Pitfalls in Evangelism
We should be prepared to avoid particular pitfalls in dialogue with our Muslim neighbors. We need to be focused and avoid distractions. Our goal is to reflect and proclaim Christ, not to defeat competitors. I’d like to share five major pitfalls to avoid in conversations with Muslims.
1. Stay away from competition.
Do not argue to win. Adjust your heart’s approach. Your compass should point to Christ. Your goal is not to make Christianity win over Islam but rather to proclaim Jesus to people he loves. Avoid being tangled up in wasteful debates without introducing the gospel. Always focus on the character, deeds, and teachings of Jesus. Let your Muslim friends see Christ in your dialogue. Let them sense how you care about them as people, how you respect them when they disagree with you, and how your conversations reflect the image of Christ. Some Muslims are by nature argumentative and can lead you down the same path. Or you may be argumentative yourself. You should be solid in your belief in Christ, and you should never compromise; you do not, however, want to win debates and lose friendships. Competitive discussions usually lead nowhere. If you come across as argumentative, your Muslim friend may simply shut down and refuse to converse again about religious matters, especially if they are ill equipped to answer questions. Instead, you must love Muslims genuinely. Listen to them carefully, and always share about the uniqueness of Jesus, his character, and his teaching. When conversations get heated, remind your Muslim friends that you want them to see Christ and follow him, not to win or lose in dialogue. Ultimately, avoid burning bridges of communication, and strive to leave the door open for future conversations.
2. Do not be intimidated.
This pitfall is common, especially with Western Christians who engage Arab Muslims in conversations. Perhaps Islam is intimidating because it is generally unknown or because these Christians are not solid in their understanding of Christian beliefs. These evangelists often begin their conversations with uncertainty and hesitancy. This cannot be helpful. They may think, “I do not understand Islam. I do not know Arabic at all. This Muslim is probably more qualified than I am to discuss religions, and maybe I will be asked a difficult question about Christianity and embarrass myself.” This is never a good start. Remember you are not in a competition, and more importantly, your goal is to proclaim Christ’s good news, not to defeat Islam. You should not be intimidated. Even if you are asked a tough question, you can always request to discuss it later after you have pondered it further.
Moreover, intimidation and uncertainty do not reflect confidence, and your Muslim friend will sense this. You should realize that you are a bearer of the most important news. The gospel is powerful and needed by Muslims who seek hope, rescue, and forgiveness. You have a message without which Muslims cannot enter the kingdom of God. Do not be intimidated: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Of course, you must study about Islam and Muslims, but ensure that you never begin a conversation weakly or defensively. The Christian truth claims make perfect sense. Biblical Christianity has survived centuries of doctrinal attacks. Evangelists have a better way forward than Muslims do.
Furthermore, Muslims—especially Middle Easterners—value courage and confidence. They admire pride and assertiveness. They want to come across as strong and confident Muslims. Weakness, hesitancy, and intimidation do not sit well with them and will not encourage them to trust your words or to continue conversations. Muslims are apt to dismiss weak and unassertive people. Although you do not need to pretend to be confident, it is important to present the image of Christ with joy, certainty, and courage. The best thing you can do is to know the Bible well and be prepared to speak about Christ.
3. Avoid chasing rabbits during gospel conversations.
More than a pitfall, this is a roadblock in communication. For example, in most gospel conversations, perhaps as a defense mechanism, Muslims tend to interrupt the dialogue to switch topics. If this happens, you should respond kindly—but limit the discussion to one item, and schedule another meeting to discuss the rest. This is important because it happens often and usually leaves evangelists confused. I have found that chasing rabbits in dialogue is one way a Muslim tries to avoid confronting the reality exposed by the gospel. When you explain the need for salvation and forgiveness of sin, your Muslim friend may interrupt to accuse you of worshiping three gods. Do not dismiss this accusation, but with a smile and a sincere voice, ask to continue the discussion, promising to address the “three gods” matter at another time.
