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Home arrow General Information arrow The art of persuasion - telling it like it is

The art of persuasion - telling it like it is

By Jan Groenveld

Before we look at the methods used by the cults, we should investigate what we ourselves do when talking to others.  Many Christians don't realise that cult members are simply unsaved people like the rest of the populace, the only difference being that they are religious and trained unbelievers.

Over the years I have heard many stories of how Christians responded to cult members they met.  Sadly, some would be proud as they recounted what they had said when a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon knocked at their door.  Others would tell how they won a debate with a Hare Krishna or told a Scientologist the truth.

THINK FOR A MINUTE ... What would your impression be if you received the following responses while door-knocking?  What do you think they tell the cult member?

  • I'VE GOT MY OWN RELIGION THANKYOU! (while door is FIRMLY shut in your face)
  • I WORSHIP JESUS! I WORSHIP JESUS! (while staring into your eyes)
  • I'M A BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN (as door, bearing Christian sticker, is shut FIRMLY in your face.
  • YOU PEOPLE ARE RELIGIOUS FREAKS!
  • HOW COULD YOU BE STUPID ENOUGH TO BELIEVE THAT RUBBISH?
  • YOU PEOPLE WORSHIP THE DEVIL!  YOU'RE GOING TO HELL FOR SURE!
  • IF YOU'RE STUPID ENOUGH TO BE A ... IT SERVES YOU RIGHT!
  • I'VE HEARD ABOUT YOUR MAGIC MORMON UNDERWEAR ... HA! HA!
  • YOU PEOPLE ARE ACCURSED OF GOD!
  • 2 JOHN 10 & 11 TELLS ME I SHOULDN'T EVEN GREET YOU.  PLEASE LEAVE - NOW!

Sometimes the householder doesn't speak — except to their dog which takes delight in obeying it's owner as it encourages you to leave their property — fast!

Or ... picture a street scene when the Christian is loudly debating Christian doctrine with someone who doesn't even accept the Bible as his source of reality.

If you have been tempted to use this type of approach....

ASK YOURSELF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS

WOULD YOU SAY THIS TO AN ORDINARY, NON-RELIGIOUS UNSAVED PERSON?  WHY NOT?  Yet Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses at the doors of CHRISTIAN homes have heard these statements!

WHAT SHOULD OUR ATTITUDE BE TO ALL PEOPLE?  How should we relate to them?  How did Jesus relate to them?

WHAT ARE PRACTICAL THINGS WE CAN DO personally to show them the love of Christ even though we disagree with them.  What would be ways we could witness?  Does our witness always have to be verbal?

SHOULD WE 'MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS' OR BE WILLING TO WALK THE EXTRA MILE TO HELP SOMEONE?  Is there anywhere we cannot go to reach out to those who need Jesus?  The answers to these questions may seem obvious but how often do we check our attitudes toward people and their needs.

How often are we willing to ... ASK OURSELVES ...

- Am I really concerned about those who don't know Jesus or do I merely give it lip-service?

- Is there anything wrong with my attitude towards witnessing to the unsaved?  Do I see them as "scalps in my belt" under the guise of "winning them for the Lord?"

- How can I show the same love as God has toward unsaved people (and me before I was saved)?  Our attitudes play an integral part in how we relate to others.  If we fear or disrespect others because they believe differently, or have different customs we will treat them so.  If we see ourselves as BETTER than they because WE are Christians and they aren't, it will show in the way we treat them.

Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies, those with whom we disagree, to pray for them.  We should respect them as individuals for whom He died.  We are there to serve them as He did while He hung on the cross.  Throughout His ministry he made no distinctions between people.  He ministered to the Jew; He ministered to the Samaritan; He ministered to the Gentile.  He washed the feet of the man who betrayed Him; His witness was practical; It was caring and loving and doing; It met needs.

When we respect others, when we respect their right to have an opinion of their own.  When we respect their right to make their own decision, we will use ethical methods of witnessing.

ETHICAL AND NON-ETHICAL METHODS OF PERSUASION

There are a variety of methods used to persuade others to accept our point of view.  In this lesson we are going to examine some of these methods and learn if there is anything offensive in our personal approach to people.  You may learn that you said all the right things - but said them the wrong way.  Sometimes we find that many of those we speak to don't WANT to be persuaded or have a "Don't confuse me with the facts - my minds is made up" attitude.  This is called "psychological reactance" and you have probably experienced this yourself when talking to a salesmen.  You had a built in antagonism to what they were saying.  Simply put - if someone tries to push us - we push back.

