I was 28 before I met anyone of another faith. I’d grown up and worked in areas that were predominantly white British and just never gave any serious consideration to what others believed or how I might relate to them. I thought it was an issue for someone else.

In the mid-1990s I got a job with Evangelical Alliance member Scripture Union in Birmingham as a schools’ worker and I started to meet many Muslim young people. I didn’t feel a sense of great calling to work amongst Muslims; I found myself having to relate to the Muslim pupils I was meeting. For some this story will be familiar: people of other faiths aren’t people we meet regularly until things change and we are living amongst neighbours who believe and practice things different to us; this might be due to moving to a new house or job, starting university or people moving into our neighbourhoods.

As I got to know Muslims, I found that many of my presumptions and prejudices were challenged. They were overwhelmingly friendly, interested in what I believed, committed to their own faith and found within it both fulfilment and hope. This challenged my own ideas and beliefs, causing me to question what was it that made the gospel unique and potentially attractive to people committed to another faith? Through studying scripture and prayer, I found that wrestling with these questions deepened my faith. I looked again at the uniqueness of Christ, the Father’s offer of salvation by grace, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It was this Trinitarian understanding of God that I found in no other belief system and that held me close when things were (and continue to be) confusing or challenging. 

It starts with love 


Being confident and sure in my faith was one thing, but I was still working out how to relate that to the Muslims I was meeting and working amongst. I was sure that proclaiming truth would be the way to convince them of the validity of Christianity. However, I, like so may others, found that truth claims just fell on deaf ears or quickly descended into fruitless debates going over arguments we’d heard elsewhere and leading nowhere.

Whilst I believe in the truth of the gospel and am happy to share it, I realised that
proclaiming it wasn’t always the best starting point. Once again, I went back to scripture to see how Jesus related to people who were different to Him? Although He is fully human,
He is also fully divine, so, in one sense, all humanity is different to Him. His approach was staring at me from, possibly the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life” (version as remembered from Sunday school).

"Loving our neighbours of different faiths doesn’t mean shying away from sharing our faith"

His starting point was to love humanity, then to come and be with us, then to reveal Himself so that we might believe. The pattern was love, go, teach. I figured that I ought to try and model that, then as I sought further clarification through the Bible, my eyes were opened to just how much the Bible focuses on love: God’s love for us, our love for others, and in the very being of God: God is Love” – 1 John 4:8b.

Since those first, stumbling attempts to share my faith with Muslims, I have got to know, and become friends with, many people of all faiths. I have visited more mosques, temples, synagogues and gurdwaras than I can count. I also know many people who have come to faith in Christ from different faith backgrounds. I have sat and listened to their stories, which are often painful, and many have paid a far higher price to follow Jesus than I ever have.

In all this, the one thing that has been consistent is that the best way to build a relationship
with people of different faiths and to share our love of Jesus with them is to start by learning to love them unconditionally, to see them as friends and neighbours rather than a threat or a challenge. In my recent book Vibrant Christianity in Multifaith Britain, I look at how the great commandments to love God and neighbour have no preconditions or time limits on them; we are just commanded to love both our neighbour and God at the same time all the time.

The reason I used the phrase vibrant Christianity’ in the title, is that I firmly believe that we can have a confident, vibrant, faithful Christian life in and amongst friends and neighbours of different faiths. I’ve lived and worked amongst people of no faith and people from different faiths, and with all people there are tremendous possibilities, joys and challenges in living as Christians. In many ways I find it easier amongst my friends of different faiths — almost without exception they respect and appreciate the fact that I’m a Christian. 

They are open to talking about faith and are pleased when I offer to pray for them and will often offer to pray for me if I’m going through a tough time. Having said that, overall, they are not looking to convert to Christianity and some would have serious reservations if a friend or family member chose to convert — in the same way many of us would struggle if someone close to us rejected Jesus in order to follow another religion, and for some of you reading this, that will be your reality.

A multi-faith context

As I’ve sought to encourage Christians to live and witness in a multi-faith context, some people are concerned that their own faith might be watered down or that they might be led astray. One of the themes I looked at in my book is Jesus’ pattern of discipleship. In the early chapters of Matthew, He takes the disciples into some seriously challenging situations. Following Jesus doesn’t mean avoiding new and uncertain situations, but following Him there, knowing He will be faithful and trustworthy. My experience has been that if we follow Jesus closely into these places, far from being watered down, our faith will be enriched and strengthened.

Finally, we are called to go and make disciples of all nations. I’m very open with my friends that I would love everyone to find the hope that I have in Jesus, but I strive to share the gospel in a way that is still deeply loving of the person I’m talking to. Loving our neighbours of different faiths doesn’t mean shying away from sharing our faith, but it might mean thinking differently about how we do it, going slowly and gently, listening to their ideas, stories and experiences, and walking with them on, what might be, a long and challenging path.

I would encourage us to pray for an opportunity to make, or deepen, a friendship with someone from a different faith and to express our faith in a way that connects with them. I’d also urge us to find ways to get to know more about the different faith communities we have in Britain. This might mean talking to a friend or colleague, visiting another place of worship, or reading articles or books. Then think about how we could share our faith through words and deeds with those people.

Consider getting a copy of Canon Dr Andrew Smith’s book Vibrant Christianity in Multifaith Britain and/​or The World on our Doorstep, which was published by the Evangelical Alliance, to enhance your understanding of how to relate with people of other faiths.