Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Talking As If Someone Is Listening In. Be Mindful of the Unknown Audience

I got a link to the newest CMI articles in my inbox and clicked on an article by Warwick Armstrong. The link is below:


It described a discussion between Armie (I'm arbitrarily shortening his name for the convenience, it's not meant to be silly) and someone he's known for years called Peter. He's exhausted the arguments of logic and science and Scripture already, and any new debate with this man would undoubtedly be repeating old information. But he went along with it anyway, and as it turned out, Peter wasn't the target audience, but God providentially placed two people nearby who heard the conversation and joined in, eagerly receiving what they heard.

On Armie's bio page, he says,
 “Perhaps I won’t change the minds of those who are vocally and doggedly clinging to wrong beliefs. But I know I have encouraged numerous believers and have changed the thinking of some on the sidelines.”
This immediately clicked for me. There's a reason I clicked on the link in the first place. A big part of my early witnessing endeavors has been not in person (there were times for that, too, at college, and I appreciated the opportunity to engage with people one-on-one), but instead it was in the form of immensely emotionally exhausting internet-forum fights on a site hosted by my university. In short order, it was clear that despite all of the powerful proofs I had levied to demolish my opponents' arguments, they refused, irrationally, to acknowledge the truth of what I told them about the Bible. Since logic was not on their side, they attacked me personally. There's a popular Thomas Jefferson quote that goes, "resort is had to ridicule only when reason and facts are against us." Indeed. Over a period of roughly two years, there were semi-private, semi-public controversial debates held on this forum that were seen by, it's anyone's guess, several dozen to several thousand people.

The number of people directly affected is unknown, but those who were displeased with knowing that [intelligent conservative Christians] existed talked to others, and so many more people knew my name but without any understanding of who I was, only that I was moderately infamous because of the ongoing attempts at character assassination by my self-appointed enemies.

What was very encouraging were the few moments over that long time period when someone who had never commented before made a post in support of my position, or defending me against personal attacks, or calling out the indecent behavior of those others. They would reveal that they had read the threads off and on but without commenting. In internet language, these are called "lurkers." These people were my real audience. And an even amount of people posted public support or emailed me a private encouragement. That was enough to show me that they were "out there," and that I was having more of an impact beyond the few individuals who were constantly rearing their heads to attack me on any and every issue of discussion.

That's the lesson of evangelism both in public and on the internet--which is also public. You might only ever interact with people who are against you and can never be swayed by reason. But it's the silent majority who reads or listens but doesn't publicly take a side that you're really trying to reach.

Think about Jesus and the Pharisees. Sure, he was criticizing them. But for whose benefit? Not the Pharisees. The crowd. And through the memories of the Gospel writers, for the benefit of all of us believers who would read the written record later.

Keep spreading the truth. The people you're reaching are likely the ones you'll never know you reached, this side of heaven. This is one area where we walk by faith and not by sight. We know that we're having an impact for the Kingdom in our obedience, even if we can't see what the immediate effect of our works are.

I've found myself choosing my words differently when I've talked with someone in public and noticed that someone could be overhearing. Consider that your real listeners may not be the people who are talking back. Be mindful of the silent "lurkers."

~ Rak Chazak

No comments:

Post a Comment