I’ve been on medical mission trips that would set up free clinics in villages. The first place in the clinic that people would go to is triage. This is where people are assessed by someone in order to determine to which doctor they should be sent. If there’s an issue with headaches, they would be sent to one doctor. For stomach problems, they would be sent to a different doctor, and so on. Triage is super important, because if you get sent to the wrong doctor, you might not be treated for whatever problem you have. A correct diagnosis ensures an effective treatment and recovery.
I think that Christians can learn a lot from the concept of triage and use it in their calling to go make disciples. A professor of mine used the concept of triage to talk about the importance of listening well to others so that you can speak pertinent biblical truth to them, and the idea has stuck with me ever since. Though my professor used a different name, I give him credit for what I’m calling biblical triage, and I want to talk about how to use this concept to become more effective disciples of king Jesus.
I would define biblical triage as the process of discerning which biblical truths will be good news for a person. This process isn’t a static list of doctrinal propositions, which unfortunately can be the tendency for evangelism. While some of these doctrines are absolutely essential for people to understand, the use of a list to walk through with someone can sometimes downplay the necessity to learn someone’s story.
So how is biblical triage different? I think that the main distinction is its emphasis on relationship. Biblical triage involves listening to people, engaging in conversation, and demonstrating that you care about them. Listening to someone communicates that you desire to learn their story, which is a great way to show love to someone. And listening to someone will let you know what their goals and values are, how they define success, if they see themselves as a failure or not, etc. Through relationship, get to know what makes their heart beat and their blood boil. Find out what they long for in life. As you learn their story, you will see what sorts of beliefs they are holding to, which is key for biblical triage. Ask yourself, “What sorts of lies and idols are in this person’s life?” When you’ve learned their story well enough to identify these things, you will be ready to speak good news to them.
The latter part of biblical triage is addressing the areas in a person’s life that need to hear good news. This last process requires a good understanding of the biblical story. As Christians, we need to learn God’s story of redemption and restoration through the reign of king Jesus, because learning God’s story is how we love God well. Once we have a good grasp of the comprehensive nature of the biblical story, we will be able to speak into every area of a person’s life. We will be able to speak good news to someone that will truly resonate with someone. Ask yourself, “What aspect of the biblical story will be good news for this person to hear?” Of course, all of our points should lead to Jesus, because he is at the center of the biblical story; but we need to start where a person is and then lead them to Christ. God’s story speaks into every area of life, and so speaking into certain parts of life that are important to a particular person will make the Good News truly good news for someone.
Biblical triage is a way to live out our call to love God and love people. We love God well by learning His story well, and we love people well by learning their stories well. Once we learn both stories well, we will know how the biblical story speaks good news into a particular person’s life. So be a good listener. Love people well. Love God well. And make Jesus look good in the way you speak life-giving good news to others.