Tuesday, January 5, 2010

To Friend or Not to Friend.

Top 10 thoughts on adding friendship to evangelism.

Crazy lady that Jenn is, she asked me write about evangelism. Specifically, she wanted me to talk about friendship in evangelism.

You've probably heard this debate. One side says we need to spend every waking moment telling people about Jesus (and not sleeping too much). The other side says we need to first cultivate friendships before sharing the gospel. It's like the chicken and the egg, only the gospel is the chicken and friendship is the egg. So which comes first?

Crazy guy that I am, I'm attempting to answer the question with a question: isn't it both?

Lest Jenn never invite me to guest post here again, I'll try to explain myself instead of just leaving you with that Philosophy major answer.

(By the way, I like lists and, evidently, long posts. I hope you don't mind.)

1. The answer isn't either/or.

It's both. You can't expect someone to believe the amazingness you share without trusting you. On the other hand, it's no good when someone trusts you if you're wrong.

2. Trust is important, and friends trust friends.

I've said before that friends accept friends before they accept advice. I'm sure you can think of exceptions to this, but they don't hold when you get into repeating the gospel.

If you just give advice, you're either accepted or rejected right there. That's it – you have one shot.  If you build a friendship, though, even if the person doesn't accept the gospel advice the first time, you still have a huge opportunity to follow up again and again.

3. The Truth is important, and the Gospel gives Truth.

The danger in building friendships is that we can easily slip into friendships only, forgetting the truth of the gospel altogether. I think this is why many Christians are so zealous about avoiding “friendship” evangelism. Friendship is a fantastic medium to exchange ideas and beliefs. But we can't forget that it's not the message. The message is the gospel. Friendship brings the gospel to everyday life.

4. Evangelists are afraid to friend.

Friendships require commitment. Door to door, broadcast evangelism often requires no commitment at all. If 100 new Christians were converted to Christ from the efforts, the evangelist would most likely direct all of them to his or her local congregation and eagerly go back to walking door to door.

Christ's commend, though, was to go into the world and make disciples. Sometimes, oftentimes, it's easier to just tell about Jesus than live like Him. (More on this in #9.)

5. Friends are afraid to evangelize.

I remember one time in particular walking door to door inviting people to a home fellowship in a neighborhood where I used to live. I had no problem with the houses where I didn't know anyone. I was more apprehensive about sharing with the neighbors I knew.

At the unknown houses, if I made of fool of myself or for whatever reason they didn't accept what I was saying, no problem. I'd just brush it off and never see them again. But at the houses where I knew someone...

When you share with friends, you put your reputation on the line. You put the whole relationship on the line. Friendships take effort to maintain, so it can be scarier to share with those you know than those you don't know.

6. Without friendship in the beginning, evangelism can easily deteriorate into a duty.

It's easy to spout off the Gospel message and assume you've done your good deed for the day. I know I often fall into this slump. I share, then figure if they don't accept it, it's not my problem. My mission's accomplished. They can't blame me for not sharing with them when they stand before God.

I think a lot of Christians have that mindset. We often share the gospel because it's the Christian duty. But no, I don't want to do that. I want to evangelize because I genuinely care about people. That's why Jesus shared with others. He actually cared about people. Evangelism is a privilege, not a duty. We tell others about Christ because we care.

7. Without the gospel in the beginning, evangelism can easily startle.

Nothing like building a friendship around misconceptions to ruin a friendship. I'm all for friending, but don't ever come across as someone who's not a Christian. I know it can help smooth into friendship in the beginning, but when (if?) the gospel does come up, it breaks the trust of the friendship, destroying the benefits of the relationship. That's why the gospel is important from the beginning. Live in such a way that everyone knows you're a Christian even if you're not directly evangelizing.

8. Friendships don't take as long to build as we think.

The apparent urgency of the gospel message seems to force us to cut to the crucial points of salvation as quickly as possible. This means cutting out the relationship part – or so we think.