4. Never get angry when discussing faith matters.
While this point relates to avoiding competitive argumentation, it is also distinct in some ways. Culturally speaking, if Muslims succeed in making you angry, this means in their minds that they proved Islam’s superiority over Christianity. Hegemony is a very important aspect in Muslim life and a major theme in Islamic tradition. The goal is always to prove that Islam is better, greater, and more successful than any other faith. In the Muslim mindset, if a Muslim man marries a woman who converted from Christianity to Islam, this is a win against Christianity and proves Islam’s hegemony. If Muslims purchase an old church building and turn it into a mosque, this is also a win for Islam. If a Christian—especially a leader or cleric— converts to Islam, it indicates, in Muslims’ estimation, the success of Islam. Similarly, if Christians become angry about a theological point they are making in a conversation, Muslims often interpret this as a sign of defeat.
Do not argue to win. Adjust your heart’s approach. Your compass should point to Christ.
You should always remember that you reflect the image of Christ. Although you should be passionate about Christ and enthusiastic about the gospel, it is important to refrain from getting angry as you defend a point. When a Muslim accepts Christ, there is joy in heaven (Luke 15:7), but it does not mean that we—as ambassadors for Christ—won some competition. Christianity did not beat Islam, but rather the kingdom of God received a new believer. This is a testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit. Alternatively, if you preach the gospel to Muslims and they do not accept Christ, this does not mean you failed. Instead, it means that you fulfilled an essential part of the Great Commission and that the result is in God’s hand.
You should always be calm and clothed with Christ’s patience. Muslims indeed value strength, pride, and hegemony—but sincere humility and genuine meekness are attractive to anyone. Thus, Christians must avoid becoming angry at any point in Muslim evangelism. Remain focused on Christ, reflect the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), and maintain a Christlike attitude in conversation (Matt. 20:25–28; John 13:14).
5. Christians should avoid two extremes: delaying gospel proclamation and rushing Muslims for a conversion decision.
It is important to maintain a crucial balance in evangelism. On the one hand, there is no time to waste, and we should proclaim the gospel as early as possible. On the other hand, we should never rush a gospel decision. Let us examine this balance.
There is a tendency among some Christians to wait for a long time before sharing the gospel with Muslims. These Christians think, “We should become friends first, eat together, learn about each other, and then I will share the gospel.” In most cases, these Christians get tangled up in social measures and shallow conversations, and it becomes difficult to introduce the gospel. Make it a habit: from the very beginning of your friendship with a Muslim, be clear about your identity in Christ. Speak about Christ often. Bring a Bible verse or a miracle he performed into the conversation, even if briefly. This will establish your identity with these Muslims. They will know you as a Christian who loves to talk about Jesus. Culturally speaking, there is no problem at all with beginning a gospel conversation during your first encounter with a Muslim friend. Remember, Muslims by default do not avoid religious conversations. You can intentionally choose, each time you meet a Muslim, to plant a gospel seed. One huge advantage is that, if you begin a gospel conversation in the earliest encounter, you will be able to elaborate and explain more as the friendship grows. If you delay, you will likely find it harder to talk about the gospel and our need for a Savior as time goes by.
We do not, however, have to force our conversations with Muslims to follow a specific direction. Be courteous, kind, and sensitive to the context of the meeting. Muslims are people, and, as with anyone else, it is annoying and displeasing to feel forced into any kind of conversation. For example, do not force a conversation with a Muslim man while he is working in his shop and has customers. Still, you could smile, give him a genuine hug, and ask if he would like to meet later. This is why we need God’s guidance and leadership. Remember, God is in control, and he loves Muslims. He can provide a suitable opportunity for you to begin a gospel conversation without rushing or forcing it.
Moreover, we must be reasonable. There are vast differences between meeting a taxi driver whom we encounter only once and talking with a neighbor whom we see often. In the former, Christians probably have one chance to share about Christ, so they may navigate the gospel conversation and plant a seed anyway. In the latter, they have many possible opportunities to speak with the neighbor and can even schedule a discussion about any topic, even gospel-related ones. Thus, you must train yourself to maintain a good balance in evangelism: there is no time to waste and you should share the gospel early on, but do not push Muslims into conversations or rush them into conversion decisions. We need to pray and seek the right timing to ask our Muslim friends whether they want to follow Jesus.
This article is adapted from Reaching Your Muslim Neighbor with the Gospel by A. S. Ibrahim.
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