By Bruce Ashford
A Christian missionary typically moves overseas to minister among a group of people who differ from him linguistically, religiously, socially, culturally, and politically.
The missionary’s goal is to minister to the people group’s needs and to persuade them to consider the claims of Jesus Christ. He didn’t caricature the people group’s religion, mock their culture, or impugn their motives.
Instead, a good Christian missionary does three things.
1. Shows compassion
First, a good Christian missionary exhibits genuine concern. Christian missionaries move their families overseas at great financial cost, often risking their own lives, for one reason: They genuinely care about the people to whom they will minister.
We must exhibit the same genuine concern—yes, even love—for their ideological foes. If we do not possess such concern, we should quit and go home.
I suspect that, despite our deep flaws, most of us really do carry this love around in our hearts. We just need to express it in those terms.
2. Finds commonality
Second, good missionaries work hard to find “common ground” with their conversation partners. In other words, they find things upon which they both agree.
From that common ground, missionaries find it much easier to persuade their conversation partners on other matters precisely because they do so from a point of mutual understanding.
Don’t you know this to be true from your own experience? Who are you more likely to listen to when they challenge you—someone who disagrees with and insults you at every turn, or someone who shares many of your convictions?
3. Focuses on the long term
Third, missionaries take the long view. If conversation partners aren’t receptive to their ministry and message, they don’t quit and go home. They knew it was going to be a challenge, so they are ready to stick it out for the long haul.
They don’t insult their conversation partners’ intelligence or impugn their motives. They don’t caricature their conversation partners as thoroughly reprehensible people in whom no good can be found.
Instead, the missionaries’ genuine concern causes them to persevere over the long run. They may end up persuading their conversation partners. They may not. What they won’t do is quit because it’s hard.
These are the sorts of things American Christians need to do as we seek to persuade other Americans of our vision of the common good. We simply must make it clear that compassion drives us.
It’s worth asking ourselves: Do we actually care about the people with whom we disagree? Do we want the best for them and for our nation as a whole? Are we doing this to win or because love demands it?
If we don’t ask ourselves these questions, we’ll lose. Worse yet, we’ll be poor witnesses for Christ.
BRUCE ASHFORD (@BruceAshford) is Provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of five books, including Letters to an American Christian. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter and as a regular contributor at Fox News Opinion and bruceashford.net. Excerpted and adapted from Letters to an American Christian. Used with permission from B&H Publishing Group.