“Never walk into a room to convert someone but to understand.” – Erwin McManus (Author and Pastor of Mosaic Church, a non-denomination mega church in the Los Angeles, California Area)
As a follower of Christ, I’ve shared my faith on many occasions. I’m not bragging. Ministers are kind of supposed to do that. It’s my job, right? Well, I haven’t always been a “minister” or a “professional Christian”. I became a Christian when I was 12, and immediately started telling people about Jesus. I wanted everyone to know the joy of being in a relationship with Jesus Christ and the creator of the universe. I’ve shared the message of Gospel in neighborhoods, schools and colleges, on the job, in churches, in multiple states, in foreign countries, etc. It’s not always easy or comfortable, but it’s something I’m passionate about doing.
I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a room to “convert someone”. I may have been bold, but not so arrogant that I thought I had that kind of power. I’m not sure how many I’ve actually led to Christ or have been converted to Christianity because of my efforts. Only God knows that because He is the one who does the “converting” anyway. I can’t convert anyone. I’m just a messenger. I plant the seeds and water the plants. The Apostle Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NIV)
A messenger is a person who carries or relays a message from one person to another. The messenger doesn’t always know what’s in the message or even shares the opinion of the one who is sending it. Sometimes the messenger is just the middleman or courier. In our case, we are more than just middlemen or couriers. We are “co-workers in God’s service”. (1 Corinthians 3:9) We have stock in the company. Jesus commissioned the disciples and us to relay His message to the entire world.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-19 NIV
As we know, this passage is called the “Great Commission”. A commission means “an order granting the power to perform various acts or duties”. Jesus spent three years showing the disciples how make disciples. They were living proof of His disciple making power. Now, He is passing it on to them and us. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells them again that they will be His witnesses or messengers, but He is also letting them know that they will be receiving a power boost, Holy Ghost power boost! Hallelujah!
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 NIV
On the “Day of Pentecost” in Acts 2, they received the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to speak in tongues, to communicate in such a way that they would be easily understood.
“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.” Acts 2:5-6 NIV
It’s always great to be able to understand what is being communicated. As a person with a hearing impairment, I know how frustrating it is when I can’t hear or understand what is being said. The message of Gospel would not have been understood without the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit built a bridge of communication and understanding.
Without understanding we can’t learn or “know” much of anything. Remember the opening song from “Schoolhouse Rock”? “As your body grows bigger. Your mind grows flowered. It’s great to learn cause knowledge is power!” Knowledge is power. Knowing and understanding are paramount to our existence, the ability to learn and communicate. To understand is to “perceive the intended meaning of words, a language, or a speaker, to interpret or view something in a particular way.” But it also means to be “sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings; tolerant and forgiving”.
This is where our quote from Erwin McManus really speaks volumes. Here it is again, “Never walk into a room to convert someone but to understand.” First of all, without being sympathetically aware of the other people’s feelings or taking the time to get to know or understand them, our ability to communicate is greatly diminished. Why? Because when we don’t take the time to understand people it sends a strong message that we really don’t care about them, that what they are thinking and feeling doesn’t really matter. So, they tune us out or reject what we’re trying to communicate.
Christianity, the message of the Gospel, is relational and personal. It cares deeply about what people think and feel. It’s not just a script that we rehearse so that we can win converts or put a notch on our Bibles.
A few weeks ago, I shared about going “soul winning” when I was at a Christian school in Marietta, Georgia. We went door to door telling people about Jesus. There was nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t very effective because we weren’t taking the time to get know anyone or understand them, so they would say, “no thanks” and close the door. When we came back to the school, we would tally up our “converts”, there usually weren’t very many and some of those probably just said yes so that we would leave them alone.
Understanding requires investment, time, and energy. It requires relationship. Churches have to think the same way. That’s part of the reason why we spend so much time, money, and energy reaching out to our community. It’s why we open up the gym for 5th Quarters, to let people play basketball, take showers, and do their laundry. It’s why I coach football at the high school. In order to minister to our community, we have to understand and know it. We also have to be known to be trusted. Understanding and investing in people’s lives opens up opportunities. It doesn’t guarantee success by any means but it’s more effective. We don’t care or understand to “win them over”. We’re not trying to manipulate people to “join up”. They aren’t just a means to an end. We do it because we care about them whether they convert or not.
There is one other observation that I want to make about understanding. Understanding doesn’t mean agreement. We don’t have to agree to understand or to be sympathetic to someone else. Understanding goes beyond agreement, conversion, and maybe even what divides us. We can be polar opposites never agreeing about anything, but still have an understanding, maybe even a relationship.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.