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Sharing the Good News with Roman Catholic Friends

By Daniel R. Sanchez, Ph.D., Professor of Missions, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and President, Church Starting Network and
By Rudy Gonzalez, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament and Vice President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
©1992, Daniel R. Sanchez, Fort Worth, Texas. Permission to utilize this copyrighted seminar was given to the Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism Team of the North American Mission Board in December of 2005. People may feel free to duplicate it for the purpose of utilizing it in the training of those who want to be more effective in sharing their faith with Roman Catholic friends and relatives. Permission to use any part of this material as a part of a publication by an individual or an institution will need to be obtained by Dr. Daniel R. Sanchez, Professor of Missions, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 22000, Ft. Worth, Texas, 76122-0248 or by e-mail directed to
For a significantly more extensive treatment of this topic including a biblical analysis of Roman Catholic doctrines and practices as well as biblically sound and culturally relevant methodologies for sharing the message of salvation with Roman Catholics and leading them in biblical discipleship, readers are encouraged to avail themselves of two resources:
1) Daniel R. Sanchez, Rudolf Gonzalez, Sharing The Good News With Roman Catholic Friends, 2004, Church Starting Network,
2) Daniel R. Sanchez, Gospel In The Rosary, 2004, Church Starting Network.


Dear Fellow Believer in Jesus Christ,
It is my happy privilege to welcome you to this brief seminar on how to lead your friends and relatives to a personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ. My goal will not be to help you to discuss religion effectively, but to focus on the relationship that all of us need to have with Jesus as our savior. Jesus made it very clear that people need to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This applies to people of all religious backgrounds (including nominal Evangelicals).
Some seminars train people to share their faith with persons who have other religious backgrounds. In this seminar we will focus on those Roman Catholics (mainly nominal) who have not experienced the new birth. Some of these are dear friends and very sincere people who do not have a clear understanding of the biblical teaching regarding salvation. They need to know about this personal experience with Jesus Christ which blesses people with forgiveness of sin, a sense of purpose in life, the abiding presence of the Lord, the power to live victorious lives, and a steadfast hope for this life and for eternity.
There are those who seek to witness to persons with a Roman Catholic background by arguing, attacking, and exposing what they consider to be erroneous beliefs and practices. In all of my missionary experience, I have found that in most cases these approaches offend and alienate people who otherwise might have been willing to listen. The theme of this seminar, therefore, is "Tell the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). We need to tell the truth of the word of God, but we must do it in a spirit of love and compassion. We shall seek, therefore, to establish bridges of communication so that we can share the biblical teachings about salvation through personal faith in Jesus Christ in such a way that people will be receptive to the message.
This brief seminar will focus on biblical teachings regarding the sharing of the good news of salvation. It will also provided instruction on how to witness in such a way that the attention of the listeners will be drawn to Jesus and not to peripheral matters that might distract them from coming to a personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Bible Study
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
(St. John 4:4-42)
The dialogue that Jesus had with the Samaritan woman has valuable lessons which can help us as Evangelical Christians to know how to share our faith with those who have not experienced the new birth and who have questions regarding their relationship with God. As we study this marvelous dialogue we discover the things Jesus did to share very important spiritual lessons with a person who had a religious tradition but had very vague notions about God and how to relate to him. It was obvious by her life style that she had serious spiritual needs that she did not know how to fulfill. As we study how Jesus related to this woman, we can learn how to relate to people who also have spiritual needs and are searching for purpose and meaning in their lives.
A. Jesus Cultivated a Friendship (St. John 4:4-6)
1. By going out of His way geographically:
John states that Jesus "had to go through Samaria."Actually, many Jews went around Samaria on their way to Galilee. The statement that Jesus "had to go through Samaria," says more about His commitment than about a geographical necessity. In other words, Jesus felt a strong desire to go and tell the Samaritans about God's love for them.
2. By going out of His way socially:
The Samaritan woman was startled that Jesus spoke to her. It was not customary for a Rabbi to speak to a woman in public. Furthermore, as John points out (see St. John 4:9), it was not customary for Jews to have social contact with Samaritans. John's comment borders on an understatement. Jews and Samaritans actually hated one another (see Nehemiah 4; Ezra 4). There was a long history of hatred between these two groups. Despite this, Jesus was willing to go out of His way socially in order to tell the Samaritan woman that God loved her, was willing to forgive her, and wanted to give her the spiritual resources so she could live a life full of joy and fellowship.
3. Application:
If we are to follow the example of Jesus and share with those who have serious questions about their relationship to God, we must cultivate friendships. Genuine friendship can become the bridge that overcomes suspicion, fear, and doubts. As we develop a friendship, we can also become more keenly aware of the spiritual needs of people and have a better understanding of how to share the good news of salvation with them. Often to accomplish this, we need to be willing to go out of our way geographically and socially. We can become so comfortable with our circle of friends in church that we make little or no effort to get to know people who have not invited Jesus into their lives. We need to be intentional, therefore, about developing friendships, ministering to them in any way we can, and in the process, sharing with them what Jesus means to us and how they can also have a relationship with Him. We can do this by befriending people at work, at school, and in our neighborhood. Inviting them for a meal in our home, to a sports event, or other interesting activities can help build these friendships.

