“What do you say to a Mormon/JW?” I often get asked this question and my reply is always, “There is no killer text you know.” “I know that”, is the reply, “but what do you say?” It’s a questionthat troublesme because it betrays a lack of understanding and poor preparation. Witnessing isn’t somehow ‘magical’. It isn’t as simple as dropping some text into a conversation, standing back and waiting for a reaction. It involves relationship, understanding, preparation and patience and there are no short cuts.
The question about that killer text reveals a certain attitude to preparation and learning. Some see learning as something that is done by rote, an assimilation of handy facts that can be brought out and used on appropriate occasions. These cold, hard facts are to be marshalled when ‘opportunity’ presents itself and are expected to do all the work that preparation, patience and understanding are meant to do. When the facts ‘don’t work’, or worse, are forgotten in a moment of crisis, the Christian witness is driven back to his books to relearn what he thought he knew better or to glean more facts that might prove more effective. Or he just gives up, declaring that it is a waste of time talking to these people.
Of course, we all start by assimilating facts but true learning is not so much a book to tell us what to think and say as a map to show us the territory and terrain and help us find our own way on the subject. We are then not just thinking other’s thoughts after them but finding our own thoughts and giving them form with our own voice to express them. When we go to the door, or out into the world, and encounter witnessing opportunities we leave the book on the shelf and rely on the little we remember. When we have drawn our own map of faith and understanding, based on our reading but comprised of our own thoughts, we have that with us wherever we go. It is the way we look at and find our way around the world. It remains familiar because it is the way we think about things and not what we remember imperfectly of how others see them. This is what prepares us to think clearly and critically about faith claims. So many are ill-prepared to meet with JWs or Mormons because their thoughts are not their own. Since they have only the thoughts of others they cannot bring those thoughts to the door. They are left on the bookshelf. When a man has his own thoughts he is always prepared. Even when he meets something new he is less likely to be caught unprepared because, although he hasn’t thoughts specific to what he encounters, he does have a familiarity with the territory and a familiar process of thought which can be applied.
What do You Say?
Having a map in my own mind I need not be apprehensive about what I might meet, or fearful of what I might forget, since what knowledge I have is mine, I know my way around. I can be more relaxed and real in my conversations and take pretty much the same approach with everyone. First I chat and get to know them. If and when an opportunity comes up to talk about my faith, either in something they bring up if they try to witness to me, or in some opportunity I see I tend to see it in stages and consider myself as having succeeded if any stage is successfully negotiated:
I get into a conversation about how they are doing. What do you say to a JW? You say, “Hello. How are you?”
I tell them I am a Christian. Not in an accusative fashion as though challenging them to make something of it but simply declaring that I see the world through Christian eyes.
I get them to talk about what they believe, rather than telling them what they believe. I consider what I hear against the background of my map. I have the true map. How does their map compare with mine?
I get to share in more detail what I believe; confidently negotiating the terrain because I have walked here before many times and I have my own map. I am leading them through my faith world not just telling them things.
I work from number 1 to number 4 and with each step I consider myself as having succeeded more and more. Most people work from number 4 to number 1 and with each step consider themselves as having failed more and more.
I always try and take the shortest route to the Cross, which is not always short, but I try to avoid minor issues (cross or stake; blood transfusions etc) by listening and then trying to bring the conversation back to what I consider needs to be addressed.
I have simple texts memorised but I never expect them to be “killer texts” because such texts do not exist. I do expect them to throw out a challenge, to use them confidently and expect them to stick. An obvious one for a JW would be John 20:28 (“My Lord and my God”). One I use for Mormons is John 5:24 because it challenges their view of salvation as being achieved by a mixture of faith and works. 1 John 5:13 works alongside this very well. I also have some texts about the nature of God because their view of God is so unbiblical. I don’t throw these texts out as though they are truth bombs that will explode to devastating effect. Rather, they form an integral part of the discussion that move the conversation along in a direction I already know and anticipate.
Of course, these encounters can be brief so I use my knowledge appropriately, sometimes having the luxury of time to develop a theme, sometimes only being able to share a few appropriate words. But if I move from 1 to 4 then I will never have failed if only because I have shared with them my Christian conviction and shown them Christian charity in taking the time to speak to them. It is important not to always expect to talk about your own favourite subjects. Instead I find out what is important to them and try and speak to that because that is where there will be the greatest challenge and the best opportunity. You see, it is important to speak with a person and not at them.
Finally, this reflects my aspirations and does not describe how I always conduct myself. We are all human and it makes no sense to despair because we have not yet attained all that God has for us.