“Oh, I wish I could change their beliefs!” Who has not had that desire at some point? Maybe with an individual or groups outside the kingdom who are kept back from taking steps toward Christ by certain beliefs of their religion. Maybe with someone you are in fellowship with who stubbornly holds on to certain beliefs that keep them from growing. I certainly have felt that desire many times. And tried to do so. And found it quite impossible to directly change others’ beliefs. However it is possible to influence them. Over time I’ve learned how. And I’ve found that other effective movement catalysts have this ability as well. So I’ve studied carefully how they do it. The good news is that you can learn to do it too! Read on to find out how.
The six factors that correlate with movement breakthrough
To put the competency of Influencing Others’ Beliefs ability into context, it is one of the six factors that correlate with movement breakthrough, based on analysis from the broadest-ever research into movements. I recently posted an article on “The factors that actually start movements.” Three of the six factors have to do with ministry approaches. All three are internal – factors that catalysts can influence directly and implement together with their teams and partners. These factors are:
Developing the right ministry strategy
Using a discovery group approach
Raising up leaders effectively
The other three factors that correlate with movements are specific qualities of the primary movement catalyst. Research has shown that the person of the catalyst is key in catalyzing a movement. An effective movement catalyst is characterized by a set of particular traits and competencies, which I call Catalytic Qualities. The three Catalytic Qualities that correlate with movement breakthrough are:
Influencing Others’ Beliefs
In this post we will focus on the third: Influencing Others’ Beliefs.
Influencing the Beliefs of 50 Muslim sheikhs
A watershed moment in the movement I started in Sudan illustrates it well. In the shadow of a large tree, escaping the blazing sun, I sat in the Sahara dust, in a circle with around 50 Muslim sheikhs, the chiefs of an entire region. Everyone interacted, deeply engaged. We had journeyed together through the life stories of three great prophets, Ibrahim, Musa, and Dawud (Abraham, Moses, and David). We had talked about how Ibrahim lied, not trusting God; how Musa struck the rock in anger, not trusting God; and how Dawud had committed adultery and murder, disobeying God. At the end of each of these three life stories I had asked them the same questions: “Did this prophet have sin in his life? Did he need forgiveness?” On this day, the stories were about to reach their culmination. I put the big question before them:
“Did all these prophets reach God based on their merits?”
“No” was the resounding answer of the fifty sheikhs.
“Did they need God to save them?”
“Yes” was the resounding answer of the fifty this time.
“Have you found peace in your hearts striving to reach God based on your merits?”
“So, if these great men of God did not reach God based on their own merits, do you think we all will stand a chance?”
More silence. The wheels in their minds were turning. Deeply held paradigms were being influenced. And undermined. Shifting. And being changed. Conviction filled the space under the tree. Then one rumbled with deep sadness in his voice: “No. Not even close.” The same “No” quietly escaped the mouths of others too, as they shook their heads, their faces downcast.
If you have worked with Muslims, you know that the beliefs of this group of Muslims were influenced and radically changed on this occasion. Muslims believe that prophets are sinless. That was influenced and changed. Muslims believe that prophets have all earned God’s favor through their merits. That was influenced and changed. Muslims believe that they themselves can earn God’s favor through their merits. That was influenced and changed. We see a MASSIVE influencing of beliefs at work here. Only someone who was once a Muslim is able to fully grasp how massive the change. Suddenly they became open to the message of a Savior.
This example gives away some of the key practices of Influencing Others’ Beliefs
Stories are told
Questions are asked
The consequences of beliefs and lifestyles are considered
What do we mean by Influencing Others’ Beliefs?
To understand where this ability is seated, imagine a spectrum where on the right end you have “changing beliefs”, which is not realistic, as only the person holding on to beliefs can change them and on the left end of the spectrum there is merely “sharing our own beliefs”, which is not sufficient if we want to influence others.
This is the definition of Influencing Others’ Beliefs from the research of effective catalysts:
Talking often about one’s most important values and beliefs, considering the moral consequences of decisions with people, and emphasizing the importance of living toward a purpose.
