If you're going to be good at fishing, you've got to learn to think like a fish. If you're going to be an effective fisher of men, you've got to think like a lost person. Here's the problem. Unfortunately, the longer you are a Christian, the less you think like an unbeliever. I don't think like a non-Christian; I think like a Christian. In fact, I think like a pastor. That's even worse! It's two generations removed from the people I want to reach.
You can tell just how differently pastors think than lost people when you look at church advertisements in the newspaper. You'll see advertisements like, "Preaching the inspired, inerrant Word of God." Who will that appeal to? I know what the inspired, inerrant Word of God is. In fact I believe in it. I'd die for the inspired, inerrant Word. But non-Christians don't care about your view of inspiration.
Or you'll see a church advertise "Holy Spirit services." That's going to scare people away! Non-Christians don't know what you mean by the Holy Spirit. Is that Casper the Friendly Ghost? You must learn to think – and communicate – like a non-believer if you are going to communicate the Gospel to them.
To catch fish, you've got to know their habits, their preferences, and their feeding patterns. Certain fish like smooth water. Others are bottom crawlers. Some like rushing water. Others hide under rocks. You've got to know what the fish you're trying to reach like to do. If you're going to understand and reach non-Christians, you've got to begin with their mindset.
The Bible says in Luke 6, "Jesus knew what they were thinking" (GW). In fact, multiple times in Scripture we read that Jesus knew what the people whom he was ministering to were thinking. Jesus gives us a great example of someone thinking like a fish.
Jesus says in Matthew 10:16, "I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves." Jesus is saying we need to be strategic. Think about who you are trying to reach before you try to do evangelism. Unfortunately, we often fulfill only the second half of that verse. We're harmless as doves, but not as wise as serpents.
If I went overseas as a missionary, I could have all of my doctrine right – be totally scriptural, I could have the truth that could change lives, but I'd still have to learn the language.
That's true even in the country where we grew up. You have to learn the language of the unbeliever. They don't talk in religious terms. I often hear about how resistant people are to the Gospel. But I don't think that's true. They're not resistant. They're just on a different wavelength.
About 20 to 30 years ago in the United States, CB radios were big. And people would communicate through these radios on different wavebands. I could have the best message in the world and if I'm on channel 4 and you're on channel 8, it won't get through. I've got to get on your channel.
I've got to speak your language. I don't expect you to speak my language as a Christian. I have to learn to speak your language. That's called love. That's called caring enough about people and not letting the method prevent the message from getting through. You've got to start where people are.
I grew up in very small country churches and in a town of less than 500 people. All my life I was around poor people in a small town. I was told you couldn't reach wealthy people with the Gospel. Now, at Saddleback, that's about all we're reaching; they are just about all who can afford to live in South Orange County, Calif., where our church is. I've discovered rich people aren't turned off to the Gospel. We just needed to communicate on their wavelength.
How do you discover the mindset of lost people in your community?
You talk to them. Sounds simple, but it's true. The more you talk to non-Christians, the more you begin to get on their wavelength. Then you can build a bridge from your heart to their heart that Jesus Christ can walk across.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.