The Problem With Friendship Evangelism

Yesterday, I was waiting for a train at a distant train station when I found myself cornered by a stranger who wanted to talk. We got on the same train, so the conversation continued for about another hour until he got off. From what I could tell, though he professed some weak church affiliation, he was completely unsaved. It is possible that I will never see him again. However, since we are almost neighbors, no doubt we will bump into each other from time to time.

As I got off the train, it suddenly struck me that most of the people I knew and grew up with in evangelical churches in both the US and Japan would have felt it their duty to have shared Christ–or at least broached the subject–with him during such a long train trip. It is how I was brought up and taught, and how many other were brought up and taught as well. It also occurred to me that if I had done so with him during our train trip, not only would he have gotten off the train still unsaved, but he would remain unsaved, and from now on he would steer clear of me whenever he saw me coming down the street.

There is a thing called gospel hardness. This is when people have heard the gospel message preached too often when they were neither expecting it nor were willing to welcome it. With such people, while under the proper circumstances they might have been willing to receive the gospel message before, they become inured to it. Their hearts become hardened, sometimes to the point where even if they had no other choice in the world, they would nevertheless reject the gospel message out of hand. The have been victimized too often by what I would call drive-by evangelists–people who want to get another notch on their belt, but who have no personal interest in others except as subjects for conversion.

This is the problem with relationship or friendship evangelism: You have to a relationship with others, you have to be friends with them, before they will give you permission to share the gospel with them. However, what is often taught as relationship or friendship evangelism is no different or better than door-to-door sales. Indeed, the most popular evangelism program in the US uses the same techniques employed by encyclopaedia salesmen. This is not relationship or friendship evangelism: It is hucksterism. The power of the Word of God is so great that sometimes even a huckster can lead people to Christ. However, there is often a high price to be paid for such tactics. The church already has a reputation for being uncaring (never mind that this reputation is for the most part false and unfair). When a person acts as a huckster, peddling the gospel without personal concern or care for others, it reinforces that reputation. The huckster becomes the face of the church, and people’s hearts become hardened to the good news that will bring them eternal life.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. However, it is clear that if you want to engage in friendship evangelism, you have to first become a friend.

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One Response to The Problem With Friendship Evangelism

  1. altruistico says:

    Friendship evangelism as a method of bringing people to Christ or sharing the gospel of Christ has several meanings and connotations. Some people believe that friendship evangelism requires Christians to become friends with unbelievers, establishing a relationship before attempting to address their need for a Savior. Some see friendship evangelism as living a solid righteous life—a living testimony—before others so that they desire that kind of life and ask how to achieve it. At that point, the gospel is shared. Still others believe that living a righteous life in the world is evangelism enough and that no further efforts are necessary. The theory is that unbelievers will be so convicted of his need for that kind of life that they will seek God on their own. What does the Bible say about friendship evangelism?

    Each of the three above-named methods of friendship evangelism fall short of the biblical method of evangelism. The first method, becoming friends with unbelievers in order to gain enough credibility so they will listen to the gospel, fails to recognize several important biblical truths. For one thing, believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). The essence of friendship is mutual respect and affection based on agreement on basic life principles. But can a believer really have such a relationship with an unbeliever? In light of James 4:4 and Ephesians 5:11, such a relationship is not biblical. The unsaved person is part of the world which hates God and the people of God. How can such a person have affection and respect for believers who are part of the kingdom of God? Are we to be friendly towards unbelievers? Absolutely! Are we to have intimate relationships with unbelievers? Biblically speaking, no.

    Furthermore, neither Jesus nor the disciples practiced this type of friendship evangelism. Jesus didn’t limit His gospel presentations to His friends and relations. He preached to complete strangers the message of repentance from sin and salvation through Him. He sent His disciples out two by two and they “preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). If they refused to listen to them, Jesus instructed them to “shake the dust” off their feet and move on to the next town. He never encouraged them to settle down for a few months and develop friendships with those who rejected His message. Nor did He tell them to avoid quoting Scriptures so that their hearers wouldn’t be offended or turned off to the Gospel. He knew that the “message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18), and that most people will reject that message, no matter how friendly the manner in which it is presented. Christ was rejected by the world and He told us to expect the same reaction (John 15:18-20).

    What about the method of “evangelizing” through our living testimony? There is no doubt that we are to live righteous lives before the watching world, and there certainly is power in the testimony of a life transformed by Christ. A classic example of this is Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Jesus was able to tell her everything about her life, including the life of sin she was living now. Jesus, in His infallible way, gave her the gospel, and, of course, she believed. John 4:39 picks up the story: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39-41).

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