B. Jesus Created an Interest: (St. John 4:7-15)
1. Jesus created an interest by beginning with a felt need.

The Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. That was what was occupying her mind at that moment. Jesus, therefore, started the conversation by asking her for a drink of water. In other words, Jesus did not just start talking about spiritual matters out of the clear blue sky. She came to draw water, so Jesus used that as the starting point of the conversation. Often people have material needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) that we might be able to minister to. As we do so, this can be the starting point of our cultivation of a friendship.
2. Jesus created an interest by relating to a spiritual need.
The Samaritan woman asked Jesus, "Why is it that, being a Jew, you are asking me, a Samaritan, for a drink of water?" (v.9). Jesus replied: "If you only knew the gift of God and who it is that is speaking with you, you would ask him and he would give you living water" (v. 10).
It was at this point that Jesus shifted the focus from material water to spiritual water. In other words, he was saying, you came to draw water for your physical thirst, but I have water that can quench the thirst of your soul.
As he spoke to her about living water, a new possibility began to dawn on her: How could this water Jesus was talking to her about quench the deep longings of her soul? The more Jesus spoke, the more curious she became.
3. Application: 
Like Jesus, we can often create an interest in the gospel by beginning with felt needs. Psychologists tell us that some of the basic needs of human beings are: (1) to love and be loved; (2) to feel secure; (3) to overcome a sense of guilt; and (4) to have assurance about the future. As we cultivate a friendship, we are in a better position to create an interest in spiritual matters by helping them see that Jesus can make a difference. One way to do this is to share our testimony of how Jesus has made a difference in our lives.
C. Jesus Comprehended Her Situation (St. John 4:16-19)
1. Jesus did not condemn the Samaritan woman.
As the conversation continued, Jesus told her, "Go call your husband. When she said that she had no husband, Jesus compassionately confronted her with the sad history of her life. Five times she had sought happiness only to end up in disappointment and despair. Jesus did not approve of her lifestyle, but there must have been a tone of compassion in His voice and an expression of concern on his face when he dealt with t his delicate subject. It is obvious that she did not feel condemned or rejected by Jesus because she returned. When she went to the village, she said to the villagers that Jesus "told her every thing she ever did" (v. 39). The implication is that in spite of this, Jesus still showed compassion to her.
2. Jesus found something positive to say about her.
When she said "I don't have a husband," Jesus replied: "What you have just said is quite true" (John 4:18). Having awakened in her an interest in a new lifestyle, Jesus maintained the dialogue on a positive note. She continued to listen as she sensed that He was willing to see the best in her.

3. Application:
We can be in a better position to witness to people by avoiding a spirit of condemnation. Even though we may not agree with their lifestyle, we cannot expect them to act like born-again Christians until they actually are. Often persons who have not had a personal experience of salvation feel a sense of condemnation and rejection on the part of those who are trying to witness to them. We need to remember that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction. We need to avoid a spirit of judgment and condemnation as we share the good news of salvation with those who have not accepted Christ as their savior. If they sense the love of Jesus in our hearts, they will be attracted to him.

