Most of us have been aware of incidents in which opportunities to help someone come to God were ruined because of the approach used. Below are six basic principles that will help us avoid a bad teaching experience for those with spiritual needs.
Begin in the beginning. We Christians are often so anxious to correct scriptural misunderstandings that we forget there are certain foundational principles that must be discussed before our friend can accept even plain biblical commands. For example, I’m often asked questions like, “How can I teach my friend that musical instruments are not authorized in worship?” “How can I teach my Pentecostal friend that speaking in tongues was only for the first century?” How can I teach my friend the need for baptism?” Our tendency is to throw a bunch of scriptures at these questions. But before any specific answers can be given, most people need to know first principles about God, the Bible, and the importance of being careful to obey the Lord. Using the examples of Cain & Abel, Nadab & Abihu, Uzzah, and Jesus’ teaching on traditions of men in Mark 7:6-9, along with biblical explanations of the differences between Old and New Testaments, give context to most discussions. Further, it is helpful if we have discussed Israel’s story and why they failed to please God. In other words, folks need to have an understanding of who God is and what it means to enter a covenant with him before talking about the specifics of salvation and worship.
Conversion (change) is a process. Think of yourself and how long it has taken you to change certain beliefs and practices in your life. Consider the deep family ties and different backgrounds socially and religiously that people in the world have. These beliefs will not change overnight and do not immediately change just because we quote a list scriptures. For example, a lady I taught recently told me she just didn’t see how baptism was necessary for salvation. I asked her if she would like to study the conversion stories in the book of Acts. She answered with an emphatic, “No!” But then followed with, “However, I’d be happy to study the book of Acts with you so I can see everything in context.” Excellent answer, and excellent lesson for me when I teach. She was baptized a few months later.
Be patient. Don’t push or manipulate. You and I are not necessarily any one person’s sole hope of salvation. However, even if we personally cannot bring a friend to Christ, we can use our opportunities to lay the groundwork for others who also can influence them. If you become impatient and press them, they likely will be turned off by the next Christian who has an opportunity. King Jesus is the one working in their lives and he wants their change to be intrinsically motivated (John 6:44-45), not as a result of them being pushed into a response.
Ask questions and don’t do all the talking. Listening is critical. Asking questions is critical. Talking too much comes across as arrogant and pushy. Your first goal is to understand the beliefs and background of the person with whom you have an opportunity. It isn’t necessary to read books about your friend’s religion or what their church teaches. Few people believe the creeds of the past anyway. If you want to know what they believe, ask. And by the way, this is the same reason churches do not need to include studies on what denominations believe in their curriculum. In fact, it can do more damage than good. We too easily stereotype the beliefs of everyone who attends a particular church. But denominational churches simply do not teach their people the typical creedal positions any more. The more you personally learn about your friend and truly feel the challenges he or she faces, the more compassion you will have and the better you can plan your approach in teaching.
Don’t use too many scriptures. If you are discussing a particular subject or concern, a few plain, well-chosen passages are sufficient. Using too many scriptures cause a person to not remember any of them. If you have chosen a plain text, there is no need to move to another text just because there are objections. Urge your friend to look more carefully, then ask them to explain what the passage teaches. If you have a text that adequately covers the subject, it will be difficult for them not to see for themselves the truth being revealed.
Never read a Bible verse. Read a context instead of a prooftext. Since our goal is to get a person to be drawn to Jesus and to love God, we should not have the goal of simply correcting doctrinal misunderstandings. Obviously, this is important, but more important is that they see a true picture of God and his eternal story to save them from sin. When that is clearly understood, doctrinal differences tend to fall in place. This requires you and I to have a better grasp of how the gospel story is revealed from the beginning. In other words, it is impossible to truly appreciate our own salvation apart from the Garden, Abraham, and Israel’s salvation story. That is how prophets like Isaiah prepared both Jew and Gentile for the Gospel message.
Peter admonishes every Christian to “be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks…yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We Christians need to put serious effort into our preparedness.