Sharing the gospel with others can be a daunting task for many of us and possibly more so when evangelising Jehovah’s Witnesss (JWs). Below are some hopefully helpful hints to know when you come across a JW, either on the streets or at your door. JWs are well taught in how to peddle the Watchtower Society’s (WTS) ideology and we would do well to be prepared in response.
JWs (and other cultists) come with a different set of ‘rules’ and it helps to know what to expect, what pitfalls to avoid and ‘tactics’ you may need. Of course all the strategies in the world cannot match the power of the Holy Spirit and we must never forget that it is He that does the real work, we are just His mouthpiece. But hopefully the following will make you feel better prepared to speak with any JWs you may meet and to share the gospel with them.
Pray, pray, and pray again:
The JW is well armoured through their dedication to what the WTS says and through their training. Ephesians 6 v 12 warns us that “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph.6:12) This is never more true than when dealing with JWs. To overcome these obstacles requires the power of the Holy Spirit and a deep connection with Christ.
So, before, during and after talking with a JW prayer is the key. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of those to whom you are talking, pray for Him to give you the words to speak, and to empower those words to break through the armour and to pierce the heart. If I see JWs in the street and I have the time to talk with them I will pause and take a moment to pray and to remember I am in the presence of God.
When you have a spare second during the discussion pray in your head as a reminder of who should be speaking, take that moment to again bring yourself in to the presence of God.
Pray after the meeting for the JWs with whom you spoke, hopefully you will know their names by now, and perhaps continue to pray for them regularly, particularly if you have arranged to meet again.
JWs encounter a lot of ‘persecution’ from the public and even some Christians – they are people who honestly believe they are doing Jehovah’s will and this must be respected. JWs are taught a ‘them-and-us’ attitude; the WTS and its members are good and the rest are bad. By being aggressive or rude towards them only bolsters this thinking, giving them a feeling of superiority and increasing their trust in the Governing Body (GB) as they were told by them that this would happen.
When you meet JWs on the street introduce yourself, ask their names, ask how things are going; have they been busy, how are people responding to their message? Perhaps use a compliment such as “I understand JWs are very keen on the Bible” or “You are clearly very dedicated to be out here in all weathers”.
These basics also work when JWs come to your door. If you have the time, and are happy to do so, you can invite them in for a cup of tea or such like. Being pleasant and interested in who they are will automatically reduce the barriers that exist, and encourage a more open mind set on their part. This is basic psychology and of course works in other areas of life too! Hopefully they will see you as less of a threat and more as ‘one of them’ and so they will be more likely to take what you say as believable.
Similarly, when you finish your chat, whether on the street or at home, say how much you have enjoyed the chat and that you hope they will think about what you have said.
Sow the Seed:
Whether you are talking with JWs on the street or in your home it is extremely unlikely (basically impossible except that with God all things are possible!) you will change their minds there and then. Even if they do believe what you are saying, they are unlikely to admit it as they are in the presence of another witness who may possibly rat on them. However, what you say may have an impact in the long term, a small seed of truth may have been sown and that will slowly germinate in due course.
You can see yourself too as just one part of the overall scheme for that JW; what you say today may be repeated by someone else in the days and years to come and, bit by bit, the difference is made. If you are in the habit of speaking about Jesus with your friends, family or workmates think how often you have spoken and to what effect; speaking with a JW is less ‘effective’ as they already believe they have the truth and so are not searching for it.
Therefore, do not be downhearted if you (or they) go away without any apparent effect upon them; leave the Holy Spirit to continue the work in your absence.
Regard Every Encounter a Training Session:
With all evangelising, and particularly evangelising JWs, there is a certain amount of skill and some tactics involved, without wishing to demote the power of the Holy Spirit to work effectively despite us rather than with us! See each interaction you have with JWs as a training session. You might even take notes after the event to remind you of where you went ‘wrong’ and where you went ‘right’. Learn what responses you are likely to get to your questions, this will help you steer the next discussion to the point you are trying to make.
Ask yourself; How well did my question(s) work, what could I have done better, what ‘traps’ did I fall in to, did I allow the conversation to ramble on, what can I do better next time?
It’s Not a Battle:
It is so easy to see evangelising JWs (or in fact anyone with an opposing view) as a battle, an attempt to win an argument and to prove your point. This attitude will only increase the JW’s ‘stubbornness’ as to the correctness of their theology, in psychological terms this is known as the ‘backfire effect’; the more you batter them the less effective you get and the more they become entrenched in their own ideas.
It is better to have the attitude of trying to put over ideas that they can mull over after the event. If you find yourself going round and round in circles (which you will!) then perhaps change the subject and try another tack even if you feel you have not ‘won’ that point. Remember, you are not trying to win an argument you are trying to win a soul. Additionally, staying on one point too long will cause them to regard you as obstinate and their eyes will glaze over and you will have lost their attention.
Try to keep to one subject at a time:
JWs are taught to follow a certain pattern of subjects as they are well trained in those. If you go off piste they will try and get you back on to their path with a question that may or may not be related to your chosen subject. For example; if you’re talking about the power of the Holy Spirit they may ask “Do you believe in the Trinity?” JWs are well versed on that subject and you can spend hours discussing it with little effect. The best route back to the question you have asked is to say something like “That’s a very interesting subject/point you raise and I would like to come back to that at a future date. In the meantime can we talk more about…?”
Another technique they use is to change your question for you. For example; if you are pointing out that the Bible is very clear that salvation is a ‘now’ event, not for some future occasion, they may come back with “So, you believe once saved always saved?” Again, they are well versed in answers to that question and not so much in being saved as a past event, the two questions here are different.
