FIRST-PERSON: Ask others about themselves

by Chuck Lawless, posted Monday, June 26, 2017 (one year ago)

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) -- I can only wonder how many people I pass every day without knowing much about them.

Some of these folks are neighbors I still don't know well. Others are coworkers and students on a campus large enough that knowing everyone closely is not easy. Some are members of our local church, a three-year-old church plant.

Here's what I'm learning, however. Everybody has a story, and I'm richer if I know those stories. To get there, though, I must ask people about themselves. Here are some reasons why asking questions makes a difference:

1. It requires you to take attention off yourself. When you really want to know about others, it's hard to keep the spotlight on yourself.

2. It affirms others. Few things are as encouraging to us as someone else genuinely wanting to know about us. You'll make somebody's day better when you show that kind of interest.

3. It makes you listen. That means you may have to lay down your phone, close your computer and communicate face-to-face with undivided attention.

4. It helps you know better the people you lead. If you're a church leader, my guess is that you don't know everyone in your church at a genuinely personal level. You likely won't know them, either, until you take the initiative to ask them about themselves.

5. It moves introverts out of their comfort zone. I know it does, because I'm that introvert. Making a commitment to ask intentional questions allows me to engage in conversations with less anxiety.

6. It helps guide your praying. A generic prayer of, "God, help our church" has little comparison with, "God, please help ____________ as she seeks a new job where she can be your witness." The latter kind of detail comes only when we ask people about themselves.

7. It's a means to connect with non-believers. Evangelism is sometimes difficult because we don't know how to engage people we don't already know. Learning to ask simple questions like "Where are you from?" and "What do you do for a living?" can lead to "Do you attend church?" and "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?"

You, too, are likely going to pass many people today -- including those whose names you know well, but whose stories you don't know at all. Slow down and learn some of their stories. You'll grow to appreciate others more and you'll pray for them with more direction and care.

Chuck Lawless is vice president for spiritual formation and ministry centers and professor of evangelism and missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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