I write as a Christian, and I write to you as a Christian. If you find yourself reading this do not define yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ or as one of his disciples, I invite you to keep reading. Imagine you are overhearing two believers talk. Evaluate the content and decide if you have any interest in learning more about Christian faith.
I have been applying this approach to evangelism specifically to Islam. Often Islam is portrayed as the evil enemy of Christianity. I do not believe Islam preaches the truth about God, but neither do I believe that all Muslims are Satan-possessed terrorists. Most Muslims are people who want to know the truth about God. They think they have found it in their faith. Will they be more likely to listen to me talking about Jesus as another, better option if I (A) damn them to Hell unless they repent, or (B) show that I care about them?
God wants Christians to tell nonbelievers about the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. We invite those who don’t follow to begin doing so because eternal life is for all who have received God’s grace as it is revealed in Jesus. In Matthew 28 Jesus sends his disciples out to evangelize (28:19-20). He equips us and goes before us. The quality of our relationship with God is directly related to whether or not we live evangelistically.
All of this is to say, true Christians practice evangelism. There are numerous ways to go about it, and some are quite inappropriate while others are appropriate in one context and just wrong in another. But, we’re all called to tell about Jesus and invite people to give their lives to Him and worship Him as Lord.
To do this effectively, we have to be educated. If I want to share my faith with my neighbors, I have to know the issues my neighbors think are important. I can only know that information when I gather it in the course of a natural relationship. To know about my neighbors, I have to spend time with them in true relationship. If I just get to know them for the sake of getting an opening to proselytize, then I am a phony. Christians need to love non-Christians for the sake of love. And in the context of love, we share Jesus.
Love and knowledge as a way of approaching people evangelistically applies in all relationships. Whether it is a co-worker, someone you see each week at the fitness club, someone who rides the commuter bus with you every day, or a classmate, it’s likely that your desire to evangelize that person will bear fruit if you first love and know that person.
In order to approach evangelism (i.e. sharing Jesus) to Muslims, I have begun reading about Islam, and I read Muslim writers. Recently on a 15-hour plane trip, I sat next to a young Muslim woman from Somalia. I engaged her in general conversation and I tried to listen as much as possible. If learning and listening are key elements to the practice of evangelism, then prayer is a third and probably most important aspect. I should pray for the woman I sat next to and I should pray as I read Muslim authors. Through education, listening, and prayer, I will posture myself to do evangelism in an open, loving way.
I believe this is the approach most likely to be successful in our 21st century context and most reflective of Jesus’ commands to love our neighbor. This approach doesn’t deny the essential reality that all people need Jesus and are lost without Him. Neither does it turn people off. It’s not an angry, judgmental approach, but an open, loving one. And it is an approach that answers God’s call with an appreciation for the spirit of Jesus’ teaching. Furthermore, it fits whether sharing our faith with neighbors, with people from other faiths, or with others that we meet in the daily encounters in life.