Three Mistakes to Avoid When Reaching Religious People with the Gospel
If you are passionate about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others in your circle of influence, it is inevitable that you will come across someone with other religious beliefs. Obvious as it may be, we can often fail to think carefully about how to approach someone with another belief system. It does indeed require careful thinking, and this is where the problem rears its head.
I have also found in conversations with others that when many begin thinking about their approach, they not only over think it, they often think themselves out of ever starting the conversation! So, what can we do to balance this problem of 1) not making a plan and 2) over planning to the point that a conversation never begins?
I think the answer lies in thinking through a plan that avoids three common pitfalls. I have discussed these in many classes and training sessions over the years and have received a lot of positive feedback, so if you have a religious friend, co-worker, family member, or loved you’re trying to reach with the gospel, I am hopeful that you will find these helpful as well.
Mistake #1: Assuming they know everything about their religion
When someone labels themselves as belonging to a specific group or religious belief system, it can be tempting to think that they have all the answers to your questions about that system. Don’t fall into that trap. When somebody says, “I’m Wiccan,” or “I’m Catholic,” or “I’m Mormon”, they are simply telling you the group they affiliate with. They may be Mormon simply because their parents were Mormon. They may be Catholic simply because that was the only church they’ve been invited to. We cannot make the mistake of asking them about all the ins and outs of their particular belief system in our conversations. Often times, what you will end up with is a frustrated individual who feels embarrassed he/she doesn’t know more about their religion/group. Now, in this state of discomfort, they are primed for two things: 1) finding the nearest exit from the conversation to escape discomfort or 2) gearing up for a battle because they feel defensive. Neither of these will lead to a winsome conversation.
What should we do instead?
Ask them to share they personally believe about God, what happens when we die, or who Jesus is. It’s what they believe that matters. You’re not speaking to the Catholic Church; you’re speaking to a person that may or may not hold to or be aware of everything the Catholic Church teaches. Asking something like “As a Catholic, what do you personally believe about _____________?” can be very effective. Now, they are sharing what they think, and you are earning the right to respond with what you believe as well.
Mistake #2: Thinking we need to know everything about what they believe before conversing
As someone who loves to research the history of Christianity and the foundations of other religions, I hear this a lot: “Brock, I have a friend I want to talk to who is (insert religion). Can you tell me everything I need to know about what they believe so I can start meeting with them?” After sharing a couple facts with them and commending them for their willingness to plan an approach, my first question is, “How will this help you get to know them and love them toward Jesus?” After a couple seconds of an awkward silence, I try to explain that the real motivation may not be winning them to Jesus, but a desire to have an answer to any claim they make about their belief system. And here’s the problem with that: Regardless of how much you think you know about another religion / belief system, you’ll always find a reason to learn a little bit more before you start a conversation. You’ll constantly think of a potential statement, claim, or objection you need to be ready for – and thus, the conversation never happens.
Instead, let’s set our hearts on being experts in what we believe and in explaining it well to others. When I ask someone from another faith background what they believe about Jesus, I should be so familiar with who Jesus is according to the Bible that any contrary information should stick out. So don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to know every possible fact about someone’s faith system before you converse with them. Be conversant about Jesus and know how to succinctly explain the gospel in a clear and compelling way. If you have these things down, you will find them much more helpful than trying to be an expert in what someone else believes.
Mistake #3: Planning for combat instead of conversation
A saying I keep near and dear to my heart is, “you can win an argument and lose an opportunity.” It’s a great quote for any discussion, and it is especially relevant to keep in mind if you are seeking to introduce Jesus to a religious friend or loved one.
Of course, we all want to be right about our viewpoints and our worldviews. However, a problem emerges when are so determined to convince someone else we are right, we begin pursuing that goal at all costs. If this goes unchecked, we’ll start preparing for combat instead of conversation, and soon we’ll leave a trail of endless arguments, hurt feelings, and broken relationships behind us. While relationships may weaken or even end because of the gospel, it should only be because of the gospel; not because of our desire to prove we are right.
We must remember that it is God who convicts; it is God who converts; it is God alone who replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh. We are messengers on a mission to spread the truth and love of Jesus. We are not His lawyers trying to prove His case. The case is closed. Jesus is King.
We have the blessed opportunity to bring this message of salvation to all who the Lord places in our path. When we come across someone who is religious, we have to be careful not to take a combative approach and seek to prove that we are more convincing than them. That’s not the goal. The goal is to lovingly present the clear message of Christ in the midst of a winsome conversation. If they trust in Him, praise God! If they do not, pray to God! Ask Him to bring other laborers, to bring your more opportunities, and to change their heart. Let’s let God do the hard work of being God while we pursue the blessing of spreading His word with truth and grace.
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