A topic of recent discussion with some friends was about “friendship evangelism”. It’s a phrase that has been tossed around evangelism and mission circles with plenty of material to accompany it. I’m not particularly up-to-date on what’s been written, what’s good and bad, etc. however, the essential idea can be summarised like this: “Friendship evangelism is seeking to expose and share the Gospel with people through personal relationship.” Instead of door knocking, street evangelism (walking up to unknown people), friendship evangelism seeks to make known the person of Jesus Christ through developed personal relationship.
The advantages of such a method is obvious. You don’t put people on the spot, you don’t “shove your own beliefs” upon other people, it’s a natural process, you have build up rapport with people. What are the disadvantages? It takes time, relationships don’t happen overnight. It requires commitment, relationships require commitment. Naturally, we need to weigh up the pros and cons. Personally, I think there’s a place for friendship evangelism, but there’s also a place for the more direct approaches as well (I just think they need to be more thought out).
However, my particular thoughts move towards an issue which came up during my discussion with my friends. What happens to your friendship after they accept the Gospel (or reject the Gospel)? Now that you’ve achieved your purpose of “friendship evangelism” is the friendship now, somehow, void? The obvious answer is “no”, though I suspect that the reality of the matter is, in some cases, “yes”. Simply, this is what happens when our means has become the end goal. This doesn’t apply to “friendship evangelism” only but the Christian mission, once people have accepted the Gospel it doesn’t end there.
In the Great Commission (in Matthew 28:28-20, what I now prefer, “The Great Exhortation”), Jesus exhorts us to “go and make disciples of all nations” not “just go and make believers of all nations”. If that was the case, then Jesus probably would have come after Constantine made the entire Roman empire Christian. Or the conquests of the British Empire. Jesus calls us to make disciples as a natural expression and outflow of our faith.
In some ways, I’m not all that concerned about evangelism or convincing people to believe in Jesus. Rather, there is a greater need for discipleship and mentoring Christians that they might go on to evangelise. Another way of looking at it: “Unless Christians start acting like Christians, no one else is going to be a Christian.” I’ve often said in my sermons, the greatest deterrent and reason for people to avoid Christianity is the hypocrisy of Christians.
The greatest witness for Jesus, since the day of Pentecost until now, is and always will be the Christian life naturally lived out with integrity and surrendered to God. Unless Christians stop living with ulterior motives (to be accepted, to convert others, etc.), their witness will be limited. It is the overflow and outflow of the renewed life found in Jesus Christ which will testify to the power, love and grace of God.