They may well pick up on a phrase or word you have used in a question in order to avoid answering that question. For example, you may ask “Do you believe Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to save you from your sins?”; a perfectly valid question, but the response you are likely to get is “Do you believe Jesus died on a cross? Did you know the cross is a pagan symbol and Jesus actually died on a stake?” Following that line of questioning will lead nowhere – does it really matter if Christ died with His hands to the side or above His head? So be careful with the words you use!
Be the Pupil not the Teacher:
JWs expect to act as teachers, telling you what they have to say from their prepared speeches. To try and ‘teach’ them overtly will often result in them clamming up and classifying you as someone who is lost and unwilling to listen. Nowadays JWs are taught to go for the ‘low hanging fruit’ and to avoid talking with those who do not immediately respond positively to their message. So the best route is to act as the pupil while asking probing questions on the subject in hand.
To introduce the point you wish to make pose it as a question, possibly prompted by having seen something in a book/pamphlet/on jw.org that you would like them to explain to you; “Your book says this… but I’m sure the Bible says this … – can you explain what you mean, please”. Nod appreciatively of their ‘helpful’ answers and perhaps dig a little deeper. Always let them speak; it’s too easy to jump in on a point before they have had a chance to speak – this is impolite in any circumstance and won’t endear you to them. After speaking with a number of JWs you will come to know what they are going to say next, they all speak from the same ‘script’, but try and let them say it before commenting.
Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t open with a line such as “what are your thoughts on Premillenialist dispensationalism?” Not many people have thoughts on that subject, much less JWs! The gospel is very simple in its message and so should our approach be. The good news of the kingdom is salvation through Jesus Christ and this should always be the main thrust of our discussions with JWs (or any non-believer in fact). Discussions about in depth subjects can wait until the basics are covered.
One of my favourite opening questions is “What must I do to gain everlasting life?”, this cuts through the mire of theology the JWs have learnt and a simple, biblical answer to that question is easy to come by and has the power to change lives. The only benefit of deeper discussions may be to show that the WTS is in error in some of its teachings, but that is a much tougher route to their hearts!
Be Careful When Criticising the WTS:
Of course, to disagree with what the JW is saying is to disagree with the WTS, but it can be counter-productive to be too overtly critical of the WTS itself, certainly in the initial meetings. The JW is likely to ‘circle the wagons’ and simply see you as the ‘opposer’ that the WTS warned them about. It will take wisdom to know when to point out the WTS’s failings; this is where the prayer aspect becomes particularly important.
The JW’s belief system has been likened to a tree which you are trying to kill off; attacking the individual theological points is like trying to strip the tree of its leaves one by one, but by cutting out the roots and the trunk (belief in the WTS itself) the tree is killed more effectively. This tactic is more likely to succeed when you are dealing with a long term relationship with a JW, once they have built up a certain amount of trust in you.
However, many JWs have seen the light after learning of such WTS failings as their association with the UN or the multiple paedophile claims and scandals across the globe so such ‘attacks’ can be a powerful addition to your armoury. If you can break the JW’s trust with the WTS then showing them the truth will be a lot easier.
Make Sure You’re Talking About the same Thing:
Many arguments with JWs will result from the two sides discussing the same word but actually talking about different things. To take two examples; the WTS’s use of the word ‘kingdom’ (as in ‘the kingdom of God’) is completely different to the general view of Christianity. To the JW the ‘kingdom’ is a government made up of 144,000 anointed Christians ruling from heaven. This negates the need to be born-again to enter that kingdom as required by John 3 v 5.
The other tricky word is ‘salvation’ or ‘saved’; to a Christian this is a simple concept involving the forgiveness of sins through the blood and sacrifice of Christ; you are either saved or you are not. To a JW salvation is a complex process involving the need to jump through numerous ‘hoops’ which is not finally completed until the end of the 1000 millennial reig
n of Christ over the paradise earth. Asking ‘How can I be saved?’ is a powerful question but be aware of the nuances inherent in it.
Use the Bible:
It would seem obvious to back up what you are saying from the Bible but, in the heat of the battle, it’s easy to forg
et this vital weapon. JWs claim to follow the Bible so to show them a verse or passage from there which appears to support
your point is likely to have a much greater effect than you simply stating your ‘opinion’.
Similarly, ask the JW to support their statements from the Bible too. Perhaps the most powerful action to refute the WTS’s point of view is to ask “Can you show me where it says that in the Bible, please?” Very often (more often than not in my experience) the verses quoted by the WTS in support of an assertion do not in fact support it at all. Once read in context (and possibly in a true translation) the verse changes its meaning completely.
Inherent in this is a need to know your Bible. Unless you have a very good memory it is difficult to remember all the suitable verses that refute WTS teachings. It is a good idea to memorise some scriptures (the more the merrier) for those occasions when you come upon JWs unexpectedly, but, perhaps have a notebook in which you write suitable verses and passages, or store them on your phone so as to make them always available when needed.
If all else fails…
If you don’t have much time or you end up hitting a brick wall then just give them your testimony; tell them how you came to know Jesus and tell them how wonderful He is and how great it is to have a relationship with Him and His Father. JWs rarely have such relationships it seems and this can be a great draw.
The little Things:
- JWs will never accept literature from you, even if it’s only quotes from their own books and magazines.
- They will not want to pray with you – they believe they would be praying to the wrong god!
- Avoid saying “You believe…” rather use “I understand that the WTS teaches…”; nobody likes being told what they believe!
An effective JW evangelist would do well to understand the mindset of the person with whom they are talking and how they have been trained to respond by the WTS, but we should never be scared to speak out even if we feel ill prepared. Our testimony alone is a most powerful weapon and allowing yourself to be led by the Spirit gives your words power far greater than we could produce on our own, however well prepared we may be.