My friend M. has been trying to convert me to Islam this year. He is a warm, energetic, enthusiastic person and a passionate Muslim. He thinks that Islam is the perfect religion and Muhammad was the perfect person. And I have learned a lot from the experience of being on the receiving end of his evangelism.
This article is me trying to process the experience and synthesise how it applies to Christians who want to speak of Jesus in a way that is compelling and inviting. So, with each observation I have tried to develop an insight for us as Christians.
1. M. seems more familiar with books about Islam, than the Qur’an itself. He has not encouraged me to read the Qur’an or even the Hadiths. I am left wondering if he doesn’t know the Qur’an, or whether he doesn’t trust it as a text that would be compelling for me.
Takeaway: I need to keep bringing a seeker back to the Bible. The temptation is to read and talk about books about Christianity, rather than the Bible itself. If I do this, I subconsciously communicate that I don’t think the Bible is true, powerful or compelling.
2. When I asked M. what’s the benefit of becoming a Muslim he said there was none. It made no difference to him if I became a Muslim, and he had no compelling reason for me to become a Muslim. So even though he was adamant that I should convert he could not express why I should. There was certainly nothing appealing he could offer.
Takeaway: I need to be convinced of the benefit of a person becoming a Christian. I need to be able to express clearly why someone should become a Christian and what they would gain if they do. I need to be enthusiastic about the positive experience of being a Christian, not just conveying how much I am committed to it.
3. Whenever I raised a red herring like ‘women are oppressed in the Qur'an’ M. would follow me down the rabbit hole. Whatever he was talking about would be derailed and we would lose the thread of the conversation. So even though he appeared to have a goal in mind he was easily distracted, and we never reached that goal.
Takeaway: Differentiating between important topics and rabbit holes when I’m explaining faith in Jesus is vital. I need to work out a way to answer the rabbit hole questions without falling in. That also means being able to discern whether this is a deal-breaker question for my friend, or simply something they’ve heard, that flitted across the conversation.
4. Every time I asked a question he thought was contentious M. would send me a link to another document to read. Eventually I was overwhelmed by the number of texts he wanted me to read. I resented being asked to read copious amounts of text, and being questioned about how many pages I’d read each time we met.
Takeaway: I need to be very judicious about the quantity of reading I am asking someone to do. After I’ve clarified whether the person likes reading I need to check if they would like to read this particular document. Having lent or sent something it helps to give permission to not finish if they’re not enjoying the book/document. Above all else, I must communicate that what I really want someone to read is the Bible. That might mean that the only reading a person does is during the time we meet- and that’s OK.
5. M. seemed certain that if he won every argument I would be compelled to become a Muslim. So we discussed insignificant details with the same intensity as the major ideas. Frequently, I found myself exclaiming ‘you’re not listening!’ through gritted teeth. He didn’t seem to notice to frustration levels rising. (This is not a Muslim trait, but rather a personality type)
Takeaway: Being acutely aware of the relational dynamics is important. Winning the argument is only half the exchange. Nobody converts willingly if their point of view is not acknowledged.
6. M. befriended me on social media and then failed to consider the impact of his posts on Facebook. Many posts were rants about the unfair treatment of Muslims by the media, and others were self-congratulatory articles about the superiority of Islam.
Takeaway: This is a particular danger for Christians. The tone of many posts about non-Christians is patronising at best. This communicates derision from Christians and actually destroys any possibility of a respectful relationship and discussion. Even if the face-to-face is respectful, it’s tainted by the tone of the social media presence. If I would be embarrassed to talk to my friend in that way, then I shouldn’t post it.
7. M. eventually said ‘OK Karen, you win’ when I made a compelling argument he couldn’t refute. It only happened once! Many times, he gave the impression the argument was a point-scoring exercise, or the purpose was to hammer my point of view into tiny pieces. He rarely conceded that we even agreed on something, let alone that I might be right.
Takeaway: While I didn’t mind ‘winning’ (that’s my sinfulness being exposed) I hated that we couldn’t discuss anything without it being a (metaphorical) knockdown fight. I was sure there was much we agreed on, but it wasn’t acknowledged. Outlining common ground is equally as important as discussing points of difference.
You’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t become a Muslim in this process! I did learn a lot about treating my non-Christian friends with love, warmth and respect. I was reminded again that it is the word of God that is powerful, and I must take people there if I want them to meet the Lord Jesus. I pray that my experience will encourage you in your evangelism.
Photos: Jochen Wolters (head), Luis Fernando Chavier (body); flickr