an opportunity to:
Speak forgiveness to guilt
Apply love to shame
Contrast grace to anger
Offer a better heaven to happiness
As a college student I was forever impacted by this comment on the “Graffiti” page of a Christian magazine (published by Inter-Varsity):
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JESUS IS THE ANSWER!
What’s the Question?
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Yes! Jesus is the answer.
But is it possible we too often lead with what we have discovered? Too quickly reached our conclusion without inviting or involving them in the process?
IF so, the result is we feel good because we have shared the good news but they have not been engaged in the conversation.
Before we get to the “who” of Jesus, we need to, like Jesus himself did, consider and respond to the “who” we are walking/talking with. What do they think and what makes them feel that way?
I believe to “always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope,” (1 Peter 3:15), we must do more than learn biblical doctrines and memorize a list of spiritual laws or a series of steps to salvation. Jesus is the answer, but to ignore the question on the mind and in the heart of the person you want to share with turns a conversation into a sales pitch. Discerning emotional status is like asking a guide for directions, which we hope will give us the opportunity to the talk about the person and work of Jesus Christ. A guide to the path that will help the seeker comprehend the truths of the Gospel more quickly, more clearly, more compellingly.