Getting Others to Listen to the Gospel

The Gospel is the Good News.  So why does it seem so often like people do not want to hear it?

Have you ever tried to teach a class or give a witness or just speak one on one with someone and it felt like that there was a barrier of resistance?  Did it feel like you were talking to a wall?

That is because preaching is not a one-sided thing.  The words can be given, but they must also be received.  No matter how wonderful and beautiful your words may be, if the listener’s heart is closed it will be like waves crashing against the breakers.  Even our Lord knew this.  Judas was present for all of his great preaching’s and miracles, but his heart and mind were closed.

So we must search out ways to open the lines of communication.  However, we must be careful not to confuse style with substance.  Speaking the Word of the Lord in an honest yet unskilled way is much better than knowing all kinds of rhetorical tricks but with a watered-down Gospel.

Keeping this in mind, there are still some strategies that I have found helpful over the years.  Everyone has their own speaking style, but I believe that the following can aid you if you are struggling in communicating the message of God.

1. Prayer

Jesus said: “When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say.   For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.”  (Luke 12:11-12)  This is not a formality or a pointless piety.  We need God’s grace to be effective.  Surrender your words to Him.  We need to pray that the words spoken will be His and not our own.

2. Humor

Have you noticed how often someone begins a speech with a joke?  There is a reason for that.  Real genuine laughter is a spontaneous event in the person.  It always comes upon us like a pleasant surprise.

I read once about the difference between comedians who try to get their audiences to applaud as opposed the ones who try to get them to laugh.  Applause is a conscious activity.  It is giving approval for the comedian holding the right world-view.  But laughter is not usually conscious.  It happens as a natural reaction.

Let’s say that you come across an audience that is indifferent or hostile.  Their defenses are up.  Laughter can sneak around those defenses and touch the heart.  If I can make someone laugh, it means that my words have given them the pleasure of laughing.  If they have that pleasure, they will want to experience that pleasure again.  Thus they will be more inclined to listen to my words.

Ever since I was young I have collected jokes.  As a child I memorized my Bill Cosby comedy routines to do for friends and family.  Now, I take jokes and find ways to apply them to the topic at hand to make my audience want to hear my words.

3. Genuineness

One thing that I have discovered about high school students is that they are very good at spotting a phony.  We should not talk down to our audience and pander.

I remember this very intelligent speaker came to speak to students about some important safety issues.  This person said, “I know that some of you might think that this is whack, and it isn’t whack…”  At that point this person lost the entire audience.  Despite her excellent and accurate information, they dismissed her as someone fake.

We had another speaker who came and kept talking the way the students do, especially with the word “dude.”  But this worked because you could tell that this was genuinely how this person spoke.

In addition to not talking down, we should never talk up to people.  What I mean is that we shouldn’t try to impress those we think are smarter than us by using big, fancy diction.  Some of the most moving witnesses have been from some of the most plainspoken people I have met.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t polish our speaking style, but we should it should come from a place of truth.  For example, I am a movie, TV, and comic book geek.  I am also an unabashed Jesus freak.  My students may not always agree with me, but they know that I really believe what I’m saying and am trying (though often failing) to live it out.

4. Analogies

My great master, C.S. Lewis, is one of the most celebrated Christian authors because he was so potent in his analogies.  And Lewis was only following the lead of Our Lord, who spoke so often in parables to explain the mysteries of heaven.

I have found that when trying to explain a theological truth like Eucharist or a Biblical story like the call of Levi, it is incredibly helpful to transport the idea into the context of their everyday experience. 

Try to use analogies that make sense to you.  If they don’t make sense to you, they won’t make sense to others.  But also adapt them as much as possible to your audience.  When I teach adults I use a lot of analogies to marriage and children.  When I speak to teenagers I make more analogies to pop culture and social media.

5. Flexibility

When speaking about religion, there are several stumbling blocks people have in their lives.  For example, there are many Catholics who do not understand the Church’s teaching on contraceptives.  As a result, you may be giving a presentation on the sacrament of Penance, when out of nowhere a question will come up about birth control.  While you should use your discretion regarding how far off topic you want to go, be as ready as you can with an answer.  Not having an answer may make that person feel as though there is no rational response to their objection.  Of course, to have this flexibility, it requires a great deal of study.  And I want to make clear that if you do not know the answer, do not make one up.  Admitting ignorance is not nearly as bad as giving an ignorant answer.

6. Dynamism

Be alive and vibrant.  We need to “stir into a flame the gift of God” inside us.  If you are bored by your topic, your audience will be, too.  Find what excites you about your subject, be it the prophesies of Isaiah or the Church’s teaching on violence, and share your excitement.  Enthusiasm is contagious.

7. Boldness.

Be confident that you are standing on the Rock.  Truth is truth and we make no apologies.  If we come at the Gospel with timidity, it speaks to our confidence in its truth.  But if, without qualification, speak the Gospel message, people will respond.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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