In [American] football, “hang time” refers to how long the pigskin remains aloft after being kicked. In basketball, it’s the length of time a player is suspended as he soars through the air to dunk the ball. In the unexpected adventure of evangelism, “hang time” refers to something else: hanging out with your seeking friends long enough to really get to know them, to understand their questions and concerns, to deepen the trust between you, and to allow yourselves to delve deeply into spiritual conversations.
If you’re a parent, you know that the best discussions with your children, especially when they are little, don’t come in the first few minutes of your interaction with them. They come much later, after you’ve invested enough time to convince them that you really do care about what’s going on in their lives.
One of the most moving examples of a Christian investing “hang time” is described by Terry Muck in his book Those Other Religions in Your Neighborhood. He recounts a letter written by a man who had lacked any spiritual interest, but who lived next door to a committed Christian.
They had a casual relationship involving talks over the backyard fence, borrowing lawn mowers, stuff like that. Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer and soon died. Here’s part of the letter he wrote afterward:
I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My neighbor stayed with me all night.
He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over to me and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.”
I go to church now. My neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to be like that. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.
Isn’t it interesting how he equates the time his friend spent with him—saying nothing and doing nothing in particular—with “caring and love”?
So who do you need some “hang time” with? Maybe it’s an acquaintance who is going through a crisis in his life. Or perhaps it’s someone from work or your neighborhood with whom you have only a surface-level connection. Spending time with them might foster a new friendship and open the door to spiritual conversations.
In his research, Thom Rainer found that one of the leading factors in influencing the unchurched to come to faith in the Lord is a personal relationship with a Christian, most likely a family member or friend, leaving “little doubt as to the importance of personal evangelism in reaching the unchurched.”
Let me give you several ideas that you can use over the next year to lead some friend or neighbor to Christ.
Get to know the person as well as he or she will allow. Be a good listener. We err in thinking that witnessing is merely us talking and them listening. Ask for and listen to their story. Ask questions and seek to understand their life’s journey. The key here is relationship. Build an honest friendship based on mutual respect. Let your genuine concern for their well-being be evident. Love them in spite of flaws and sins.
Socialize with your friend. Enjoy each other’s presence. Introduce them to other Christians. Let them introduce you to their lost friends. This is what the apostle Matthew did after he left his tax collector’s booth to follow Jesus. Evidently, he threw a party and invited all his “sinner” friends and associates to come. He also invited Jesus. (See Mark 2:14–17)
Let your life be transparent. When you put on masks for different occasions, people will not see Jesus in you and you will not speak of Him for fear that your mask might slip off. When you are transparent, people can see Jesus through you and your words spoken in witness ring true.
The greatest and best witnessing tool is one that is often overlooked—the Bible. As you develop a relationship with a lost person, ask if he would like to read the Bible together. Getting together once a week to read a chapter or two may be a good starting point.
Above all, pray for the salvation of your friend. Ask God to use your love and friendship to draw her to Jesus. One by one, love people to Jesus so that one by one the whole world may know Him.
—Woody D. Wilson
Discipling a person involves having a personal connection with them, teaching them, mentoring them, praying with and for them. It’s giving them time, answering their questions, spiritually feeding them and showing them how to feed themselves.
To disciple someone, you don’t have to be a gifted Bible teacher or have to know all there is to know about God; rather, discipling means that you do what you can to help others along their spiritual path. Not everyone is a good teacher, but pretty much everyone can share some of what they have learned about faith, God, love, Jesus and salvation with someone. You can give them a Bible or a New Testament or other reading material. You can try to answer their questions, or share what you have learned. You can pray with them, thus showing them how to pray and providing the spiritual support that comes when “two or three are gathered together in My name.”
Take a tip from Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People. The first and most important thing to show someone is that you love them. You do this by showing concern about them and interest in them, and the way you do that is by asking them questions about themselves and their life.
You will find, as Dale Carnegie says, there’s nothing most people like to talk about more than themselves. As he said, “The definition of a bore is someone who wants to talk about himself when I want to talk about myself.”
