Last night I finished Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, a biography by Colin Duriez who was a student of Schaffer’s at L’abri. I began reading the book a while back because I knew next-to-nothing about the man. All I knew was that he was a big player in the shaping of Evangelicalism in America in the 20th century and he developed some kind of Christian institution in Switzerland that became very influential.
While there was much I took away from his life and ministry, perhaps what impacted me most was something that had nothing to do with his books, his documentaries, his apologetics, or his wildly popular speaking ministry. What impacted me most about Schaeffer was the fact that the dude knew how to have a conversation. On a number of occasions, Duriez points out the unique way in which Schaeffer locked in to a conversation with a person so that they walked away sincerely blessed. Take this quote for instance:
When Mr. Schaeffer would talk to you, there was nothing else in the world that was going on. He was totally focused on you and what you were talking about and was very involved, very interested. It wouldn’t matter who the person was. It could be from the most simple person to the most intellectual-that focus and interest and involvement was the same. I saw it time and time again. I experienced it myself, and it wasn’t anything false. He was really interested in people, and was something that was very, very striking. I’d never seen that degree of concentration and having that kind of attention, I don’t think, with anyone else. That enormous personality that he had, it would all be focused on you. And he never forgot anything you ever told him.
Schaeffer’s daughter, Susan, also remembered this from her childhood and reflected,
… he seemed to have an intuition of letting a person actually enjoy things, become involved, ask their own questions, think their thoughts, and work through their thoughts.
I’ve met very few people that share this quality with Schaeffer, and I’m not one of them. Many of need to take some pages from Schaeffer’s playbook on how to treat people like they matter. How may conversations have we had with people where we are only half there and the other half of us is walking through our to-do list or crafting what we’re going to say next that’s “more important” than what they’re saying in the moment? Talking with people like Schaeffer did, doesn’t come from simply keeping your eyes fixed on the person’s mouth as their lips move and words come out. It comes from cultivating a heart for people that reflects God’s heart for people. It comes from consistently reminding yourself that every person has value as God’s creation, stamped with his image (Gen. 1:27). It comes from reminding yourself that God made us to be in relationship with him as well as other people.