Nope, those are not the same thing. Goals are easy – it’s the thing you are hoping to accomplish. Win the game, defeat the enemy, make a bunch of money – all of those are goals. Strategy can be seen as having an idea of what needs to be done to achieve the goal. It’s looking at and analyzing the big picture. Tactics can be seen as figuring out how to execute the steps to do what needs to be done. It’s looking at the little picture. One thing that’s nice about figuring out your strategy for any goal is it makes it a lot easier to figure out what tactics need to be developed and which ones can be set aside. So, what’s our goal?
We’re going to borrow a bit from Jesus on this. Really, three Christians are going to look to Jesus as an example? Not very original, I have to admit, but, after all, we’re Christians and He’s the paragon of wisdom and virtue to whom we are committed. So when He was asked what it’s all about, He said we are to love God and love one another. In doing so, we epitomise what it is to be truly human. We are doing precisely what it is we ought to be doing.
However, a loving relationship entails trust. Friends who don’t trust each other only barely count as friends. Spouses that don’t trust one another may not be spouses for long. Trust is the corner stone of good relationships. If one trusts God, one makes choices and acts in light of what God has revealed. In other words, if God has told us what we ought to do, we demonstrate our trust in Him by doing it. If God has told us what is wrong with humanity, we show trust by taking Him at His word.
Christianity’s claim is that human beings are broken. Each and every one of us has failed morally and we know it. If you don’t know it, might I suggest, you’re not paying attention. The question is, what do we do about our sin? Ignore it? Pretend it doesn’t matter? God spent about 1500 years requiring the Jews to kill animals to make the point that sin cannot be ignored and that it does matter, having lethal consequences. We could try to make up for it, but, to be honest, we already owe God everything we have. There’s no way to pay extra when you already owe everything.
Instead, God has provided a way out. He, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has paid and shown that the penalty that we owed for our failures is covered. Rather than love and trust Him, rather than love one another, we have been selfish and deserve judgment. But Jesus has accepted that judgment on our behalf so that we can live in a redeemed relationship with God. All we have to do is trust Him and what He has done for us.
That is our goal. That people would come to a loving, trusting relationship with God as evidenced by living in light of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
We are trying to convince people of the truth of Christianity, but the main point is that we are showing people the truth of Christianity. That means we have to see people as God sees them, as having value in and of themselves rather than as merely targets for conversion. God thinks we all have value, whether we trust Him or not, and we would do well to remember that when we are sharing our faith. We are to love one another and treat each other with respect and dignity, especially when we disagree with one another.
With that in mind, we’ve found that long term relationships and conversations tend to be the most impactful when it comes to sharing the gospel. Sure, doing the door-to-door or on the spot conversation with total strangers has a place, but when most people are asked about how they came to faith in Christ, the factor most often mentioned is a relationship with a believer. Relationships establish credibility and trust, and when dealing with eternal and personal matters, credibility and trust are critical. Without that, you’re just another voice among thousands that’s easily glossed over and ignored, but with it you are a friend and a confidant that someone has taken the time and effort to listen to. Don’t squander that trust.
Relationships also take time. The strategy we are using here takes that into account. In most relationships, you have a lot of time to talk to people. Unless people are already brought to the point of conversion (thank you, Holy Spirt), they aren’t going to hear your very first presentation of the gospel and immediately fall on their knees, asking God for forgiveness. That typically comes with prayer, time and preparation. More often than not, most of our conversations are to prepare a person to accept the gospel.
At the end of the day, we are all human beings made in the image of God, and that is the case regardless of how much we trust God or not. If someone gets the idea that your only interest in him is as a convert, he won’t trust you. You will be viewed as a salesman hocking snake oil rather than someone offering a real solution to the deepest needs of humanity. On the other hand, if you’ve already shown that you care, you still have a friend, and that is valuable in and of itself.
How do we introduce people to Jesus and show them by showing them respect and dignity, but still trying to get our point across? It’s pretty common for people to just verbally trample over you when they don’t think they’ll like what you have to say. So, how do we try and make sure this doesn’t happen without trampling over them?
Treat them as individuals
This cannot be stressed enough. We are not called to bring an organization or group of people to Jesus. We are called to bring individuals to Christ. That means we have to see them first as individuals. Not atheists. Not Mormons. Not JWs. Individuals. I once had a couple of LDS coming to my house regularly (they thought they were witnessing to me). I made it take longer than they wanted because I spent a lot of the time trying to know them as individuals, not just elders that were on mission for the mandatory two years. We talked about all sorts of things that had NOTHING to do with Christianity, Joseph Smith, the Bible, but were things that we were interested in (lots of talk about pop culture – a good reason to be aware of what’s in theaters and on TV, even if you don’t watch it). I know I shared things with them that they hadn’t come across before and hope that it led them to asking more questions. (They couldn’t follow up much at the time. Internet is banned from LDS missionary residences, so Elder Johnson couldn’t do much until he was finished. Elder Barnes was still administrating the last time I came across him.)
Why would you ask questions? Because you want to know the answers (duh). More specifically, you want to know the answers the person you’re talking to has. Sometimes they’ve done their homework and are fully aware of things, but a lot of times they are just parroting what they’ve heard someone else say. We’ve all done that (most of what we know comes from what someone else has told us, so there’s nothing wrong with that per se). But if someone says something that sounds crazy, it’s a good idea to ask questions to see if they’re just shooting from the hip, joking around, or sincerely believe it. We all know people who say things just to get a reaction out of people. The only way to know what someone really believes is by asking questions.
Listen to them
It might go without saying, but a lot of times, we do start thinking about what we are going to say while the other person is still talking. We then respond as if the things they just said were never said. That’s not terribly respectful and it certainly shows that you really don’t care about what was said. Why should you talk to someone if they are going to ignore what you said? Why should they listen to you if you just ignored everything they just said? Golden rule, people. If you want to be listened to, you have to listen.
Focus on the main point
It’s easy to get side tracked. It’s pretty common for people to raise an unrelated issue when challenged. We see it every day with the current political cycle. Matters of religion and ethics are no different. This is technically a red herring, something to chase after rather than the real issue. We should not do it if we are trying to get to the heart of an issue, and we certainly should not let our friends think they’ve actually addressed the issue by dodging it like this.
Know when to let it go
Some people, quite honestly, would much rather wallow in ignorance and sin rather than be corrected or think things through. Introspection like this is not always fun and rarely is it easy. Some people simply don’t want to go through the effort or discomfort involved. Don’t think for a moment you can force them to. All you can do is continue being their friend and be ready for when they do want to talk.