Last week I preached at Redeemer Church in Modesto. You can listen to the message here.
I have listed the main points with a little description below.
9 Principles For Making Friendships As Means To Share The Gospel
Friendships are a key element to the spread of the gospel in the New Testament. This was true for Jesus (Luke 5:27-32) and Paul (I Thess. 1:5, 2:1-8), as well as others. Building relationships in our current context can be difficult. We face more cultural disintegration and social distrust than ever before. Many Americans don’t know the people in their community, and they don’t want to know them. It’s too scary. The following suggestions are offered to help you in overcoming obstacles and building trust.
Please note, this NOT a simple recipe for success. These are just some principles from scripture, tools to help you love people. And these are certainly other ways to do this. But here is some good news: These things are completely within your reach. You don’t need any special training or a degree. If you are a Christian, you can do this!
1. Have no agenda but love.
This may seem counter-intuitive. But people are very perceptive. They know when they are a just a “project.” Years ago a pastor friend of mine developed an acquaintance with a Jewish Rabbi. Their friendship blossomed in many ways, and they often discussed the OT together. At one point the Rabbi asked my friend, “Did you only become my friend because you wanted me to become a Christian?” This was a sensitive question and my friend answered with skill and wisdom: “I would want to be your friend even if you never became a Christian.” This should be our approach. We love people because they are valuable and made in the image of God. Of course we want them to hear the gospel and come to know Christ. The agenda of love includes this, but it is much bigger.
2. Look for people that God is preparing.
Throughout the New Testament there is a theology of the “open door.” For example in Col. 4:3-4 Paul says, “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” This means that God is at work in people’s lives long before we arrive. We should be sensitive to this and look for people who display openness to spiritual things. Too often we are trying to pick fruit that is not ripe. James McDonald calls this “green apple evangelism.” We should look for ripe apples. One way to tell if a door is open is that people are willing to listen and talk about Christ. Doors often open during crisis. This means we don’t have to rush a friendship or force a conversation prematurely
3. Look for natural opportunities
Our society is full of social distrust. We are easily annoyed and suspicious of people that “aren’t supposed” to be talking to us. Just think of the guy pushing samples at the mall, or the salesman that walks up to you while you are at the park with your family. However, this distrust often disappears when we are in natural situations such as our kid’s soccer game, the gym, work, etc. When we connect with people in these situations, their cultural defenses are often down and people are willing to talk. They might be open to build a friendship that they wouldn’t consider in other circumstances.
4. Serve people.
We should be doing this anyway. This is our identity as Christians, we are servants. We are last. We follow the one who is the “king of slaves.” He came “not to be served but to serve and give his life” a ransom for many. When you truly love people you help them, you meet their needs. And we should not only serve the people around us, we should serve alongside them! This also means allowing them to serve you when you are in need. This is just part of being a decent human being! But even more, it is a great opportunity to display God’s work in us.
5. Look for repeat exposures
Most likely there are people in your life that you will see again and again. Those are the people you should befriend. Work on developing trust and depth where possible.
I have a friend that used to be a missionary in Bagdad. Once I asked her, “How do you share the gospel over there (in such a hostile place)?” She answered, “The same way you should be doing it, we go to the same grocer every day, we go to the same shops and build trust with people and then look for opportunities to share Christ.” I was convicted at the simplicity of the suggestion. Be deliberate and be focused. The apostle Paul operated this way. He would go to the same marketplace every day. He would go to the same synagogue week after week.
In many places in scripture, sharing the gospel is compared to the work of a farmer. This job includes planting, watering, tending, and then reaping. Many people who talk about evangelism only talk about reaping. But in reality, most of the work that farmers do is NOT reaping. Harvest is a couple of weeks at the end of the season. You should work on planting, watering, plowing in your friendships.
If you are going to survive in this kind of endeavor, you will need to take the long view. Pray for reaping, but don’t worry about it, and don't rush it. Take your time, pray and trust God.
6. Eat with people
This suggestion is so simple it may seem like a shock. Be like Jesus! He ate with all kinds of people. You are going to eat anyway. And so are they. Look for opportunities to share a meal. Invite people into your home and into your life to get to know them. This can be a very easy way to learn more about someone’s life and story. My wife and I have even done this when homeless people ask for food. If I have time I will tell them I will be happy to buy them a meal if they will eat it with us so we can talk. This pretty quickly weeds out the scammers vs. those truly in need. It also provides a chance to do something more important than throwing money at a problem.
7. Ask Questions and listen!
This is very much like Jesus! The book “Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman shows the way that Jesus used questions in his ministry. He was always asking questions! Scholars estimate that he asked hundreds of questions. One author says the number is “307.” The occasions where Jesus is interacting without the use of questions is certainly the exception.
When we ask questions several important things can happen, IF we ask sincerely, and IF we care enough to listen to the answer. First, it shows a degree of humility. It says “I care about you.” Second, it helps you to understand the person. And if you work at this, you will find that people are truly interesting! Third, The right kinds of questions can be disarming. Even in conflict questions can help to lower a person’s sense of threat. Finally, good questions can help people come to grips with what they already believe. In my experience, the right question can bring someone to wrestle with their own beliefs, perhaps for the first time. I have found this true in casual settings as well as “formal” events like street evangelism.
8. Look for Common Ground
We all have common experiences, common spaces, and common interests. This is one of the best ways to connect. People are often willing to open up based on their hobbies, their reading interests, place of birth, favorite cuisine, their sports team, etc.
One of the greatest areas of common ground is found in our weaknesses and struggles. We are all sinners. When Christians paint themselves as “having it all together,” it is not only a lie, it destroys a sense of common ground. All of us have had times where we can’t pay the bills or face an untimely car problem. So, if you find out that a neighbor is struggling with their teenagers or marriage, one of the best things you can do is talk about your own struggles in similar areas. This may lead to a very concrete way to talk about a very abstract topic like grace or redemption.
This is not an afterthought. This is one of the most important things, and we should do it at the beginning, middle and end of the process. Why? Because God is the one who changes hearts.