Monday, April 5, 2010

Friendship Evangelism

Here’s a great article by fellow evangelist Larry Rosenbaum. He posted it recently to his Facebook page.

Larry RosenbaumApril 2, 2010 at 2:55pm

Subject: Friendship Evangelism

As you know, I have been using Facebook to find Christians who are interested in evangelism. Recently, I got a response from a student at a Bible college. He was quite strongly opposed to street evangelism. He wrote, I “think that it is dangerous and even harmful for you to corner random people and tell them about a religion that you believe in.”

“How much better and more effective is it for you to use the love of Christ to build relationships with people first. Then through the establishment of that relationship tell them about Christ. Far more effective and efficient. I think you turn A LOT of people off when you just shove tracts and beliefs in their faces….I promise people will be more receptive and open to the gospel when they know you are genuinely interested in taking the time to build a relationship with them without a hidden agenda.”

I tried to respond to him. First, the idea of establishing a relationship with someone with the idea of eventually telling them about Christ is, in fact, a hidden agenda. The person you are befriending does not know that your true intention is to eventually share the gospel with them. I do not think that is wrong, if you don’t lie to the person, but it is a hidden agenda. In contrast, the Christian who offers someone a gospel tract or starts talking with someone about Jesus has no hidden agenda.

This student, it seems, thinks that “friendship evangelism” is the only proper way to witness. He said it was “dangerous and even harmful” to “corner random people” and tell them about a “religion” you believe in. He spoke of “shoving” tracts and beliefs “in their faces.” ”It makes it much harder for us Christians to build relationships with the world when the world thinks Christians are pushy religious fanatics.”

“Do I know the best way to evangelize? What did Jesus say? Love God, love people. Take care of the poor, needy and broken. No hidden agenda. When God fills you with His love you can’t help but love on people around you. People will ask you the questions. You won’t have to confront people with them….Obviously to you the culture today is the same as 2,000 years ago.”

While this Christian student has adopted many of the negative stereotypes held by those who oppose the gospel, his views do not line up with the Bible. Of course, our culture has changed a lot over the past 2000 years. But hostility to the preaching of God’s word is nothing new. If anything, it was worse in the past than it is today. In the past, God’s people were put to death for preaching His word. That is unusual today, at least in the U.S.

It is certainly scriptural to help the poor and needy. It is wonderful when someone asks us questions about Jesus. But nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to keep quiet until that happens. In John 4, for example, Jesus initiated a conversation with the Samaritan woman. He turned the conversation to spiritual things. I do not believe that the people we witness to are “random.” God is directing our paths.

What is a “pushy religious fanatic”? Is it wrong for Christians to share their faith with others? Is it wrong for Christians to be dedicated to following Jesus? The world sees nothing wrong with a “football fanatic.” But they think it is wrong to be fanatical in our belief in Jesus. Many people think that a little religion is OK. We can believe in God and attend church occasionally, as long as we don’t get too serious about it. Often, they equate a person who is dedicated to Jesus with a Muslim terrorist who flies planes into buildings. They equate a Christian who seeks to persuade another person of the truth of his beliefs with someone who forces another to convert or die. All are “religious fanatics.” Such thinking is absurd.

I am not aware of any examples of “friendship evangelism,” as it is taught today, in the Bible. Nor am I aware of any teaching in the Bible concerning it. Philip brought his brother Peter to Jesus, but of course they already knew each other. Jesus made friends with the Samaritan woman, but that process took only a few minutes. The Samaritan woman told the people of Sychar about Jesus, but they were people she already knew. I cannot find a single example in the Bible of anyone making friends with someone with the intention of eventually sharing the gospel with them.
In contrast, the idea of proclaiming God’s word in public places is found repeatedly throughout the Bible. The Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and the New Testament disciples all proclaimed God’s word in public places. They also all faced rejection and persecution. In the New Testament, many were saved through the public preaching of the gospel. Throughout the New Testament, we are instructed by Jesus and His disciples to proclaim the gospel throughout the world. While our culture has changed, and we need to adapt our approach to the people we minister to, God’s word does not change. I see no reason why we should stop proclaiming God’s word in public places or stop approaching non-Christians and speaking with them about Jesus.

I am not opposed to “friendship evangelism.” God has gifted each of us differently. He will also direct us differently in how we should approach people and share the gospel with them. Many Christians have used “friendship evangelism” very effectively. Others wait for years for the “right opportunity” to witness to their unsaved friends — but it never comes.

I realize that there are Christians who preach in unnecessarily offensive ways. They angrily condemn people to Hell, often using very crude language to speak about sexual sins. I think we should preach and witness in a gentle, loving, and respectful way, without compromising God’s word.

But it is tragic that so many Christians have been poisoned by unscriptural attitudes toward evangelism. They condemn any Christian who seeks to proclaim God’s word in public places.