In the foremost school of leadership, “Transformational Leadership,” this competency is called “Idealized Influence” (Bass & Riggio, 2005). In “Transformational Leadership” it has been empirically identified as one of only four competences of transformational leaders globally. We should not be surprised that effective catalysts exhibit it, as from a movement philosophy standpoint, the effective transference of spiritual beliefs and values lies at the core of movements. When it happens effectively, it leads to the replication of disciples and churches.
“Influencing Others’ Beliefs” in the Book of Acts
Three texts in Acts describe the significant contribution to conversion ascribed to Paul the movement catalyst, as he influenced others’ beliefs:
Acts 26:16 – “I am sending you to them [the nations] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.”
Acts 19:26 – “this fellow Paul has convinced … large numbers of people”
Acts 28:23-24 – “he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said.”
The verbs all carry a very active voice. The way Paul influenced others’ beliefs certainly involved much, much more than friendship evangelism and sharing his testimony.
Catalysts communicate their core beliefs and values concisely, consistently, and constantly.
These are practices gleaned from effective catalysts. They reported on surveys that they have incorporated these practices into their lives and assess them to have contributed to their movement catalyzing:
Best Practice 1: Addressing the “destiny question.” Every human being, irrespective of their belief system, craves meaning, significance and purpose. We want our lives to matter. Beliefs can be influenced when this deeper question is addressed, rather than more practical beliefs about life. The “destiny question” is framed in different ways for different people. For people outside the kingdom: “What do you think is the purpose of your life?” For disciples: “What is your place and purpose in the kingdom of God? What is your life calling from God?” A Best Practice of many catalysts is to give answers from the Bible and to challenge people to align their lives with the deepest meaning of life.
Best Practice 2: Considering the consequences of beliefs and lifestyles with people
People need to feel dissatisfaction with their status quo before they are open to embracing new beliefs. Compare the general message: “developing a healthy nutrition with lots of vegetables and fruits is important” with a doctor’s diagnosis: “you are overweight and developing high blood pressure; unless you change your diet significantly, it’ll kill you soon.”
Considering the consequences of beliefs and lifestyles can best be done by asking questions respectfully. In our movement in Sudan, the questions I asked Muslim leaders included: “Is the way you live bringing you the peace you hope for?” “You tell me how badly your Arab brothers in Islam have been treating you. Are you sure you want to continue to be part of such a family?” “You have conflict all around. Can you see that you need peace in your heart with God?”
Best Practice 1 and 2 have this in common: communication is not confrontational. It is not belief against belief, mine against yours, with mine being more convincing or superior. Both Best Practices address “root beliefs.” Both challenge these root beliefs, but in an indirect manner: through asking questions toward self-discovery, and through telling stories. Once a root belief is influenced, other beliefs will be realigned.
Communication is not confrontational. It is not belief against belief, rather “root beliefs” are challenged in an indirect manner.
Best Practice 3: Communicate core beliefs and values concisely, consistently, and constantly. Of all the 106 questions I asked catalysts in my surveys and interviews, the question that showed the strongest positive correlation with movement catalyzing was the question/statement: “I regularly communicate my most important values and beliefs to others.” No other behavior of effective catalysts correlates more strongly with movement breakthrough. It appears that this competency functions as a keystone competence among all competencies of an effective catalyst, and that its proficient practice is at the very heart of movement ministry. Effective catalysts do this concisely, consistently, and constantly – both in reaching those outside the kingdom and in working with teams and partners.
Concise: We put our core beliefs and values into short memorable phrases. Some that people around me hear me say all the time include: Love God, love the person in front of you. – Do less but better. – Go slow to go fast. – Every problem contains an opportunity. – In every situation there’s something to learn. - We teach what we know but reproduce who we are. - Simpler, so it’s reproducible. - What one thing is most important right now?
Examples of concise formulation of big and bold visions from other catalysts include: “100 million Muslims,” “the whole nation for Christ,” “reach everyone,” “no place left” (without church), or “fourth generation churches by 2025.”
In addition to these concise statements, we have more elaborate explanations of our core beliefs ready to share at any time, best with a mental image and a story.
Consistent: We use the same identical phrases all the time, with the same people repeatedly. Often people need to hear them seven times before they begin internalizing them. When used consistently, they become like “edifying mantras.”
Constant: We share them at every opportune or inopportune moment. The rule of thumb is: If you are not tired of sharing them, likely you don’t communicate them often enough. One catalyst reports: “We repeat our key statements until people say them in their dreams!”
