As Christians, our primary responsibility to the world is to be representatives of Jesus Christ sharing the Good News with all. But we need to be willing to be taught HOW TO DO THIS. I learned this the hard way through a recent incident.
When I registered for an art class at a Jewish community center, I had two purposes. I was eager to learn more about the art of Hebrew calligraphy. Also, I wanted to meet Jewish people and be in a situation where I could encourage evangelistic dialogue about the Messiahship of Jesus.
Naturally, I was overjoyed when Dov, a fellow aspiring scribe, asked me at the first class meeting if my friend, Barbara, and I could give him a ride home. It was a 45-minute trip back to San Francisco , and I was delighted at the thought of having a "captive" audience with whom to share my faith. As we left the center, Dov asked us what we did.
"You have to guess,” I said.
After a few tries, I gave him a hint.
"It’s a religious group, and you probably don’t like it.
Dov thought for a minute. "Mormons? Jehovah’s Witnesses?" he guessed.
"Oh, no… NOT Jews for Jesus!"
When I nodded yes, he added , "You guys are all right, I guess. I don’t agree with what you believe, but I think you’re kind of brave for believing in Jesus and still maintaining your identity as Jews."
Dov’s apparent openness toward me as a Jew who believed in Jesus triggered a long response on my part . I started talking and I talked for the whole 45-minute drive. I told Dov why the Jews were God’s chosen people, what we had been chosen for, why Jesus was the promised Messiah, etc., etc., etc.
By the time we arrived at Dov’s house, I had given myself a sore throat, but I went home feeling satisfied that "we" had had a good talk.
A few days later I met Dov at a synagogue gathering. "I’ve been trying to call you all week " he said. "I was really hurt the other night because you didn’t give me a chance to talk. You acted as if you knew more about Judaism than I did. Did you mean that if I don’t believe in Jesus, I’m not as good a Jew as you are? I thought that’s what I heard you saying."
Whew! Needless to say, I felt like crawling into a hole and disappearing.
Where had I gone wrong? What should I have done to create an atmosphere where effective dialogue could have taken place? Once I recovered from the embarrassment and frustration of having done things "my way," I stopped and thought about what Jesus would have done. In retrospect, I saw a number of things I did that were detrimental in my witness to this Jewish man.
First, I hadn’t known Dov for more than ten minutes . I tried to witness to somebody who hardly knew me and who had no reason to trust me or what I was saying. I assumed that because Dov was Jewish, he would want to talk about Jewish things. (Religion is a personal thing, and often Jewish people need to feel comfortable before verbalizing how they feel about it.)
Then I monopolized the conversation . I didn’t wait to hear what Dov thought; I just kept on talking. It could have been dialogue; instead, it was a sermon.
My third mistake was that I treated Dov as a "captive" audience, assuming he wanted a further explanation of why I believed in Jesus. Dov never asked me that. He just commented it was "brave" of me to do so. It didn’t occur to me that maybe Dov didn’t want to talk about Jesus; maybe he just wanted to get to know Barbara and me. I never gave him much of a chance to say so or even to change the subject.
What could I have done instead? There are some basic do’s and don’ts of evangelistic dialogue, and I’ve covered some of them here.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO WITNESS TO A JEWISH PERSON, FIRST BECOME HIS FRIEND.
Take ten minutes to ask him questions about himself. We don’t gain points with God for every person we lead to Christ, so avoid the pitfall of becoming a spiritual "scalp hunter." In my eagerness to tell Dov about Christ, I treated him as a prospect instead of an individual.
LISTEN TO THE OTHER PERSON’S POINT OF VIEW. Evangelistic dialogue must be two-sided, otherwise it’s evangelistic monologue. DO NOT MONOPOLIZE THE CONVERSATION.
DON’T ASSUME THAT YOUR JEWISH FRIEND IS INTERESTED IN JESUS JUST BECAUSE HE OR SHE IS INTERESTED IN YOU. Dov wanted to be our friend. He wasn’t asking for a sermon, just a ride home. It was wrong to use that occasion as an opportunity for preaching. If your Jewish friend accepts an invitation for dinner at your house, don’t assume that he wants to hear about Jesus. Maybe he’s just hungry!
These are some basic ideas on how not to fall into the same traps that I did . Hopefully, my monologue will someday be used by God to start Dov thinking seriously about Jesus. God can take our mistakes and turn them to suit His purpose, and it’s comforting to know that the job doesn’t rest solely upon us − thank God!