This applies also to the Gospel.  There are people who do not want to listen to our message.  Sometimes, in an effort to get our message across, we resort to methods that only seem to make things worse - not realising that we have entered the field of "high-pressure" sales.  Actually, we are then trying to impress them with our knowledge.  Under those circumstances, any "conversion" is probably a "yes" response to get rid of us.

People are only put off the Gospel message when our attitude is wrong.  Do we treat those to whom we speak as people to be "won for the Lord" (scalps in our belt) instead of persons who are worth saving in their own right?  Do we send out "we are better than you" signals or an elitist attitude, as though we are better that they because WE have the Gospel; WE have Jesus and they don't?  Instead of seeing Christ speaking through us, they only see us in the forefront.

When we are willing to admit our own faults and doubts honestly, let them see that we are like them, we have the most influence because we are then the least manipulative.  We are being ourselves.

FACING FACTS!

Sometimes we don't like to face what we are doing wrong because we don't like to admit failure.  We'd rather assume that what we said was effective anyway and not analyse what we may have done wrong by measuring their response or lack of it.  Yet we must analyse our approach to people without placing ourselves under condemnation.  It is through our failures that we learn.

If we are willing to examine ourselves honestly we can improve those areas of approach that are lacking.  In other words, we need to become "people readers" - including (especially) ourselves.  This inward and outward "people reading" will help us to become more Christlike as we become more honest with ourselves and those to whom we minister.

GOD USES EVEN US

Our Sovereign God has chosen to use us.  He could have bypassed us and influenced men Himself directly (It would probably have saved lots of mistakes).  While He can over-ride our mistakes when we botch the job of witnessing, it would be irresponsible of us to expect Him to continue doing so if we aren't willing to take the time or trouble to discover what we may be doing wrong and learn the best way of persuading people.  We need to be good stewards, working in co-operation with the Holy Spirit instead of against Him.

DEFLATING OUR EGO (Dying to Self)

We cannot "save anyone" nor do we "win anyone".  When we see ourselves as we truly are, "bondservants of Christ for [their} sake" (2 Cor 4:5) there is no room left for pride.  We must recognise that it is the Holy Spirit, God Himself, who "saves and wins" a person to Himself.  Only He is able to unveil His Gospel and let a person see Christ.  Only God can undo the work of Satan in their lives.  Our role in all this??  We just happen to be privileged to be around for the "pre-natal care" and "delivery".  We are only "midwives" so to speak.  We didn't "conceive" the new life.  We only help in the "delivery."

ATTITUDES & BEHAVIOUR

Attitudes affect behaviour.  Change a person's attitude and behaviour will follow.  It is the "attitude" of the "inner man" that the Lord looks at (1 Sam 16:7) and it is this we want to reach - both in ourselves and those to whom we speak.  Studies of persuasion have shown that attitudes have three important facets:

WHAT A PERSON THINKS -- COGNITIVE BELIEF ---- His head
WHAT A PERSON FEELS -- EMOTIONAL AFFECT ---- His heart
WHAT HE PLANS TO DO -- BEHAVIOURAL INTENTION - His actions

(Later you will learn how this is important in mind control).

We can be confident that change of opinion has occurred when there is a change in each of these three areas.

OUR BELIEFS AFFECT OUR ATTITUDE

Our theological beliefs shape our attitude toward God.  But beliefs are only PART of our attitude.  Two people can have exactly the same belief about God, but have different attitudes (James 2:19)

Belief alone is sterile.  Emotion alone can be mere gushiness or sentimentality.

There must be a balance between the two, but the third facet must also be present before there is wholeness - action.

A person's attitude toward God is made up of:

  • What he believes CONCERNING Him
  • How he feels ABOUT Him
  • What he intends to do TOWARD Him.

Any opinion shift must be in all three areas to be effective.

GETTING FEEDBACK

Because most people have "made up their minds" they are resistant to change.  When we are witnessing we like to have "feedback" - some idea of whether we have been effective or not.  The best way to do this is to ask questions.  When we are asking questions we need to ensure that the way we ask shows that we truly value what he thinks, what his thoughts are.  If we conduct a mini-heresy trial we only create a judgemental atmosphere and we will hear what he thinks we want to hear.  He may even change the subject and go on the attack to avoid the issue.

