I grew up hearing and learning about the concept of evangelism. I learned about missionaries who went to far away countries to win people for Jesus. I knew about people who handed out tracts to win people for Jesus. I knew about people who would hold rallies and church services and give alter calls to win people for Jesus. These were all forms of evangelism I was familiar with. I won’t bore you with Greek, but in the Biblical context, evangelism is literally about sharing the good news of Jesus. In my mind this has all centered around the goal of sharing that good news in order to invite people to become a follower of Jesus. Win them. Convert them. Evangelism 101.
So one other way we talk about evangelizing is by talking about ‘friendship evangelism’. The logic behind friendship evangelism goes like this:
‘People don’t care what they know till they know that you care.’
‘People don’t respond well to tracts anymore, we need to be more relational.’
‘People are more likely to respond to the gospel if it comes from a friend or family member.’
Many great and true points here.
However, I have one beef with friendship evangelism: we can easily miss out on true friendship because we have one very specific goal in the relationship. That goal in this case? Win people to Jesus. What happens when you are ‘trying to reach someone’ through friendship evangelism and realize they really, really have no interest in Jesus? Do we suddenly feel like that friendship is a waste of time or that our effort has failed or that we should move on and reach out to someone else? If so, then I believe we are missing out on really living out the good news of Jesus. The irony is that the reason we are missing out on becoming like Jesus is because we are so busy trying to win people TO Jesus. Following me?
Let me say it this way: when we as believers joined the Jesus family, we signed up to be transformed into people who are compatible with God. We signed up to have our selfishness burned away, to exchange our goals for God’s goals, to love Him with our whole selves, and ultimately to be transformed into people who love as indiscriminately as the Father does.
I heard a speaker this last weekend- the most excellent Jen Hatmaker. She was speaking of Jesus’ tendency to hang with the less than upright Jews and show kindness to Gentiles and Samaritans and even Roman soldiers (read, oppressors). She said something to the extent of ‘when Jesus loves, He loves like a FRIEND… He doesn’t treat people like a photo-op or a project or a sob story. He treats people like FRIENDS.’
The difference between a project and a friend is that a friend is an equal. Both parties in a friendship have something to contribute to the relationship. They don’t treat you like a person to talk down to or fix. A real friend doesn’t just start a friendship in order to get you to do them a favor or sell you something. In fact, if you’ve ever been cornered by an acquaintance you haven’t seen in years who suddenly is acting like your BFF and five minutes later tells you should start selling weight loss shakes in their awesome company and that with just a tiny bit of work you’ll both be independently wealthy for life, you know what I’m saying. Extreme example I realize, but you know what I mean, right? You don’t feel like that person is being a real friend… in that case you feel primarily like you are a business prospect being recruited for a pyramid scheme.
If we are becoming like Jesus, we will learn to be real friends, agendas aside. OF COURSE we want people to know Jesus. But do we also realize how vitally important it is for us to be LIKE Jesus ourselves? Do we realize that if we are knowing Jesus more and more, then we will become better friends to believers and non-believers alike? If we are becoming like Jesus we will see that caring for people, loving them, being a good neighbor and friend, is a very important aspect of us living out the good news whether or not our friends ever decide to follow Jesus themselves. This goes for all of our lives: when we live well, when we act in love towards other people, when we work well, when we are truthful and kind, when we care for this earth God put us on, when we create beautiful art, when we pursue justice and mercy, we are living out our redemption. We are living out the gospel.
We must get our own house in order, our own selves in order. If we, the people who say we follow Jesus, are living out the beautiful reality of what it looks like to know God, then perhaps others will find our good news more compelling. Or not, who am I to say? But regardless of who else decides to follow Jesus, surely it can be nothing but good for the whole world if we Christians look more and more like our Christ.