D. Jesus Concentrated on What Was Essential to Salvation (St. John 4: 19-26)
1. Jesus avoided discussing religion.
The Samaritans were mistaken on several religious matters. They accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament. They also believed that Abraham had offered Isaac on their mountain (Gerizim) instead of Zion. That is why the Samaritan woman was asking where she should worship. While Jesus was very clear in explaining to her that "salvation comes from the Jews" (v.22), he did not spend time trying to straighten out the Samaritan woman on every doctrinal point before he shared the gospel. In other words, Jesus did not get side tracked by discussing religion with her.
2. Jesus focused on relationship.
The Samaritan woman asked in what religious tradition God should be worshipped (Zion or Gerizim's). Jesus responded that relationship is more important than tradition: "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth"(v.23). These true worshippers are those who know the truth about God and have a spiritual relationship with him.
3. Application:
If we are to follow the example of Jesus we will not spend time discussing religion. We need to focus on relationship. Our question should not be "To what religion do you belong?" but rather "What is your personal relationship with Jesus?" May people operate under the false assumption that if they can just prove to people that they are wrong, they will automatically want to invite Jesus into their lives. Often the opposite is true. If they get into heated discussions about religious beliefs, they run the risk of alienating people or at the very least getting side-tracked and not focusing on Jesus at all. Later in the discipleship process there will be time to study what the Bible says about certain doctrines. While we are sharing our faith, we need to focus on Jesus. He said: "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." Let's focus on our relationship with Jesus.
E. Jesus Communicated Patiently
1. As Jesus dialogued the woman's understanding grew

At first the Samaritan woman did not fully understand what Jesus was talking about. This is evident in verse 15 when she said "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." She was still thinking about physical water. It was not until she said, "When he [Messiah] comes, he will explain everything to us," (v.25) that Jesus said, "I who speak to you am he."(v.28) The way the dialogue progressed is indicated in the terms she used to refer to Him.
2. The way in which she referred to Jesus showed this
a. First she called Him a "(Jew)," a member of the group she hated. Because he looked and sounded like a Jew, that's the only thing she had to go by. For her, therefore, Jesus was a common ordinary Jew.

b. Then she referred to Him as "(Sir)" a person who could be respected (v. 11). As she listened to him, she began to realize that this Jew was different. He was treating her with respect, so she reciprocated by seeing him as a respected person.

c. Then she stated "I can see that you are a "(Prophet)" v.19). In other words "you are a man sent from God." When she realized that Jesus knew all about her, she concluded that this had to be a person who was in touch with God in an extraordinary manner. He was no ordinary man.
d. Finally she refers to Him as the "(Messiah)" (v.29).
Jesus communicated patiently until she was able to understand that he was the Messiah for whom people were waiting. It is obvious that her understanding of who Jesus was progressed as Jesus dialogued with her, answered her questions and demonstrated an unusual type of compassion and love.
3. Application:
People who have not grown up in an evangelical setting often do not understand their need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We must communicate patiently until they are able to understand what the Bible teaches about a personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ. It may take quite a long time for them to make understand what salvation is all about and to make a decision to receive Christ. We, therefore, must be patient allowing for the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. It is, therefore, counter productive to pressure people and to expect them to make a decision to receive Christ when they still do not understand what this is all about or when they still questions and doubts in their minds. 
  • We must go out of our way geographically and socially if we are to lead Roman Catholics to a personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ. This means that we need to be intentional in cultivating genuine friendships and establishing bridges of communication.
  • We must create an interest in spiritual matters by relating to felt needs. When we are willing to listen to people as they speak about their problems, anxieties, and needs, we are in a better position to share with them about a personal faith in Jesus Christ that can give them peace, happiness, and hope not only for this life but for eternity.
  • We must avoid a spirit of condemnation to help people see what they can become through the grace and power of Jesus Christ. When people are criticized and attacked, they feel offended and get on the defensive. If they feel the love of Christ in our hearts, they will be attracted to him.
  • We must concentrate on what is essential to salvation. There will be times when people have questions about the doctrines of the Catholic Church. At these times, we can point them to what the Bible says about these. We must, however, avoid the practice of trying to "straighten them out on every doctrine" before we lead them to a personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ. When the Philippian Jailer asked Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" his answer was "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). Paul did not deal with all of the doctrines at that point. He simply focused on leading the Jailer to Christ. He knew that later the time would come to disciple this man. The starting point was leading him to a personal faith in Christ.
  • We must communicate patiently allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the minds of the people. Often Evangelical Christians make the mistake of pressuring their friends and loved ones to make a decision for Christ. While we must admire them for their sense of urgency, we must caution them this approach may get the opposite effect. People who feel pressured may become totally resistant and even antagonistic. Generally they are not resistant to Christ but to the methods that well meaning but abrasive people use. We need to communicate patiently as people gain a gradual understanding of the person and mission of Jesus Christ. 
Practical Suggestions

A. Don'ts - There are things that we simply should not do because they these usually offend people, put them on the defensive, and distract us from focusing on their relationship with Christ.
1. Don't (criticize) the Catholic Church, its doctrines, practices or people. Even if you feel you have a valid point, it is counter productive to criticize for two reason: (1) It is not in the Spirit of Christ; (2) It will only antagonize people.
2. Don't (ridicule) any of the practices of the Catholic Church. Some Evangelical Christians are too prone to make fun of their sacramentals (images, statues, crucifixes, etc.) and practices. These things are very dear to Catholics. If they are hurt, they will turn a deaf ear to what we are saying and perhaps avoid out company. There is absolutely no excuse for showing lack of respect to Roman Catholics, their beliefs, and their practices.

