Imagine a stranger approaches you on the street and asks you, “Where will you be in ten years? What are your goals? What drives you to make the choices you are making?” They tell you they are doing research for an article and want to know if you will participate. Chances are, even though you do not know them, you will be almost excited to reveal the information and may even be surprised to learn something new about yourself and be grateful you had the chance to participate.
Now, imagine someone in a black pair of pants and white shirt walks up to you. You are already cringing right? They hand you a tract; a little booklet that outlines their theology. Another woman in a long modest dress approaches you and asks, “Are you saved? Have you been washed by the blood of the lamb? Will you burn in hell or spend eternity in paradise? Sinner repent in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.. Praise God, I command thee to open thine eyes and see the light!”
Why would you welcome the one and run or become defensive toward the other? First of all, every sport, every organization has its own terminology that is foreign to someone else. You may speak and understand English just fine in New Jersey, but take a trip to the highlands of Scotland or the marshy swamps of the Bayou and you will struggle to understand what is being said. Christian terminology, like “saved”, “repent”, “resurrection of the body”, “washed by the blood”, “speaking in tongues”, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, etc. often tends to scare people who are not familiar with what it means. Even Nicodemus, upon meeting Jesus and asking how he could be saved, was turned off by the words: “you must be born again.” How can a man go back into the womb and be born again? To him it made as little sense as Jesus telling his followers who had joined him after the miracle of the fishes and loaves that they must eat of his body and drink of his blood to have eternal life. They were looking for free food that magically multiplied, but Jesus responded that he was the bread of life; the only one who could feed them with his own flesh and blood. Many were more repulsed than compelled to join the group of disciples and saw Jesus as supporting cannibalism not ever lasting life.
Now this brings us to a dilemma. Do we follow Jesus and confuse people with our words, as in the case above or do we create parables; stories they will understand that mirror what we are actually trying to tell them? Jesus had a tendency to do both. With new followers he put things into perspective so that they had a real-world physical example of what he was trying to say, but for long-term believers, he often hit them hard and criticized them when they did not understand the meaning of what he was saying. Quite often Jesus would ask the question, “I just explained it, why don’t you understand?” Even Paul complained that the followers of Christ should not have to feed on milk like babies, but should eat meat… or understand the hard to digest stuff without his having to break it down for them.
Sometimes we feel similar to Jesus and Paul when addressing fellow Christians on issues of politics and equal rights. “Don’t you understand?” we ask. Do you not see that divorce was not in God’s plan? Do you not see that killing a child in the womb is as offensive as killing a newborn baby and that all life is precious and should not be wasted?
As Christians we fight over these things and stand in awe that others do not see how detrimental certain behaviors can be. Overeating, lying, cheating, laziness, gossip, anger and avarice are never things to boastfully proclaim as good or boldly protect as our personal right. They are in fact things that pull us away from Christ (aka sin) rather than bring us closer, yet if we as Christians embrace these things, how can we ever expect to get non-Christians to see Christianity as a good thing that will bring peace and happiness into their lives as it has in ours? As Christians, we have a long way to go!!!
So, how do you reach others and bring them to Christ without offending them? My friend Alex refers to Easter as Happy Zombie Jesus Day. My friend’s atheist husband sees Easter as a lie; a story based on some Egyptian story of the birth and death of the god Rah; the sun god.
It does not make any sense to ask a non-Christian if they are saved, as their rote answer will almost always be… “saved from what?” Of course our rote answer as Christians will always be… “saved from sin.” To be saved from sin is to be granted eternal life. To believe that Jesus is the son of God and was sent to save us from our sins is the key factor that makes us followers of Christ, but to non-Christians, the story is silly: The Jews sacrificed animals for the sins of the people. The death of the animal took away their sins and made them clean again. Okay, how does shedding the blood of an ox make one clean? Does the blood have cleansing properties outside of the body? Does killing someone or something else mean my sins are washed away or does it just magnify the horrible person I already am? It is totally confusing to someone who has not been brought up with it.
While the Bible is filled with symbolism and metaphor, it is best to take a straight forward approach when bringing in new “converts” to Christ and in one sense, calling them converts sounds too much like brain-washing them to believe in an ideology that one group believes will save the world, but many others believe is counter to recognizing the rights of others (feminism and LGBT rights come to mind).
