transitioning from secular to spiritual
This MTI blog series aims to help you and your readers sharpen your skills in communicating faith matters to secular readers – skeptics, seekers, and the spiritually disinterested.

OK, you’ve decided to use themes of secular interest to attract nonbelieving readers to your publication or article.  What are some good topics, and how do you tactfully transition to faith matters?  How can you be natural and not contrived or manipulative in this important process?

In communicating with unbelievers, start with their felt needs and move gradually to their real needs.  Some suggestions:

Current interest

Deal with subjects of current interest.  Some ideas: love, marriage, relationships, sex, success, the economy, survival, health, disease, stress, loneliness, freedom, world peace, poverty, racism, abortion, human rights, women’s rights, leadership, cults, the occult, humor, guilt, depression, anxiety.  Also current events in society, sports, entertainment, etc.

I often draw spiritual lessons from the headlines.  During tight economic times in our country, a serious mortgage crisis led to thousands of home foreclosures plus anxiety, shattered dreams, and some suicides.

I wrote a short opinion piece, “Home Foreclosure’s Emotional Toll,” that leads with secular material and points readers to Jesus’ teaching about handling anxiety by trusting in God.  Users included the Amy Internet Syndicate and  The San Bernardino (California) Sun newspaper ran it in their print, online and audio resources.

We email regular article alerts to interested editors, who can use our material at no cost.  Several posted it.  People all over the globe – many nonbelievers – could read this piece and consider Jesus.  But God had more planned.

The American Psychological Association – a secular entity – put the Sun version on about 200 APA affiliate websites.  Website visitors could click, consider coping mechanisms, and consider Jesus.

Tap felt needs and deal with subjects of current interest; you can touch many lives for Jesus.

Valuable information, entertainment

Give your audience valuable information, entertainment, even fun so that even if they don’t come to Christ right away, they’ll feel they learned something.  Then maybe they’ll come back for more.

In Manila, the Philippines, a popular television talk show (chat program) had me as guest. The host began by telling a risqué joke.  As the audience laughed, the camera focused on my face for my reaction.  I tried to smile politely without appearing to be taken in by his off-color remarks.  And I prayed silently, “Lord, help me shine for You in this snake pit.”

The host asked about my book on humor.  I told some jokes (clean ones!).  He and the audience laughed.  He asked about my book on near-death experiences.  I told stories of close encounters with death.

He asked if I believed in life after death.  I told of Christ’s resurrection and offer of eternal life.  He was very warm and invited me back.  He and his viewers were entertained and informed…and got to hear about Jesus in an inoffensive way.

A link to a clip from this TV program, staring the “Johnny Carson of the Philippines,” is at the end of this article.

Lead with the secular

Give your readers some new ideas: tips on budgeting or managing family conflict.  Illustrate practical principles, like the value of forgiveness.  Give them good feelings with your stories or humor.  If they like you, often they’ll like your Jesus.

Another suggestion: Start your articles, presentations, speeches with subjects of secular interest.  Then move gradually to the spiritual.

Several years ago, my article “Safe Sex…?” used medical and psychological information to argue that “condom sense” is not common sense and to point readers to healthy relationships and Christ.

Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) published it for university students.  A top executive with my university fraternity (men’s social group), who is Jewish, liked the article.  The fraternity published it in their international magazine.

A fraternity alumnus, a doctor, sent the article to his state medical journal, Connecticut Medicine, which also published it.  The fraternity circulated special reprints among local chapters for fraternity education.  Some newspapers ran editorials based on the article.  God multiplied the Gospel via secular publishers.

The Satellite – an Auckland, New Zealand, university student magazine – published a special edition, Sex in the Satellite.  Its articles and photos catered to secular university students’ sexual interests in explicit ways.

In the middle was a two-article lovemaking guide – one for men and one for women.  On the next page … appeared my “Safe Sex?” article presenting God’s view of sex and introducing Jesus.

May I humbly suggest that this is exactly the type of place we want God to place our outreach material.  “Everywhere we go,” wrote Paul, “we tell everyone about Christ” (Colossians 1:28 NLT).

