By Fred W. Anson
Since it takes time and multiple quality “touches” to get a Latter-day Saint to even start reconsidering Mormonism and its teachings, a “tag” team made up of multiple believers is the best way to evangelize Mormons, as others’ gifts and encouragement can lend a helping hand when sharing the Gospel.
I believe that it takes five to ten quality contacts before the Mormon will even begin to question the church. And even then, it may take several more years with many more contacts before the person will finally leave. I can’t prove this claim, but I have heard it so many times from so many places that, at least for me, this is just a given. Sharing the Gospel with Mormons is a “team sport.” To take the analogy even further, I would go so far to say that it’s a full-contact team sport. We need go no further than the Bible to see this isn’t at all unusual. In fact, it’s the norm.
Here are the first two paragraphs in my chapter:
According to Acts 17, the apostle Paul waited in Athens for his co-laborers Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. Never one to be idle, verse 17 says that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there went to the synagogue for discussions with the Jews and the devout Gentiles, and spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.” Interested in what Paul had to say, they asked him in verses 19 and 20, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”
Not long after, Paul stood on Mars Hill reasoning with the best and the brightest philosophers. According to verse 30, he declared that the only true God wants people to put away their idols and worship only Him. While the message hasn’t changed, Mars Hill has. In fact, I maintain that Internet discussion boards are today’s Mars Hill, a place where it’s possible to openly discuss competing ideas. If this approach is used correctly, the Christian who engages nonbelievers on the Internet can make valid points that have never been challenged elsewhere.
Going back to the biblical model that I use in the book, what’s often lost in the story of Paul on the Areopagus is the fact that even though he was alone, he wasn’t really alone at all. Truly he was part of what today we would call a “missions team.” As the NIV Zondervan Study Bible explains in its study notes for Acts 17:14-15,
Though Paul travels to Athens alone, Timothy and Silas eventually join him there, and from there Paul sends Timothy back to check on the church at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:1-2). When Timothy returned and reported that the church was thriving, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to encourage them (1 Thess. 3:6-10).
Even a cursory glance through the New Testament reveals that God’s model for missionary work is a team. One need only consider how immediately after His baptism and temptation in the wilderness that Christ began to assemble His ministry team (i.e. His disciples, see John 1:35-51). Further, Mark’s gospel says that Christ sent out missionaries in teams of at least two people (Mark 6:7-12), which was a pattern continued by the disciples throughout the book of Acts (see 13:1-3 in particular).
Of course, this flows out of the greater principle that God gives in the very first pages of the Bible that it’s not good that man should be alone. Humans are wired and designed to be in community and in fellowship, with others in general and Christians in particular. This is for the believers’ own protection, as it is reiterated throughout the New Testament:
- “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
- “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”’ (1 Peter 5:5)
- “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
- “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
- “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (Colossians 3:16)
Even though Paul might have been alone, for the moment, the rest of his ministry team could be felt even if they couldn’t be seen. I’ve experienced this comradery in my own life as well.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
God’s wisdom and skill as the Grand Designer is apparent in this model. As I further explained in my chapter, “While those who share their Christian faith may never know which contact number they are, it really doesn’t matter.”
Here’s the simple fact: God uses whomever He wills, whenever He wills, and however He wills. For example, my style with Mormons tends to be very direct and relentless. I push, over and over again, though I try to be as gentle and respectful as I can. Some Mormons respond to this style of discussion while others don’t. There are some Christians who are not as assertive as I, yet they are able to reach Latter-day Saints that I can’t. This is because some Mormons may be resistant to one style yet be receptive to another. Each believer is commissioned to scatter seeds to the best of their ability, gifting, and calling. Paul explained this principle in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
Further, I think that it’s important to note that the apostles were speaking and giving these directives and models in a local church context. Because of this example, I believe that the first team any evangelist should have is the local church body. Paul was originally sent out as part of a mission team by the apostles and elders from Jerusalem (see Acts 15:22); he picked up Silas in Antioch (see Acts 15:40) and Timothy from Lystra (see Acts 16:1-5). These passages show that the missionaries as individuals and their team as a whole were always connected and accountable to local churches.
The modern model of the “Lone Ranger” Christian who isn’t part of a local church and is accountable to no one is not biblical. Those who hope to be successful in Christian evangelism but are not in a church under the oversight and protection of its leadership need to fix this. This shouldn’t be overlooked, for this is for the Christian’s protection. The mission field is a graveyard for those who were never really called to it.