LOGS & SPLINTERS

Before we try to change everyone else's beliefs and attitudes we need to examine our own.  What is OUR attitude toward God.  Jesus emphasised what our attitude toward God should be when He said "Seek FIRST the Kingdom" and told the parables of the pearl of great price and the unjust steward.  While eternal life is a free gift of God Jesus did draw the lines of discipleship which excludes those who value comfort, family or riches ahead of Him.  Jesus was referring to our ATTITUDES towards those things in comparison to our attitude toward Him.  His disciples would be willing to do as He said.  The question we need to ask is "Would we be truly willing to give up all for Him if we had to?"  It is easy to say "Yes" ----- but would we ...?

It is this change of attitude that leads to being willing to lay down our own life for the Kingdom of God.  When we realise that nothing is of value here and that our riches are truly in heaven then we reach the state of being willing to allow our old man to be crucified with Christ.  It is then we are able to forgo our own comforts, our own wants, and give our all to God.  Then we are truly effective in being His instruments.

This change of attitude will make us a "good Samaritan" - someone who is willing to give out of themselves to minister to someone, even if they are different.  Rather than being "religious" - giving lip-service instead of action, mercy and compassion instead of "Sunday best" and looking holy - we will reach out regardless no matter how costly it may be to our time, finances and other resources.  We will then follow in the footsteps of our Lord.

Our attitude needs to aim for what Paul spoke about in Phil 2:5 - 11.  Having that same mind as Christ - being willing to leave all to be obedient.  Because He was willing to lay down His life, we have life.  If we are willing to lay down our life for others, to show them Christ Jesus, they too will have life.

This is where we need to be aiming for - that total change of attitude toward God and what He wants us to do.  He has created us for good works that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10) - but we can stifle what He wants by our wrong attitude.  We cannot minister effectively or ethically with a wrong attitude and be effective.

CHRISTIAN ETHICS - VS - MANIPULATIVE METHODS
IS BEING EFFECTIVE THE SAME AS BEING ETHICAL?

Read 1 Thess 2:3-8 - This whole chapter deals with Christian ETHICS.

Read 2 Tim 2:23-26 - Avoiding manipulative methods - Non-Ethical.

WE CAN BE FRAGRANT OR A BAD ODOUR

2 Cor 2:15-17.  (Note "peddling = corrupting")

WE PREACH OUR OWN KNOWLEDGE - OR WE PREACH CHRIST JESUS - WHICH?

2 Cor 4:3-5

SHOULD WE BE PREPARED IN EVERY WAY - AT ALL TIMES

2 Tim 2:14,15; Col 4:5,6; 2 Tim 4:1-4; 1 Pet 3:15; 1 Cor 3:6-15

THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

It is imperative that we give the other person the right to choose - The right to say "No."

Any persuasive effort which restricts another's freedom to choose is wrong.  Any form of MANIPULATION is restriction of the other's freedom to choose.

Some sociologists say that humans aren't free to choose, but are the product of their environment - that all of their "decisions" are actually determined by their previous experiences.  There are some Christians who believe that all of men's actions are determined by God and that we do not have free choice.  But if free choice is a myth, then so is moral obligation.  C.S. Lewis said that you cannot strip men of autonomy without denuding them of responsibility.

As we examine the different methods of persuasion, think of the various methods you may have used yourself.  Think about various methods you have seen others using.  Think about the ethics of these methods.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF PERSUASION

The following descriptions are adapted from THE MIND CHANGERS by Em Griffin.  Published by Tyndale House Publishers (Highly recommended reading)

"LIVE AND LET LIVE" - The Non-Persuader

Hopefully none of us fit in here.  This is a luxury not available to Christians.  A Christian takes seriously the right of each individual to choose, while desiring that God's way be the option for every person.  If he doesn't witness in any way that option might not be made available.

The person who does not try to witness to others about his beliefs shows that he does not care about those beliefs nor about the other person.  That leaves room for doubt about their conversion.