Transition to the spiritual

Be sure the gospel legitimately relates to your theme.  It’s not wise to promise wealth or love or power and then say, “Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like to talk about Christ.”  The Gospel does relate to many areas of life.  Think hard to ascertain that relationship, and make it very clear to your audience.  How? Through careful, appropriate transitions from the secular to the spiritual.  Suggestions:

A speaker can simply say tactfully, “Well, you know, John, I’m a Christian and a Christian perspective on this issue involves…”

When discussing love, sex and marriage, explain the need for couples to relate as total persons, on all three levels (physical, psychological and spiritual).  Explain how to relate best on a spiritual level.

In discussing a social problem (war, racism, injustice, etc.), explain the surface problem, the root problem and the solution of changing people’s hearts.  For example, in racism, a surface problem could be job discrimination; the root problem could be an employer’s attitude; the solution could begin by changing him/her from the inside out through Christ.

Define your terms.  Mention that Socrates said “define your terms.”  Then in discussing a Christian view of racism, success, anxiety, etc., define the word “racism”, “success” or “anxiety”.  Then define the word “Christian”.

Weave the gospel into someone’s testimony.  In discussing corruption in government, use a government official who was corrupt but found Christ.  (Be sure they’re not still corrupt!)

Use a pithy aphorism (a wise saying), something to get people thinking, a phrase they’ll remember.  In an article on success, I say, “What a tragedy it would be to spend an entire lifetime climbing the ladder of success only to reach the top and find the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.”  Then show how to find the right wall.

Our outreach articles give many examples of transitions from the secular to the spiritual.

Be tactful in introducing Christ.

Sometimes you can share the entire Gospel.  Other times you gain more by just salting your audience with bits of God’s truth.  NonChristians encompass a wide spectrum of degrees of faith-interest.  Some are not at all interested.  Your perspective may light a spark.  Some may believe in God but not feel that God relates to them.  Your testimony may fan the flame.  Some may be ready to trust Christ.  Your words may motivate them to do so.

Each bit of Christian influence can help move the unbeliever closer to faith.  You can sow seeds that you (or others) may reap later.  Be bold, but be effective, too.  Your writing can include links to Gospel material.  When speaking, you can offer faith-related articles to inquirers.

Try to strike a balance between emotion and reason.  Has your audience been turned off by pushy Christians?  Surprise them.  Be kind and gentle.  Do they think Christians have put their brains on the shelf?  Give them something to think about.

And, of course, bathe every aspect of your preparation and presentation in prayer.

In summary, how do you communicate effectively with nonChristians?

  • Learn to think as they do.  Read what they write, listen to them, befriend them.
  • Ask God to break your heart with a love for the lost.
  • Be willing to break stereotypes of what a Christian presentation should be.  Your model in reaching secular audiences should not be the person who is successful in communicating to Christians.  It should be the person who is successful in reaching nonChristians.
  • Trust the Holy Spirit to work through you to share good news.

Want to know more?

Gratis online resources:

  • Communicating Christ to Secular AudiencesCould God use your talents, websites, and publications to influence nonChristians for Christ?  Learn how secular readers think and feel, what they want and why.  Practical tools for analyzing your audience, tapping your users’ felt needs, grabbing attention, touching hearts and minds, and sensitively communicating spiritual truth.  Online streaming video webinar (00:59:00) from Magazine Training International.  (Simple free registration required.)  Handout (4-page MS Word document). (Same subject as above, but mp3 audio workshop file; 00:36:14)
  • Oh, No…It’s Johnny! TV clipFrom a popular evening talk show in Manila hosted by “the Johnny Carson of the Philippines.”  In this interview, Rusty and Johnny have told some jokes and talked about love, sex and marriage.  The subject then changes to life after death.  Johnny interrupts a good bit with questions; here he asks some questions that open the door for spiritual input.  Video includes several clips from various shows, but the “Johnny” show portion runs from the time marks 3:47 to 8:11 (4:24 length).
  • Subscribe to Rusty Wright Communications article alerts.  Emails come about every month and are sent blind for privacy. (Much of the material in this article is adapted from the Communication Principles Training course developed by Rusty Wright and Linda Raney Wright.)

by Rusty Wright. Rusty is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

Copyright © 2024 Rusty Wright

Photo by Aaron Lau on Unsplash

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