Sometimes you preach too much. You do all the talking, and you don’t show any interest in the person you’re talking to. You ask for a decision [for salvation] before you even find out whether the guy is already a Christian. All you’re interested in is getting a decision.
I used to go house-to-house witnessing with a preacher. Knock, knock, knock. A lady comes to the door. “Now my dearly beloved, I would have you to know that the Scripture says,” boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!
You’d have thought he just entered the pulpit and started preaching his sermon. The woman is in the middle of the wash, has got a baby draped over one arm, and here he’s starting off with a sermon. Even as dumb as I was, I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to do.
The first thing I would have said was, “Oh, I’m sorry, we interrupted your washing and the baby’s crying. We won’t bother you right now. I see you’re really busy.” Nobody’s got time to stand there at the door with a baby in one arm screaming and the wash going on and whatnot.
You have to show consideration, interest, and concern about the person and their problems. If you really have the compassion of the Holy Spirit and you’ve got the love of God in your heart, you’re going to be like Jesus.
Ask them questions, listen to their answers, get their whole life story. That may be the best thing you could do for them—just giving them someone to talk to, to pour out their heart to.
All psychiatrists and psychologists say the same thing: It does people good just to tell you their story. So ask them questions and show that you’re really interested in them and concerned about them.
Once they’ve given you their whole story, then you can begin to give them the answers to their problems—scriptures, and the love of God. Tell them what they need, what the solutions are. But how do you know what scripture they need, what solution they need, or what they need if you don’t listen to what their problems are, if you don’t find out their background?
You don’t walk into a doctor’s office and sit down in front of his desk and all of a sudden he says, “Well now, what you need is so-and-so, and I’m going to give you this prescription. Goodbye!” He sits there and listens to you and what your trouble is.
You’re a soul doctor, and it’s your business to listen to the patient and his symptoms and even what he thinks is the trouble with him. Even if it’s not right, you listen and you try to hear his side of the story. If you don’t hear about his symptoms and his problems and all these things, how are you going to make the right prescription?
—David Brandt Berg
Most witnessing efforts necessitate that we take the time to build a relationship with the lost person and that we truly listen to their needs. This requires a time commitment to an individual or a family. Enough of our “hit and run” attempts at winning the lost. We go in “guns blazing” and get a decision at the expense of the soul. Many seekers and interested people are “lost” to the church because we have besieged their homes with rapid-fire, automatic-weapon type witnessing. It is as if we are saying, “I have some great news to share with you. You have approximately 5 to 10 minutes to hear it, understand it, appreciate it, and receive it. Ready? Here are four simple truths you must know.”
—Woody D. Wilson
The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
This is an important principle which applies to cultures as well as to individuals. Paul was saying that it’s necessary to be relatable, to understand that people as well as cultures are different, and that to win them it’s important to integrate, to recognize what relates to them, what’s important to them, and to meet them in that sphere of their interest or culture.
Before they will show interest in what makes you different, they need to recognize those things that you have in common with them, that you share some of the same values they do, that you are relatable, and not someone who has an air of superiority or is disconnected from the issues they care about.
To be effective in making the Gospel known to people, it’s necessary to relate to them. To reach the people in your city or your country, or those you work with in your job, or your neighbors and acquaintances, you need to understand them, their culture, what they value. It’s important to integrate into the culture so that they can learn to trust you as an individual, and in trusting you they will feel safe enough to accept what you tell them about God, about His love, about His Son.
As David Berg taught:
You can’t very well tell people that you love them if you don’t make the slightest attempt to learn their language, customs, culture, history, religion, characteristics, nationality traits, etc., which are all a part of them. We can hardly hope to understand them fully or reach them effectively without showing a genuine loving interest in who they really are and what they’re really like.
This has always been a part of the secret of the success of every truly faithful missionary: A genuine endeavor of identification with the people, a true loving sample of God’s love and a clear presentation of His message in some way that they can understand.
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