Navigating Conversations with Religious People
Friends and loved ones with other religious convictions can be some of the hardest to reach. There are several reasons for this:
1. They may have an emotional attachment to their beliefs.
2. They may face social and/or familial consequences if they depart from their religion.
3. They may have been taught mistruths about Christianity.
4. They struggle with admitting that some or all of what they believe is not true.
5. They have simply never considered a change of beliefs – and change is hard.
These are but a few of the reasons religious people are hard to reach, yet Jesus still calls us to reach them.
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15
Just as Jesus shared the gospel with everyone, including religious people (Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and other religious leaders of the day), so He calls us to follow His command and example.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to navigate conversations with religious people.
Find out where they are.
When I consult a map for directions, the first place I start is finding out where I am on the map. That way, I can discern the path necessary to get to my destination, including the next step needed.
Too often, we launch into a gospel presentation without considering where the other person is in their faith journey. When you find out where someone is coming from, you can better serve them by meeting them where they are and making the gospel applicable to their situation and understanding.
Discover their motive.
Go beyond the “what” people believe to “why” they believe it. People hold to beliefs for a wide variety of reasons, including family upbringing, personal experience, emotional attachment, etc. Finding out “why” the person believes what they believe will allow you to address the issues from other angles.
Be curious, not judgmental.
As you seek to understand a person’s viewpoint, resist the temptation to correct them each step of the way. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if someone were asking you about your beliefs, with respect without condescension.
Keep it simple.
Religions can have complex belief systems about a number of topics. Strive to keep the conversation simple by focusing on the basic tenants of the gospel, including God, our accountability to Him, our separation from Him, and how He has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through Christ.
Focus on grace.
Religion says you must obey to be accepted by God. It is motivated by fear. Grace says you obey because you are accepted by God because you have trusted in Jesus and what He has done. It is motivated by joy and thanksgiving. The contrast is as stark as night and day.
Don’t take on God’s responsibility.
When talking with religious people, it can be tempting to get frustrated when they don’t see our point of view. We need to remember that our job is to share the message, but it is God’s job to convince them of the message and bring them to faith in Christ (John 16:8).
When you share the gospel, don’t be disappointed if you don’t see immediate results. Trust that God is working and that He may bring the words and truths you have presented back to the person in time, whether it is the next day, month, or year.
Lead by example.
The world is filled with people who profess what they believe. While it is important to do that, we need to live a life that backs up our profession. Many who receive Christ from a religious background attribute their decision to the example they saw in others. Being a “doer of the word” (James 1:22) is a powerful witness in a world filled with differing opinions about what is right.
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