The best way to get someone interested in Christ is to ask them what they believe about life and death and what they would like to do in their lives and why. You want to give them hope. You want to be interested in them as humans. You do not want to place yourself above them or insinuate that you have the golden keys to heaven while they will rot and burn in hell if they do not become like you. You want to find out it they are truly happy with the path they have chosen and let’s be honest, there are a lot of depressed Christians who are hating life and are tired of the constant daily struggle and the trials of life that drag them down. So if you are not happy in life as a Christian, if you struggle and have issues that pull you down, you have to share them, not act like they do not exist or that it is perfectly normal for you to have these issues and not address them as rooted in sin. We don’t stop sinning once we are Christians and if we fail to see what we are doing as sinful then we are not going to make an effort to correct it, so we have to address sin as sin, not lesser sins and greater sins, forgiving the former as human nature over which we have little control and the latter as human choice for which we can compensate if we focus on Christ and not our own lusts and desires.
The next time you meet someone, tell them you were given an assignment for a class. You want to ask them ten questions. Start with something innocuous like, “where were you born?”. At some point slip in, “How often did you go to church or study the bible as a child?” “Do you prefer one religion or belief over another and why?” “What do you want to accomplish in life?” “Do you believe there is life after death?” “If there is only one God and one way… believing in Christ, do you think you would go to heaven?” “If there are multiple gods and multiple ways of getting to heaven, do you think you will get in and why?” “Do you want to go to heaven or just die and cease to exist?”
After all the questions, then tell them what the Bible says about heaven. It is best to leave hell out of it at the start. If they ask you can tell them that there is a way to avoid eternal death and tell them the story of the rich man who died and went to hell and begged God to let him go back and tell his family that hell was a real thing after all.
The bottom line is that, rather than go forth and conquer the evil ones with “In God’s name, May Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour….,I call upon thee Jesus to heal this sinner..” try to go a bit neutral at first. Find out what you can about the person, how they view life and why they view it that way. Try not to argue with them, but also stand firm if they attack your beliefs. Ask them why they are so upset that you believe in Christ as your savior and believe that sin is bad for humans. If you feel overwhelmed with their questions, have a back-up plan with someone more well-versed in the Bible to talk to them if they are willing to listen.
Bringing people to Christ should really be a full time job for all Christians and yet, many of us have never spoken with anyone about it, preferring instead not to get in a heated debate or offend anyone. It is okay to admit that you do not have all the answers or that your life is not the best representation of Christ and that you are working on it as well! Ideally you want to set the spark in people to read the Bible for themselves and attend a good Sunday School or Bible Study that will help answer their questions. Many churches are not equipped to guide new members to Christ. Most individuals are not confident enough in their own beliefs to share those beliefs with others, but that is what we are called to do as Christians… “Go and share the good news!!!”
Ask your church leaders or pastor if they have a guideline set up on how to talk to others and if not, ask if they will hold a class on how to evangelize in today’s world. Make time to share with others, but don’t make it your number one conversation when meeting strangers unless you want to become a dreaded sight like the dark pants, white shirts who ring doorbells to ask if you are saved. Ideally, you want to act the part, be open to questions about your belief, be honest and true and see the faults and flaws in yourself as well as others. Admit you don’t have all the answers and that is why it is important to keep studying and learning and growing as a Christian and as a human. By being honest and true, you will attract more people who want to know what your “secret” is!
You must be loving and use welcoming words. You must be a comforter not a condemner, but you must also explain what sin is and how it harms us, in this life and can prevent us from an everlasting peace and joy and a promise of new life free from sin. If you have ever had an experience, good or bad, at sharing your love of Christ with others and brought someone to believe, please share how you did it! Many people feel uncomfortable sharing their beliefs, especially when they are not asked to do so. We should not be embarrassed to share the love of Christ with others, nor should be be aggressively confrontational and accusing toward those who refuse to believe. It is fine to stand up for what you believe in, but if what you believe in is really worth believing, then say it with confidence and let it stand on its own without propelling it forward with rocks flying from its hands! Keep the Christian vernacular to a minimum, making the language natural and easy for everyone to understand.
You may never “save” anyone from their sins and technically that is the job of Christ, not man, but if you can steer someone into searching for Christ and supply them with good information, you will be on the right course. Setting a good example is not enough. Even atheists can set a good example and often do a better job of it than Christians!!! You have to reach out to others, but start by getting to know them, their thoughts and feelings and the experiences that have led them to believe the way they believe and then share your own feelings and beliefs and chances are you will reach more people and bring more people to Christ.