I used to believe, naively, that I was the key element when talking to people about the gospel message. As an ambitious and amateurish evangelist, I assumed unbelievers came to learn from me. The unbelievers’ glasses of seeking were empty, and they were thirsty—or so I thought! What could be more important than the gospel message I asked? Slowly but surely, I realized that no matter how well-prepared I was, the person would not be ready to listen if their social-emotional signals (SES) were not in the right zone.
Think for a minute, when was the last time you were finding it difficult to get the gospel message across and then realized that the person was worried by a recent job loss or was tired after sleeping for only a few hours the night before? Or when did you find communicating the gospel to be enjoyable and productive and then noticed that the person was calm, yet excited, about what you were sharing with them?
There’s nothing more important to me than understanding the emotional signals of those I am sharing my faith with. Do they feel angry, upset, scared, grumpy, sad, tired, lonely, satisfied, calm, joyful, excited, or a mixed combination? Figure 1 below shows the eleven SES in four color categories. The four colors represent the social-emotional signals.
Of the four major color categories, those who are in the red and blue sections are not quite ready to listen and share while people in the green or yellow states are more receptive. If we consider this four-color traffic signal system, red and blue indicate stop or proceed with caution, while green and yellow indicate go full throttle.
On the other hand, you might ask yourself, when was the last time you found it difficult to talk to someone because you were grumpy, perhaps after a fight with your spouse earlier that morning? Understanding your own SES is just as important, if not more important, than recognizing the state of the people you talk to.
I try to focus on maintaining a yellow or green signal when I’m sharing so I can better understand and support those who are seeking. In the real world of evangelism, the evangelist needs to know and regulate his/her own social emotional signals as well as evaluate that of the person with whom he/she is sharing.
The world-renown Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in his Art of War (孫子兵法) writes:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
To rephrase Sun Tzu, “If the evangelist knows the seeker and knows himself/herself, he/she need not fear the outcome of sharing the gospel.” As a Christian, how valid is the modified Sun
The positive impact of monitoring SES was seen at the 2021 annual Jesus Loves Chicago (JLC) campaign which took place from September 15 to 19 (See poster to the left).
We were blessed with a 30% success rate of conversion in the JLC southern division. Praise the Lord, this clearly was the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, the evangelists also told me that those who responded positively were in the SES ranges of green and yellow lending credence to the importance of SES stirring seekers to listen and more importantly to be receptive.
Being prepared to share what I believe is a vital part of my spiritual wellbeing. 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us,
But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you. But respond with gentleness and respect, But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
Now, I know that will not be likely to happen unless I know and understand both my SES and the SES of the seeker. Would you agree?
Ovid Wong, PhD is an education professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. His public education experience spans from the inner-city classroom of Chicago to the suburban office of the assistant superintendent. He is the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Outstanding Science Teacher in Illinois award; National Science Teacher Association’s …View Full Bio
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