3. Don't be (negative) just because you differ with someone. You can disagree without being disagreeable. Just think, if you had grown up in the same environment, you would probably have the same beliefs that they do. You can prayerfully point them to what the word of God says instead of trying to win an argument. A negative attitude will evoke a negative response to the message of salvation.
B. Do's - These are the things that you should do to establish a bridge of respect, appreciation, and communication.
1. (Love) your Catholic friends. 
Find opportunities to show your love in practical ways. Remember, each person you meet is one for whom Jesus died on the cross. Pray that as you dialogue with them, they will feel the love of Christ in such a tangible way that they will turn to him.

2. (Pray) with and for your Catholic friends.
Many of them have never had the experience of someone praying for them by name. Mention specific needs. Say: "Lord, I pray for (name) . You know that he or she has this need (name the need) and You have promised to hear our prayers. Bless (name) ;, help him or her." You may want to begin with the Lord's Prayer. This often provides a bridge because most Roman Catholics are familiar with the beautiful, biblical prayer.
3. See the (best) in them.
When someone says to you, "I'm a Catholic," be in a position both spiritually and emotionally to say to them, "I'm glad to meet you." Let the love of Christ flow through you. Remember, everyone you meet is a person for whom Christ died.
4. Try to put yourself in their place (see 1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Seek to reason, how would I move from a traditional to a biblical position? Many Roman Catholics have a very limited knowledge of the Bible. Some of the things you say to them about the Word of God may be entirely new. On other teachings they may have a limited understanding, but, it can serve as a bridge to lead them to a clearer understanding of God's Word.

Preparation for Witnessing
A. Prepare testimony
One of the most powerful tools in witnessing is to share our testimony. People will generally listen when we share the difference Jesus has made in our lives. When the apostle Paul (Acts 26) shared his testimony, he generally used the following outline:
1. What my life was like before knowing Jesus.
2. How I came to know Jesus.
3. How Jesus helps me face life today.
4. How you can know Jesus too.

B. Practice Testimony
Write a brief paragraph under each major heading telling how you came to know Jesus as your personal Savior. After you have prepared your testimony, take time to share it with someone in your group. When you share your testimony with a friend, speak about the doubts and fears that you had, then share with enthusiasm the difference that your personal faith in Christ has made in your life.
Preparing to Present the Gospel
A. Guidelines
There are some guidelines we must follow if we are to lead our Catholic friends to experience personal salvation in Christ.
  1. Do not discuss (religion). Your main purpose is to lead the person to Christ.
  2. Present the (gospel) with simplicity and sound logic.
  3. Distinguish between the (official) position of the Catholic Church and what each individual believes.
  4. As you study the Bible together, let the prospect (discover) what the Word of God says. Encourage the person to read the verses, to think about their meaning and let the Word of God speak to them.
  5. Concentrate only on issues (essential) to salvation. Don't discuss the (wrong) issues. 
  6. Don't ask: "Are you a (Christian?)" (Catholics consider themselves Christians) or "Are you saved?)" Your question should be: "What is your (personal) relationship with Jesus Christ?"
  7. Use a (Catholic) Bible or a version acceptable to  Catholics such as a Good News Bible.
  8. Emphasize that a gift is not a possession until it       is received (Romans 6:23; John 1:12)
B. Marking the New Testament
One of the best ways to present the plan of salvation to Roman Catholics is to use a marked New Testament. This helps them read the verses straight from the Word of God. It is also helpful to give the New Testament to the prospect. There have been numerous instances where the prospect has not understood the full meaning of the passages until he or she has read them several times over an extended period of time.
  1. On the first page of your New Testament write the question: "What is your personal relationship to Christ?" Then put: "Turn to page  ."
  2. After you turn to page     where John 10:10 is found:
    a. Color the verse with a light yellow marker.
    b. Write on the top of the page the question #1: "Why did Christ come?"
    c. Write on the bottom of the page "turn to page __ " (Where Rom. 3:23 is found).
  3. Repeat steps 1-3 for each verse used in the gospel presentation writing the appropriate questions of the gospel presentation (see next section).
  4. Write on the last page of the New Testament:

