7 ways to engage adherents of other faith traditions
The world says there are many ways to God, but the Bible says there is only one. Here’s how to talk to your friends from other religions about Christianity.
The other day, as I was driving to church, I passed several mosques, a couple of Hindu temples, a Bahai temple, an Ethiopian Orthodox church and food markets from around the world. As globalization continues to thrive in America, more immigrants and refugees are finding a new home in the U.S., and we are discovering that religious liberty is creating a whole new world of religious affiliation, temples, mosques and churches from around the world. Our children are growing up in schools where multiple languages are spoken, many nationalities are represented, and religious pluralism is growing.
If we believe that our churches should represent the community in which we live, how can we best reach out to the religiously pluralistic society we now live in? How can we teach our children to reach their classmates with the gospel when their friends may have a drastically different picture of Christianity than the truth that is held in Scripture? I would like to suggest seven things families and churches can do to reach their neighbors and co-workers from other faith traditions.
- We must rid ourselves of fear.
First John 4:18 reminds us that “. . . perfect love drives out fear . . .” and then in verse 19 “We love because he first loved us.” The love of God in our lives should drive us to recognize that those of other world religions, who surround us, are lost and there is no hope in their world religion. That might appear harsh in today’s politically correct environment, but according to the Word of God.
Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We need not fear those who are perishing but fear for them of the judgment that is to come. God has placed them near us so we can share the good news of Jesus with them. Fear has no place in the life of the believer nor in the lives our families.
- We need to pray.
Jesus reminds us that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt. 9:37). Pray for opportunities to engage your neighbor or co-worker. Look for causal opportunities where you can express your allegiance to Jesus and share your beliefs about God. Pray that your new friends’ heart might be opened and for opportunities to love them well.
Teach your family to pray for the nations represented in your community and take time to lean about them. Prayercast.comand Joshuaproject.nethave excellent resources to help your family learn about your neighbors, co-workers, and students from around the world.
- We want to learn.
Challenge your church and pastors to teach on world religions. At our church we have “missions academy” where we take on the world religions surrounding us and help our members understand what they believe and how the gospel might intersect in their lives. Just learning some basics about your friends’ beliefs will help as you seek to interact with them daily.
While you do not need to know everything about every world religion it helps to know a little. For example, it helps to know that practitioners of all world religions believe that their way to “god” or “afterlife” or whatever they believe happens to their best adherents of faith, is the best and only way to achieve their best form of their world to come.
I do not believe there is a genuine world religion that tells us no matter what you do, we all end up in the same place. Hindu adherents reach Nirvana by practicing their faith, being a good person, going to temple, and believing in all the gods. Buddhists reach the same through meditation and practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. No one practices their religion because they think there is a better way. They believe their way is the best way. Learning some simple things about their faith will go a long way in establishing relationships.
- We want to make friends.
I often talk about how important it is to practice “presence” in the life of your lost friends. How you handle life, family, friends, and religion will speak wonders of your relationship to God. Talk about your faith as much as you talk about your favorite ball team or activity you enjoy.
For most other world religions, faith is a part of everyday life. To not talk about “faith” is to ignore a vital part of life. Why are you a follower of Jesus and how does he impact your daily life? Allow them to do the same, it is important to understand that their religion holds a power over them. They follow their religion because it brings them life and fills a need in their lives. What we want them to understand is that God created us to know Him and the only way we can know Him is through Jesus Christ. Our relationship with Him changes everything. As we live lives that glorify God, we are salt, and light in our community (Matt. 5).
- Try to understand your cultural differences.
Is your friend from a collectivistic culture or an individualistic culture? Most of us come from very individualistic cultures where we make our own decisions, look out for ourselves, and “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” A collectivistic culture thinks primarily about those who are around them, is concerned not only with their immediate family but extended family as well.
Many internationals send money “home” every paycheck to support extended family members or parents. Collectivistic cultures promote selflessness and put the needs of the community ahead of their own. People are considered “good” if they are generous, helpful, dependable and genuinely care about the needs of others. Individualistic cultures tend towards assertiveness and independence. As we live out our faith, we should care about the “other” and their needs. We love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31).
Another example is what your friends think of the elderly. Many other cultures value age and place a high priority on caring for the elderly. As you share the gospel with your friend, bring along someone with gray hair to help you. Their words will have a lasting impact in the life of your friends. Our culture tends towards valuing youth and ignores the value of experience and a life well lived. Your friend, probably, does not feel the same. Age earns a listening ear.
- Get rid of your ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism is the belief that your culture, your way of doing things, is the best way of doing things. Everyone is ethnocentristic. However, that doesn’t give you the right to impose your way of doing things on your international friend.
I often hear people say immigrants and refugees want to be in the U.S. because we do things the right way. Truth is, most immigrants and refugees want to be in the U.S. because it is safe and secure. If their countries were safe or if they were secure back home, they would still be there. They love their culture, their language and their food. Learn to love the same. As you learn to love their culture, their food, and even their language, you’ll be able to go deep in your relationship to them. No longer the “ugly American,” but now the loving neighbor Jesus created us to be.
- Make sure you preach Jesus.
It will be easy to talk about God, religion, differences in religious understanding and church. However, the crux of the issue is not religion, but Jesus. Remember Paul who tells us “The way of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but it is the power of God to those being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Your friends won’t appreciate the fact that you say Jesus is the only way to know God — however, they need to hear you say it. The world says there are many ways to God, but the Bible says there is only one way — through Jesus. Help them understand tell them because you love them and want them to know and love Jesus as you do.