Many times when the church teaches about evangelism, the church teaches that you present the gospel story, and people take it or leave it. And when we're not teaching that, we teach people to answer rational questions about faith, and that any other issues that come up are just excuses not to surrender their lives to God. At least, this is what I heard at church.
But this isn't all that effective in our culture. Because we seem to be more about feelings than anything else these days. We fall in love, we fall out of love. We chase our dreams and follow our hearts. We evaluate things based on how they make us feel, not so much based on right or wrong or even what we think.
So if we buy into the belief that the only barriers to faith are rational ones, we are stuck talking about faith only on a plane where very few in our culture are actually living. We present the ideas, we "do our part," and then we're free to walk away. It was God they rejected, after all.
But over the past few years, I've really become convinced that the only way to reach a majority of the people in our culture is to engage their emotions and face those emotional barriers head on. And I firmly believe that we can have a huge impact on helping others to see a way through those emotional barriers to find a fulfilling and life-changing relationship with Jesus.
But the first step is to be able to recognize the emotional barriers.
One challenge is that emotional barriers are often disguised as rational questions. A person who's struggling to understand God's goodness and trustworthiness will often want to talk about how God could allow so much evil in the world. But no matter how many times we walk through the theology and reasons that deal with that question, a person isn't going to make it through that question until they start to see themselves in relationship to God and start to bring that issue to him in a relational way. I want to talk more about this part of things next week.
For now, I think the important question is how to you figure out what the emotional barriers in a person's life are? How can you identify them if the person is using all rational language to describe them?
The first thing I'd recommend is prayer--pray that God will supernaturally reveal a person's barriers to faith to you. Pray expecting to be a part of walking through that barrier with the person. Pray knowing that God longs to see all people reconciled to him through his son.
Second, you have to listen to another person's story. Listen for the experiences and challenges that have a lot of emotions tied to them. I remember having a conversation with a very good friend... we were just talking about life, and I brought up something spiritual as it related to my own life--I was just talking about my own experience. And he went off, and told me this whole story of a difficult experience he'd had with his parents' church a long, long time ago. I learned a lot that day about things that were holding him back from faith in God. But the emotional outburst was the clue that I needed to be listening very closely.
Third, listen for a person's distorted ideas about who God actually is. A person's emotional responses against God are often against a particular idea they have about who God is rather than against God himself. Sometimes helping a person through an emotional barrier to faith consists of helping a person to let go of misconceptions and meet the real and living God.
So what about you? What emotional barriers have you faced in your own relationship with God? What are the emotional triggers that set your friends off? What are the true emotional questions that stand behind those trigger points?