We've confused making friends with maintaining friends. Making friends can be a relatively quick process. Start by buying a stranger (not of the opposite sex) a Latte at the neighborhood Starbucks sometime. You'll see what I mean.

9. Friendships are harder to maintain than we think.

Friendships don't take long to make, but they are difficult to maintain. This is where evangelism crosses into discipleship. Discipleship is about committing to someone with no guarantee for response. Discipleship is about following up and opening up. It's about authenticity. It's about teaching by example, not just by the words you say.

Pulling this off requires us to have a much deeper relationship with Jesus than what's required to deliver a track and invite someone to fellowship. Those are fantastic, but they're only the beginning.

10. Friends encourage instead of just providing more information.

For me, this is the clincher. At least in Western culture, everyone's heard about Jesus. They might not have the whole, accurate picture, but they've heard. It's like most other things now - we have all the information we need. If someone wants more info, Google it.

Friends do more than offer more information. They offer encouragement. They build certainty into the information that's already available. Most people have heard the gospel. What they need is to see it walking around, to feel it caring for them. That's where we come in.

At least that's where I try to come in.

But what do you think? Am I completely off base? What role does friendship play in evangelism?


Marshall Jones Jr. is your average carrot juice drinking, 20 year old PK who lives, writes, and runs a free e-course from beautiful Louisville, Kentucky. He blogs about serving others at www.bondChristian.com.


Nick said...

I think you're right, Marshall. I'd say it's a good mix of both, though sometimes one is more necessary than the other.

The idea is not to spend years perfecting the "ideal" evangelism situation or painstakingly improving friendships with that one intent, but rather to concentrate on making yourself available to God - whatever door he chooses to open.

The pastor of my previous church actually came to the Lord by finding a tract at a truck stop, so whaddya know? ;)

Andrew said...

That's interesting about your pastor, Nick, but do you think that he had the greatest understanding of the gospel just from finding that tract? My guess is nope.

Seems like friendship would make it optimal for discipleship later on. Dunno.

Nick said...

Good point, Andrew. But you would assume that most people after getting saved would plug into some kind of church.

Fellowship and discipleship is what the church should offer to a believer. One-on-one is cool for accountability, but as far as teaching, church is also cool.

bondChristian said...

Thanks, Nick. Yep, you're right on with that. Our God's so big He can use anything to draw people to Himself.

By the way, the word "available" is a favorite of mine.

Andrew: I was wondering the same thing. In America anyway, it seems like other things besides just a track would have influenced his decision. Still, though, I have no problem with a track doing all the work. In fact, I wish they was more effective. That way, I could slack off with some of the not-so-friendable people. :>)

Jenn: Thanks for asking and letting me post here.

To everyone reading it: Thank you for taking the time to read (and scroll down to the comments). :>)

-Marshall Jones Jr.

Anonymous said...

"Nothing like building a friendship around misconceptions to ruin a friendship. I'm all for friending, but don't ever come across as someone who's not a Christian. I know it can help smooth into friendship in the beginning, but when the gospel does come up, it breaks the trust of the friendship, destroying the benefits of the relationship. That's why the gospel is important from the beginning. Live in such a way that everyone knows you're a Christian even if you're not directly evangelizing."

That's really great, Marshall. When Christians live like the world and then switch into "evangelico" mode, it looks like they're hypocrites and taints any message they might present.

Actually, scratch that. They don't just look like hypocrites; they are hypocrites.

Katherine said...

This is a really thought-provoking post and I had to pipe up with my two sense. I think some tracts are better than others and so probably Nick'spastor found one that was more in-depth. Just a guess! And you're definitely right about finding a good church right away. Fellowship is so important for spiritual growth!

Caleb said...

A lot of times youth groups will go out in the cities and evangelize. (Which is admittedly better than what a lot of them spend their time doing.) but still, this has happened to me one to many times: a nervous ‘nice’ Christian teen comes up and pretends to be all friendly, next thing you know she’s spouting whatever formula for sharing the gospel her youth pastor taught her.