  1. Why did Christ come? (John 10:10)
  2. Why don't we have this gift? (Rom. 3:23)
  3. What is the result of sin? (Rom. 6:23a)
  4. What is God's gift? (Rom. 6:23b)
  5. How did God make this possible? (Rom. 5:8)
  6. Can we earn this gift? (Eph. 2:8-9)
  7. If we could earn this gift (Gal. 2:21), would Christ have died? (Gal. 3:1-5)
  8. How does this gift become ours? (John 1:12)
  9. How did the dying thief receive this gift? (Luke 23:39-43)
  10. Can we be sure we have this gift? (John 5:24)
  11. Will you open the door of your life to Christ?  (Rev. 3:20)
Presenting the gospel
Begin with the question, "What is your relationship to Christ?" Explain, "We are not going to talk about religion; we just want to find out what the Bible says about our relationship to Christ." Lead from there to the questions found in your marked New Testament.
After you have gone through the plan of salvation with your Catholic friend, do the following:
  • Ask your friend to pray the prayer of acceptance with you.
If your friend is not ready yet, do these things:
  • Pray for your friend. Begin with the Lord's Prayer.
  • Then ask God to help your friend learn the things that He wants your friend to know. Pray for any need he or she might have. (Suggestion: Make the prayer as personal as possible. You may want to hold hands with your friend.)
Give your friend the New Testament as a gift. Suggest that he or she re-read these portions of Scripture. Ask them to sign his or her name when he or she has made a decision to accept Christ.

I admit before God that I am a sinner and that Jesus died for my sins. I now open the door of my life to Christ and accept His gift of salvation.
Name _______________
Date _______________
There are many terms with which non-Roman Catholics many not be familiar. Due to limitations of space we will include only those which relate more closely to this study. For a more extensive list see the Catholic Almanac listed under suggested readings. These definitions represent the Roman Catholic view.
Absolution: The act by which an authorized priest grants forgiveness of sin.
Adoration: The highest act of worship directed only to God.
Ashes: The ashes of palms burnt during the season of Lent placed on the foreheads of the people (usually on Ash Wednesday) to remind them that they are dust and unto dust they will return.
Assumption: The taking up of Mary (body and soul) into heaven.
Catechism: Instruction of Roman Catholic on the doctrines of their Church. The format is usually question and answer.
Eucharist: The sacrament of the Lord's Supper in which the bread and the wine turn into the body and blood of Christ.
Immaculate Conception: The doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin.
Penance: A sacrament which stresses inner sorrow for sin and external acts of atonement.
Purgatory: The state or condition in which those who die in a state of grace, but with some sin in their lives, suffer until they are admitted into heaven.
Rosary: A form of prayer which centers on the important events in the lives of Mary and Jesus. This involves the reciting of Hail Mary's, the Lord's prayer, etc. Beads are used as a guide to prayer.
Sacrament: A sacred sign instituted by Christ to give grace. In the sacrament of confirmation, for instance, Christ confers the Holy Spirit.


Walter Abbot, S.J., Documents of Vatican II, ed., (New Jersey: New Century Publisher, 1966).
Jose Borras, "Catholicism Today And Our Mission Task," Baptist Witness in Catholic Europe, (Rome: Baptist Publishing House, 1973).
Bartholomew F. Brewer, Pilgrimage from Rome, (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1986).
Foy A. Felician, Catholic Almanac, (Huntington, IN: Sunday Visitor, 1992).
Austin Flannery, O.P., Vatican Council II, (New York: Costello Publishing Company, 1975).
C. Brownlow Hastings, A Baptist View of Changes in Roman Catholicism, (Atlanta: Home Mission Board).
James Killgallon's Life in Christ, (Chicago: Acta Foundation) or other similar catechism.
Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981).
Michael A. McGuire, Baltimore Catechism No. 1, (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1942).
Ralph Michael, Share the New Life with a Catholic, (Chicago: Moody, 1975).
John Allen Moore, "Catholicism Today and Our Mission Task," Baptist Witness in Catholic Europe, (Rome: Baptist Publishing House).
Albert J. Nevins, M.M., Answering A Fundamentalist (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1990).
Adolfo Robleto, Un Vistazo a la Doctrina Romana, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1969).
Philip J. Scharper, Meet the American Catholic, (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1969).
Paul G. Schrotenboer, Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988).
Gerald Williams, The Contemporary Catholic Catechism, (Des Plains, IL: FARE, Inc., 1973).

i Adapted from Rev. Joe O'Connel's, "Witnessing to Roman Catholics."


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