Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Friendship Evangelism is a GOOD thing! (From Pressing On Until Glory)
Friendship evangelism is a good thing. So often we denounce those who employ this method, but after a considerable amount of time contemplating this approach, I don't think there is anything wrong with it...so far as it is rightly defined and applied.
Evangelism requires sharing the gospel. Any other notion of how evangelism is defined is incorrect. Thus, if one believes he or she can share the gospel just by being different (e.g. not having a foul mouth, helping others, fulfilling various needs, etc.), that individual is wrong. By shear definition, the word that is often translated in the Greek (evangelism) means "good news." The Greek word was not limited to the gospel proclamation, but in the New Testament, it became a "Christian" word. Nevertheless, good news is only good news if it is shared. If the gospel means "good news" and yet it is not shared, how could anyone define it as "good news"? Therefore, evangelism requires opening one's mouth to share the gospel.
But how should this be done? Should we open air evangelize? Should we one-on-one witness? Should be build relationships?
I believe all of the above are adequate. I am reminded of my interview with Dr. J.I. Packer. During our interview, he said he loves the term "friendship evangelism." Now, there are many who will hear that and either:
A) Respond to his comment with distaste...
B) Grab onto his comment and continue in their methods...
But neither response is correct because in order to understand what Dr. Packer meant, one must read his book.
In His book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, he explained what he meant by friendship evangelism. He said (paraphrase), "Whether it takes 5 minutes to build a relationship or 5 months, one must have a relationship with a person in order to share the gospel."
I agree with his statement wholeheartedly. A relationship must be established in order to share the gospel. And whether that relationship takes 30 seconds to build or 3 months, it must be there.
So...what does this have to do with friendship evangelism? Answer: everything!
The relationships that we establish must be built on sharing the gospel versus using relationships as a means to share the gospel. Allow me to explain.
There are many who attempt to build relationships with others as a means to share the gospel. In their hearts, they feel that building a relationship will soften the blow of an ordinarily offensive gospel. In doing this, they try to be the best friend that they can in order to show the new friend the virtues of a Christian.
Is this method acceptable? Yes! Is it honest? No!
As I consider this method more and more, I have come to realize two things.
1) This method is skulk. Most people who employ this method really don't want to get to know the other person. They simply utilize the friendship as a way to get them interested in the things of God. Are they being honest? Did they really care about the person in the first place? Is this a person they truly want to hang out with and get to know? If so, we must consider that relationships are reciprocal. Just as you want to get to know the new friend, the new friend should want to get to know you. And what is the most important and interesting thing about you? Well, it isn't your looks, nor the car you drive, nor your occupation, but Christ. This leads me to my second point.
2) As this method is typically employed, the relationship is not founded on the things of God. Any smart person who gets Christ sprung on them after 6 months should rightly note the reason why the relationship existed in the first (provided the aforementioned is true). Thus, there may be even more of a shock factor then as opposed to being upfront and letting the person know who you are in Christ upfront. And again, this may be immediate, provided the environment is adequate, or it may be in weeks to come. Nonetheless, the relationship must be founded on the gospel.
In conclusion, I believe friendship evangelism is a good thing if properly defined. And I would define in this fashion.
Friendship Evangelism: Building a relationship with someone utilizing the gospel as its foundation.
This may take 5 minutes and it may take 6 months, but that must be the intention when building a relationship with an unconverted person.
Yes, that person may have attributes that you adore. Yes, that person may have great family values, but it all means nothing if they don't have a reconciled relationship with the Father.
So, build relationships! But look for every opportunity to share the gospel along the way. And remember, the relationship must be built upon the gospel; and not used as a means to share it.