What if evangelism was a lot more like making a friend?
But I have to confess, evangelism was not my thing and I felt guilty about it. In college, some friends invited me to go out with them to do some evangelism. We were going to knock on doors to meet people and “share the gospel.” Which meant, ask them the Evangelism Explosion question – something like: “If you died tonight, do you know for certain that you would go to heaven.” And we’d take it from there.
“Oh,” I said. “When did you say you were going? I’m pretty sure I have to study.”
Five things: 1) I respected what they were doing. Door-to-door stuff is tough. I wished I had their courage and confidence. 2) My instinct told me there must be a better way. This just seemed so high pressure. I just didn’t know of an alternative approach. 3) It seemed artificial – not genuinely caring – to knock on doors and ask questions. It didn’t line up with what I knew to be the gracious character of Jesus. 4) The whole things struck me as extremely awkward and guilt oriented – as in it made me feel awkward and my motivation for going would be to alleviate my guilty conscience. And I did not like awkwardness or being motivated by guilt. 5) While the gospel can be spread widely this way, it may not be spread very deeply.
And isn’t evangelism is supposed to be about good news. Why should it be awkward at all? Well, I have good news. It doesn’t have to be awkward. And forget about the guilt. Evangelism is good news about Jesus and Jesus gave his disciples a good way to share good news that is as simple and natural as making a friend. And maybe that is because it is about making friends.
In Luke 10, Jesus sends out his disciples to proclaim the good news – to tell others that the Kingdom of God has come near. Jesus’ instructions include this: “When you enter a house, say, “Peace to this house.” If a man of peace (person of peace) is there, your peace will rest on him. if not it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they set before…” (Luke 10:5)
When Jesus sends his disciples out to evangelize, he says find a person you are naturally at peace with and hang out. This person will be open to your message and your method. They’ll be interested in what you are saying. They may or may not believe everything you are saying, but they will support you. They may or may not come along with you, but they will want others to consider what you are saying and doing. Basically, they’ll be a friend to you and lend their personal support and credibility to the work you are doing for the Lord. They will help you bear good news into their network of relationships.
Mike Breen writes about two types of Persons of Peace: those you meet in passing, and those you with whom you will have a more permanent relationship. The first type creates good stories that begin like “I met this guy on a flight…” You meet them. They open up. You open up. God arranged for your paths to cross. If you reach out and they don’t open up – relax. Let it go. They are not a person of peace. But the second kind is more interesting to me because I’m building a church. I want to see people come into our missional communities and stay.
When you meet a person of peace, recognize this: you are bearing Christ. What attracts a person of peace to you is not you. It’s Christ. There are really three steps. 1) Pray. 2) Look for people of peace (and God will reveal them). 3) Bear Christ as you build relationships with those people. As you do so, it is likely they will invite you into their network of relationships. You will be allowed to bear Christ and build relationships with the other people they know. The good news of the gospel is spread deeply and widely.
In High School, I think I was a person of peace for my Young Life Leader, Ed Bonner. Ed was bearing Christ and he built a relationship with me. I thought Ed was one of the neatest people I’d ever met and I loved what he was telling me about Jesus. Then he came to my high school. Now, I liked Ed a lot and very excited about what he was doing, so naturally, I introduced him to everybody I could think of. I wanted my friends to meet Ed, and I wanted Ed to succeed. I was willing to do just about anything to make that happen.
Do you think my friends were more open to what Ed had to say as a result of my introduction? You bet. Ed invested in my life deeply for a couple of years – and in the lives of my friends, too. His work had a long term impact.
God has led me to a person of peace named Roger at the rec center where I get exercise. I’ve mentioned him before. Roger is an retired man from Michigan. He’s in great shape for 80. He rides the stationary bike 30 minutes, and works his way through the weight machines. He’s always happy and everybody seems to know him. He was one of the first people I met there. When he found out I was starting a church, he became very interested in what I was doing. He started introducing me to his friends and telling them I was a pastor and what I was doing. His interest sparked their interest and has allowed many of my conversations with people to go deeper faster than they might have otherwise. I’m getting to know names and faces and concerns. I’m getting the privilege of bearing the light and grace of Jesus Christ into some places much in need of grace and light.
And its not awkward and there’s no guilt. Evangelism feels like going to the gym to work out with Jesus. I get to look for friends and help them know a little more about Jesus. And because I’m there long term, I am getting the privilege of bearing Christ and building a relationship. I’m getting to know people really well – and even get opportunities to ask questions like … “So if you died tonight, where do you think you’d spend eternity?”
These days, I really love evangelism.