(Skip to 16:10 to see the interview with Imam Zia)
The church I pastor, NorthWood, celebrated MLK Day not just last Monday but Sunday as well. We are in a series called ANXIETY in which we are looking at how we deal with it as people. On January 15, we looked at how we deal with anxiety when community issues arise. We had a guest band that was awesome, we had ethnic food tables from all over the world, and we had Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, and even an Atheist who came out of curiosity over an “evangelical church that would invite all those people to come together.”
I preached on standing together out of Romans 12 and in the sermon even brought up a friend from a mosque in Irving, Imam Zia. He shared what Muslims believe and I explained what we believe about the birth, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus, and how to accept him as Lord and Savior. We had hundreds of Muslims with us. I LOVE preaching to people of other religions about Jesus – kinda what Paul did.
Paul would be shocked at what he would find in American Christianity with it’s isolationism and tribalism. Paul was a frequent speaker at synagogues, other religious temples, philosophy gatherings, universities, markets, and countless other public square gatherings. As a matter of fact, all of Paul’s evangelism was in the public square generally being asked to speak at their request. Frankly, I get asked to speak at many non-Christian and other religious events and I’ve come to love it. You’ve not preached until you’ve preached to a packed house of people where you are the only Christian! It’s like skiing on the black slopes. A little scary at first, but then – wow it’s incredible!
The reality is, any evangelical pastor, in any city in America can do what I do. The truth is, it would be easy. The reason is that so few evangelical pastors reach out intentionally to people of other religions, and most of those people of other religions as minorities want a relationship with us. Keep in mind the early church didn’t grow through sheep swapping, better music, celebrity pastors, or backslidden Baptist and Methodist but from people from many other religions who loved the message of Jesus.
How do you do it this? The clip above of the Sunday service illustrates this:
- Intentionally be friends with people of other religions. If you’re an American evangelical pastor you are the majority – not the minority. THEY DON’T BITE! I’ve yet to get a bad reception from someone of another religion that you try to just be their friend. Ask to go drink coffee, probably tea is better, or eat a meal or just hang out. ALL THE APOSTLES DID THIS!!! That’s how the Gospel spread to so many nations. My wife is in a cooking club with Muslims and Jews. There are so many ways to build friendships. Zia and I have been friends for years. All good things come out of relationships.
- Visit their place of worship. They will let you. As a matter of fact it shows honor and respect that you would do that. It would be a great education experience for you. Paul did this – don’t let other Christians who live by fear and isolationism leading to judgmentalism keep you away. It gives you chance to speak intelligently to them and to your members about what you believe.
- Let them share their view! Paul did this as well. Leave your rhetoric at home, have a conversation with people. If the strength of our faith is keeping other faiths away or not allowing other faiths to speak – we must have a very small view of the power of the Gospel and of the Trinity. Be gracious, listen, ask questions, be kind.
- When you’re asked to speak, smile a lot. Take off your preacher face and your oratory. Don’t let others tell you everything you need to say. Let the Spirit guide you. Be kind. Self-depreciating humor helps. Take a long term approach to what you say and do.
- State what you believe but be kind about it. Share where you disagree but don’t disparage the other person. Everyone talks about look at all the commonalities, frankly I believe the strength is in how much we disagree but how well as followers of Jesus we can still be friends with others. As a friend of mine says, “Lift up Jesus!” You don’t have to trash others, just tell your story and the story of Jesus.
- Eat a meal together and keep hanging out. You don’t know what God might do with building relationships. I’m sorry to say I used to see other religious clerics as obstacles to overcome in order to engage with others – I’ve come to see them as the most important people I should be friends with. We have access to masses that can lead to all kinds of things in terms of standing up for one another, etc.
- Work together for religious freedom. The whole world is connected. What you do here affects there. I get to help persecuted Christians around the world, and other religious minorities, because of my credibility with Muslims here in America. Would to God, we American Christians and especially evangelical pastors would realize that when you speak and spout hate, you make it incredibly hard for believers around the world. But, many pastors in America have been told this and still don’t control their tongues. I guess they don’t really care about believers around the world that much as long as things are ok with them.
People talk a lot about going back to the early church – this is how it started. They didn’t have revival meetings, seminars, books, not even a Bible – just a few letters passed around. But they did have the Holy Spirit and Love. The formula has not changed – but we have. It still works.