Different Day, Same Model
How is it possible to team up on what seems like the very solitary Internet? This conundrum struck me as I was working on my chapter for the book. Suddenly, it occurred to me that the solution was literally staring me in the face. The same technology that is used to reason with Mormons on the Internet can be a uniting factor for a mission team. In April 2017 I started a Facebook group titled “Preaching From an Asbestos Suit: Reasoning With Mormons on the Internet” to build that team. Here’s how the group description reads:
Reasoning with Mormons on the Internet is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned—if you’re called to it, an Asbestos suit is required equipment. This group is for Christians who are striving to improve their arguments and presentation of the true God, Jesus, and Gospel of the Bible to Mormons on the Internet. It’s also for those who are looking for solace and support in the midst of one of the hardest, most challenging mission fields on the planet right now.
The group also includes a collection of resources from my personal research archives that can be used when in debate with Mormons. Group members regularly put a “Tip of the Day” that encapsulates wisdom for the group based on their real world. Among other things, we:
- practice identifying and overcoming the logical fallacies in the Mormon arguments that we encounter
- roleplay how to respond to common Mormon arguments
- troubleshoot problem situations in the Mormon debate groups on Facebook and elsewhere
- vent our frustration
- joke with each other
- celebrate our successes and mourn our losses
- weep with heartbreak over Mormon friends and family members while rejoicing when we see positive change
- pray for each other and the Mormons as well
- bond together
These folks help me grow in my calling to the mission field to Mormons. It’s no exaggeration to say that I learn far more from them than they learn from me, and I need them badly.
Accountability: The Breakfast of Champions
What I love most about my team is that they keep me honest. I defined “Mormon bashing” in the book as “the use of derogatory language, put-downs, and mockery of Mormonism and/or the LDS Church.” As I explained, this behavior is absolutely unbiblical, yet sadly it is common with non-Mormons in general and Christians in particular. I think that a lot of this is due to the incredulity that many Mormon beliefs and arguments can produce. As diligent as I may be in resisting Mormon bashing, in weak moments or moments of frustration, I’ll relapse. Thankfully, that’s when a member of my team will pull me aside in private and simply say, “What’s going on with you, Brother?” After I apologize to any Mormon whom I might have offended in my moment of weakness, I’m back on point and engaging with gentleness and respect again.
I also talked about how quickly many Mormons are prone to label critical outsiders “anti-Mormons” and engage in attacks on their person rather than their arguments. This can be extremely frustrating and hurtful. Sadly, the better the evangelist gets at reasoning with Mormons, the more likely this will be experienced. Christ’s mandate when this happens is, in my opinion, one of the hardest thing that any of us will encounter. He said, “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Further, a rule in Team PFAAS is whoever names a Latter-day Saint is required to pray for that person, right then and in public in front of the whole group. This is for protection against the sin of gossip while remaining in obedience to Christ’s directive. While it’s a good rule, it’s incredibly difficult as well. We pray a lot for Mormons in that group, not only because we’ve been attacked by them, but very often because our heart is breaking for them. In fact, this aspect of the group has become so important to us that we do a “Technology Fast” once a month by closing the group and spending that day praying for our Mormon friends. We call it “PFAAST” (Preaching From An Asbestos Suit Time For Prayer). We have seen many answers to prayer. At the end of a PFAAST, I find my angry, hardening heart toward those Mormons who have offended me soften and open up, thanks in a great part to a group of fellow Christians to whom I am accountable and who pray for me.
Even the Lone Ranger Had Tonto
To sum it all, I’m reminded of a well-known Bible teacher to whom I listened on audio cassette (back in the days before dinosaurs) who joked, “You can always tell who the Lone Ranger Christians are by the arrows in their back – but even the Lone Ranger had the good sense to find Tonto.” His point is well taken since, as we’ve seen, the Bible is clear that the Christian life is meant to be lived in community, not isolation. Probably no one has said this better than the Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes who said:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Christian evangelists need each other, especially in a missionary field that’s as rough and tumble as any around. If you’re not already part of a “tag team,” I encourage you to find one.
Fred W. Anson (Lake Forest, California) is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website (www.beggarsbread.org), which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups – including the “Preaching from an Asbestos Suit: Reasoning With Mormons on the Internet” Facebook group which you will find here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PFAAS/
 The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, eBook: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Kindle Locations 255700-255703). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 A number of Bible teachers have picked up and used this cliché’ in the ensuing years, but I originally heard Bob Mumford use it in a number of ways and forms on a regular basis back in the late 1970’s. Pick up just about any of his audio recordings from that era on Christian Community and you’ll probably hear it too.