Possible Barriers to the Gospel
When a coach is preparing to play an opposing team, he spends a great deal of time studying his opponent in order to discern that team’s weaknesses, as well as in what ways that team will be strongest against his own. Likewise, as a lawyer is preparing a case for trial, he will spend as much time studying the case from the opponent’s perspective as he will study it from his own. This allows him to see weaknesses in his own case, and thereby he can make his own case even stronger.
As we prepare to share the Gospel with students, it is beneficial for us to spend time thinking about what barriers we might encounter. By doing so, we are less likely to be surprised or stymied by what we hear. Also, sometimes people are resistant past the point of rationality. Oftentimes there is a good reason for this resistance, if only we take the time to understand their perspective. It helps to know where to look.
Before we go any further, what are some barriers to the Gospel you can think of?
What barriers were present in your own life before you became a Christian?
Family background – One very common barrier to the Gospel is one’s family background. Perhaps that person was raised in a family that never attended church. If so, this can mean that they have never heard about the Gospel, or never opened a Bible, or maybe even they were raised to be hostile to Christianity.
Perhaps that person was raised in a ‘Christian’ family, who went to church and spoke the Christian language, but was filled with hypocrisy. Maybe there was abuse, or infidelity, or addiction, or something else that served to make that person believe that Christianity is hypocritical or false.
Maybe the person was raised in a churchgoing home, but grew up believing Christianity was about being good and going to church, rather than about becoming a child of the Living God. This leads to an impotent Christianity that will not save nor sustain a person, and will in time fall by the wayside of life.
Any of these scenarios will color a person’s receptivity to the Gospel. If you sense resistance from someone to the Gospel, it is always helpful to ask a simple question, like “Did you grow up going to church?” or “What was your spiritual background growing up? How has that influenced who you are today?” The answers will certainly build trust, and allow you to be sensitive to how to more effectively communicate the Gospel to that person.
Think of some of your friends and loved ones. How has their family background shaped their perception of God and Christianity?
Biases and Prejudices – All of us have biases and prejudices. In any given situation, our preconceived notions will influence our first response. If the bias is true in a particular instance, then it allows our first response to be fast and accurate. If the bias is not true, it moves us farter from an effective response. For example, if a slow down every time I approach a certain intersection, because I know it to be a high-accident area and a place where police are known to give a lot of citations, my ‘bias’ has served myself and others well. But if my bias is that I am the best driver on the road and that nothing bad has happened to me yet, I am increasing my chances of trouble.
Likewise, everyone has biases regarding spiritual matters. Perhaps they are naturalist or humanist biases; perhaps they are nihilistic, or relativistic; perhaps they are Muslim or Catholic, or materialistic. Perhaps they are living a sinful lifestyle that greatly clouds their judgment on spiritual matters. Perhaps they are something else, or a combination of factors. In any case, it is helpful to identify a person’s bias early on in a conversation in order to better deal with their situation. If someone has only met arrogant or foolish Christians, they will have a totally different starting point for presenting the Gospel than will someone who has numerous wise, godly friendships with other believers.
What biases have you encountered most frequently? How have you handled them?
Academic Environment- Understand also that for most students, their academic environment poses a real challenge to them accepting the Gospel. Many college professors (in the USA, a ratio of over 30:1) identify themselves as liberals or people who reject traditional values and beliefs. The academic environment challenges even Christian students. As many as 60% or more Christian college freshmen leave the Christian faith during college. Classroom lessons and lectures are structured from a humanist, relativistic, evolutionary viewpoint, and seek to attack and destroy anything perceived as ‘intolerance’ or ‘ignorance’, which is how many professors view Christianity.
With this in mind, know that a student spends hours and hours a week being inundated with this kind of thinking, that God is dead, or that Creation has been disproved, or that Jesus never existed, or any other antagonistic idea. Your voice and viewpoint will be very different from what they have heard from most other sources. This is why it is absolutely vital for you to pray for God to speak through you, so that it is His voice that is being heard.
Recount an experience when you may have encountered antagonism to the Gospel in your own academic experience.
Other Barriers to the Gospel – Space does not allow us to go into an exhaustive examination of all possible barriers a person might have to the Gospel. Broadly speaking, three categories will suffice to help gain understanding – barriers relating to the intellect, barriers relating to the emotions, and barriers relating to ignorance. Each of these types requires a different approach. For example, you would be less likely to engage in debate with someone whose barriers are emotional, perhaps from hurt done them by a Christian when they were younger. It takes much experience and practice in the lives of non-believers to know how to identify the barriers in someone’s life, and how to respond appropriately.