by Tuvya Zaretsky
If you want to engage people in spiritual conversation, it’s more important to discover why the gospel might matter to them instead of telling why it does or what they need to believe. I’ve been learning this wonderful process as a first step to gospel engagement.
I recall a road sign along the drive to my college campus in the late 1960s. It simply stated, “CHRIST IS THE ANSWER.” I thought, So, who’s asking? In that era, we were focused on things like racial inequality and Viet Nam. Also, I’m Jewish, and at that point in my life, Jesus wasn’t a topic of conversation. To my mind, the statement was irrelevant.
So, how do we encourage people to ask and spiritually engage others in a way they will care?
We know why the gospel of Messiah Jesus is important. His is the only name given among all humanity by which we are saved (Acts 4:12). But, the subject of salvation probably isn’t a real issue if someone doesn’t understand why life feels like a cycle of futility. It’s really helpful to begin spiritual conversation within the other person’s cultural space and outlook on life.
My Jewish mother once surprised me on a phone call when she declared, “I think I’d like to believe in Jesus.” To clarify, for years she had voiced disappointment in my Messianic faith and generally considered Christians religious phonies. However, a series of gentle and penetrating conversations with her had allowed us to engage around some real longings in her heart.
When I asked what was moving her to say that, she offered, “Because I think it will make you happy, Honey.”
Sweet. But maybe not the best reason for trusting the Lord. So, we spent the rest of the conversation talking about the fact that the gospel is worth believing because it is true. She said she would have to think about that.
Keeping it real means listening for the true spiritual longings in someone’s heart. Engage around what really matters to that person. Then, look for a way to introduce spiritual truth where it matters in their perspective of life.
Let me share a story. My gospel conversation with Michael* began as he shared with me how he’d made and lost millions of dollars and had left a trail of broken relationships behind him. That led to him asking, “Where is God in all of this?”
Both of us had grown up with the beautiful traditions of Judaism, but the solutions to his questions weren’t in religion. So, he started asking about my answers.
The Barna Group released a study last October on the spiritual views of American Jewish millennials. It found that more than two-thirds of people are looking for spiritual answers, and they’re willing to hear from all perspectives, including from Christians. That signals a huge shift in Jewish openness.
Where are the opportunities for spiritual engagements?
In 2013, the Pew Research Forum reported data on the rate and impact of Jewish intermarriage in America. It said that 44% of all Jews in America are intermarried, with a rate of 58% for all Jewish people married after 2005. Many of those Jewish people are dating or intermarried into Christian families. Cross-cultural challenges among these intermarried couples are leading many Jewish partners to open up about discovering spiritual harmony. Today, there is a wonderful opportunity for Jewish-Gentile gospel conversations right within Christian families.
A recent CT online article reported that 86% of American evangelicals still believe it is right to bring the gospel message to Jewish people. Over the decades, Christian focus has shifted from eschatological enthusiasm about Israel in the end times to the possibility of Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus.
We just need to keep it real.
Tuvya Zaretsky is a Lausanne catalyst for Jewish evangelism, serves the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE), and is a Jewish-Gentile Couples ministry specialist with Jews for Jesus. He posts resources at www.JewishGentileCouples.com. He and his wife, Ellen, are the parents of four incredibly amazing Millennials.
* A pseudonym