Is this really concern for the lost? Nah. Unbelievers can tell when someone's just been guilt-tripped into something. I'd be pretty ticked off if I were them I know that.

Jeremy said...

Thanks, Marshall, for sharing a balanced view on such a hotly-debated topic. Good stuff!

- Jeremy

Allie said...

I wouldn't listen to someone try to sell me something if they were my friend and I trusted themm. I'd say different approaches work better for different people.

Jake said...

Wow I didn't even realize this debate existed. I would tend to side with the friendship first group. It's like that old saying goes, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." ;>

Rocco aka Rohon! said...

I love what you are saying in #6!

About 6 years ago I started to love anyone God brought into my life, for who they are, without conditions and never expecting anything return. What happened was God brought a lot of non believers into my life! What amazed me was how blown away they were after finding out weeks, even months, later that I was a Christian. They were impressed with my willingness to love them no matter what, for who they were, and it changed the way they thought about Christians, even just a little.

A few of them are now Christians themselves and we still have a good relationship.

I have a better understanding about God's love for me.

Jared said...

Rocco: didn't your friends feel at all cheated when they found out you'd been hiding something important from them? The Lord calls us to be salt and light. You know that Sunday school song? "This little light of mine/I'm gonna let it shine....hide it under a bushel? no! I'm gonna let it shine" etc. That's what it's about. Shining the light of Jesus, not hiding out lamp under a shade and then pulling it out and letting it slowly start to shine again. That seems dishonest. God bless!

Allie said...

Oops, I meant "I wouldn't listen to someone try to sell me something if they WEREN'T my friend and I trusted them." lol

Rocco aka Rohon! said...


Cheated? Not at all. Hide the Light? Never. I just didn't shove it in their face.

They are grateful that I never tried, or try to proselytize(sp) them. I love them as Jesus does, whether they believe what I do or not.

One of the things that happened those 6 years ago was realizing the Christians use the 'dust your sandals off' excuse way before they really even get dusty. We leave a tract on the tank of a toilet at a gas station and declare it evangelism.

I am still living and loving these people, they see the true light of God's love in me everyday. They know that I love them, that God loves them, and I am not going to dust my sandals off because they don't go to church after said amount of time.

You will be surprised once you love someone with no expectations or conditions, how they respond and open up to you. Trust you. Come to you with the heart issues of life.

1 Corinthians 13

bondChristian said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Ananymous: Absolutely. Evangelism is an all or nothing effort. Otherwise, people will find out. The Internet's now making sure of that more than ever, but it's a good thing for everyone.

Katherine: Yes, without the followup, it's easy to wither away like the seeds on rocky soil.

Caleb: I see that a lot. Where's the care? It's just the Christian thing to do, but it's not caring.

Jeremy: I'm thankful you enjoyed it. If we are the body...

Allie: Thanks for clarifying. Before I read your update, I was like, "Wow, how do you pick which movies to see or books to read?" :>) I'm with you though. For me, it's all about recommendations.

Jake: Yes, that saying's a cliche now because it's been repeated so many times without any action behind it. It's sad, but that's the problem of repeating truth without doing anything about it.

Rocco: That's awesome. Those little changes are fantastic. You never know who's going to push them over the edge. Each nudge, each shift in Christ's reputation (for the better), counts. Also, I love what you said about the "dusty excuse." I tweeted it too. Thanks.

Jared: I mentioned something about this in the post. I think it depends on how they find out. On one hand, if it seems like you're living a double life, then yes, it's ruined (I've done that before... even deliberately in some cases). But if it's an honest discovery, then it works. I think it's all about the authenticity. If you're authentic about it, they'll be amazed, not started, when they find out.

-Marshall Jones Jr.

Anonymous said...

Necessity is the mother of invention..........................