What Paul said to the non-persuader is found in Romans 10:14,15

"LOVE 'EM AND LEAVE 'EM". - The Scalp-Collecting Persuader

This one is more interested in statistics than individuals.  He is more interested in another scalp than the welfare of his hearer.  Once he has won someone to his way to thinking he dumps them and moves on to the next scalp.  Sadly this has and does happen in some churches.  Rather than make disciples, they make statistics - quantity and not quality.

"BUY THIS & YOU GET THAT FREE" - Free Gift With Purchase Persuader

This persuader often appeals to irrelevant desires to success, financial prosperity, popularity, or an easy life in order to woo people to his side.  "If you take Jesus you'll get ..."  It is similar to the deception of the promise of sex appeal if you use a certain toothpaste.

What happened to "Take up your cross and follow me" or "we are beaten, reviled ... etc but not dismayed" or "counting the cost".

This type of persuader only presents part of the Gospel.  The Gospel message is enough in itself -- if the Holy Spirit is going to convict a person He will.  He doesn't need these other trappings.  How many are sitting in our churches, wooed by this method of persuasion and still not converted?  They never repented - never saw themselves as sinners.  An appeal was made to their flesh - not their spirit.  What did Paul say about this in 2 Cor 4:2-7?

"OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE" - If You Don't You'll Regret It Persuader

This is religious coercion in its fullest.  One would get the impression that they would use force to impose their will if they were the ruling majority.  Sadly this too has been part of the history of the Christian faith.

Any form of HIGH PRESSURE to gain a decision for Christ comes into this category.  This type of persuasion uses GUILT as one of its main tactics.

"SEE HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU" - I'm Only Doing It For Your Own Good Persuader

This persuader won't take "no" for an answer to the point of being obnoxious.  They have no respect for the other persons right to say "no".

This type of persuader doesn't give his listeners or followers enough room to breathe.  He knows what is best and will set down rules and regulations for the person's benefit.  He often tries to limit them for hearing another's point of view.  Theologian, Harvey Cox said: "One-way 'communication' by decree, fiat or promulgation is viewed by the Bible as the style not of prophets but of tyrants and oppressors."

This person may mean well, but can one justify their actions on the basis of good intentions alone?

"I'M NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR WELFARE" - I Am Doing My Christian Duty Persuader

This persuader lacks love.  He does what he has to do out of duty or obligation and only goes through the motions.  As a preacher he who would dutifully conduct an alter call every week even though there's not an unbeliever in the place.  It looks spiritual.

This type of persuader doesn't look at the total needs of the person.  He may present the Gospel while failing to fill an urgent need for food, clothing or shelter.  What did James say about this type of persuader in James 2:15,16?

"I TRULY CARE" - The True Persuader

Jesus was a true persuader.  He was both loving and just.  He cared more about the welfare of His hearers than His own personal welfare.  He made His appeals in a manner that respected the rights of His listeners.  Although it saddened Him, He gave people the right to say no.

Let's look at some examples:

John 3:  Nicodemus at night

John 4:  The Samaritan woman

John 6:  Feeding the crowd

John 20:  The doubting Thomas

John 21:15-18:  Reaching out to Peter

Matt 19:16-26:  The rich young man ........

The healing of the blind man - the wedding at Cana - the examples go on and on.

The true persuader is ethical in his approach and his appeal.  He will be strikingly effective and God will use him.  This is a hard standard, but Christ never promised an easy road.

WHERE DO I STAND?

We are all guilty of having used the non-ethical approaches.  Thankfully God forgives and corrects.  He can take our blunders and use them mightily.  But this cannot be used as an excuse on our part to continue knowingly doing this.  We need to examine our approach to people and ensure that we are truly reaching out to that higher goal of being Christlike.

EXERCISE

a) Examine your attitudes toward witnessing.  This is a very personal examination between you and God.  Only He can give you a mark for this one. 

b) Be aware of what you say when witnessing to people.  Which method of persuasion are you using and how can you change to Christ's method?

c) Over the next few weeks you will see various Christians, including yourself, falling into these patterns of behaviour.  Be alert and note how their listeners are reacting and check your own reactions at the same time.

What effect do you think the non-ethical methods would have on the non-religious unchurched person.

What effect do you think the non-ethical methods would have on a cult member?

How would you respond to the use of non-ethical methods on you?

© 1985 Jan Groenveld, Cult Awareness and Information Centre.

Reproduction permitted only if text is intact, not in the body of any other text, and is not sold for gain or profit