What helps in any endeavor is learning from our mistakes. The Lord’s work consists of influencing people to obedience in God (Matthew 5:13-16; Colossians 1:28). Influence comes down to a matter of communication, whether verbal or non-verbal. Sometimes we are guilty of neglecting the common sense principles of influence that people in the world use effectively (Luke 16:8). To be specific, there are three mistakes we often make — mistakes that could be very instructive if we would learn from them.
First, we attempt to establish relationships without changing ourselves. We should not neglect to take seriously the Lord’s warning about removing the beam in our own eye before we work on the speck in someone else’s (Matthew 7:3-5). If our own conduct is not what it ought to be, our words will have little effect on others. Emerson wrote, “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.” We must model the conduct we wish to encourage in others (Acts 20:33-35; 1 Corinthians 11:1).
Second, we advise before we understand. In general, we have to earn the right to be heard by showing ourselves to be genuinely concerned about the other person. Sympathy has to do with feeling what others feel; empathy has to do with understanding the situation of others (Philippians 2:1-2). Someone once said, “He has the right to teach who has the heart to care.” One aspect that made Jesus a great teacher was His perfect understanding and compassion for His hearers (Matthew 9:36).
Third, we assume that good example and relationship are sufficient. Character and compassion are not enough to communicate the truth of the gospel. It takes words (Acts 11:13-14; Romans 10:17). The gospel is of no benefit if it is not made “manifest” (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4). Your prospect will not be able to read your mind and get the point without the need to make it explicit, to come right out and say it. We must live as we should and seek to understand others, but ultimately we must “warn” and “teach” (Colossians 1:28).
If we are to be effective, we are going to have avoid these mistakes. Our character, concern and language influences others. All three of the mistakes above are attempted shortcuts; they are misguided efforts in which we try to have one without the others, but ultimately these shortcuts prove to be unsuccessful. Strive for a mature ability to influence others for good (1 Timothy 4:11-16).