A practical method to Influence Others' Beliefs - PAPAI
As I have practiced Influencing Others’ Beliefs about 10,000 times, evaluated, experimented, adapted, and thus honed my skill over the years, I’ve come to develop the PAPAI approach. In its shaping I have learned from educator Daniel Schipani (1999), philosopher Martin Buber (Ott & Faix, 2020), and neuro-theologian Jim Wilder (Renovated, 2020). The five letters of PAPAI stand for these five steps:
Passion for a subject
Affection for the person(s)
So that you can remember PAPAI, it’s Portuguese for papa or dad. Let us look at the five steps one by one. It starts with:
Passion for a subject: The only way to influence others is through passion for what we want to influence them with. Aristotle said that effective communication needs not only logos (the words or message) but also pathos (passion). So before we start talking, we need to cultivate felt passion for the theme in our hearts. Second, we cultivate:
Affection for the person(s): Our effort to influence is misguided and will fall flat unless we feel affection in our hearts for the persons we desire to influence. Affection is not simply theoretical love: “of course I have their best interest at heart”; it carries feelings of valuing and appreciating the person. Once we have prepared our hearts, we need:
Presence: We need to be fully present in the moment and give the other(s) our undivided attention; present with our bodies turned to the others, our minds focused on the others, and our soul engaging with the others. Undivided attention has been called the “most valuable commodity of the 21st century” (Phil Cooke, One big thing, 2012), and we must acknowledge that this includes Christian ministry. Next, we need to develop:
Attachment love: Developing attachment love means being motivated by love to establish rapport, build a bond, and create “togetherness,” so that those we intend to influence sense an attachment with us. Naturally, mankind is hardwired to quickly fall into a “me versus you” and “us versus you” posture. As long as one is in such posture, the response is antagonistic: fight or flight. Only when we first overcome this “enemy mode” as Jim Wilder describes it (in Renovated, 2020), in which most people live much of the time, and create a safe space through attachment love, we can begin:
Initiating dialog: We desire to influence, so we initiate a dialog, with the intention to influence others’ beliefs. We do this in a mode of bi-directional communication rather than one-directional (“preachy”), and of giving and receiving, where while desiring to influence, we are open to being influenced ourselves by the other. This way the PAPAI process has a transformational impact on the others, yet may turn out to be transformational for us as well.
In summary: PAPAI – Passion for a subject, Affection for the person(s), Presence, Attachment love, and Initiating dialog.
A Growth Path to Influencing Others’ Beliefs
These are specific steps you can take in order to grow in Influencing Others’ Beliefs, gleaned from the lives of effective movement catalysts and my own experience:
Formulate in your own words how you can address the “destiny question” with people outside the kingdom and with disciples in a way they can relate to.
Be on the lookout for opportunities and issues where you can consider the consequences of people’s beliefs and lifestyles with them.
Internalize and practice the PAPAI method.
Identify your own core beliefs and values. Then formulate each in one concise and compelling single sentence.
Communicate these belief and value statements constantly.
When you communicate these statements, watch the response of those to whom you communicate them. When any statement creates resonance in their hearts, normally you will see it on their faces.
Keep using the statements that create a response.
Drop the statements that do not create a response and formulate a different statement for that particular belief or value.
Go through this process for your personal core beliefs and values, then go through the same process with your core team.
When you are tired of communicating, keep doing it anyway…
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private-message me, you can use the contact form. Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides Influencing Others’ Beliefs in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here!
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist
Bass, Bernhard M. & Ronald E. Riggio. 2005. Transformational Leadership. (2nd Ed.). New York and Hove: Psychology Press.
Cooke, Phil. 2012. One big thing: Discovering what you were born to do. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Ott, Bernhard & Tobias Faix. 2020. Wegbegleiter in Krisenzeiten: Impulse von Martin Buber (German: Impulses from Martin Buber). Cuxhafen: Neufeld.
Schipani, Daniel. 1999. Enseñar cristianamente: Una tarea artística, moral y política. Plenary given at the II Congreso Nacional de Educadores Cristianos del Paraguay, held at the Instituto Bíblico Asunción, Paraguay. July 24, 1999.
Wilder, Jim. 2020. Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the church that transforms. Colorado Springs: NavPress.