They make it possible for people who believe that Jesus is their savior share their faith with other people in a way that opens the opportunity for them to understand the gospel message and receive it for themselves.
Some people refer to evangelism through personal relationships as “winning the right to be heard,” or “relational evangelism.” It’s different than “lifestyle evangelism” in that, at some point, after a friendship has been built between the Christian and the non-Christian, there is an expectation that a verbal approach will be made to ask the non-Christian to consider placing their faith and trust in Jesus for their salvation at the point where the Christian discerns that they are ready to hear it.
Bear with me as I work through these next few thoughts. It has always seemed a bit deceptive and dishonest to me to teach Christians a method of evangelism that involves making a serious investment in a genuine friendship with someone in order to share the gospel with them. It almost seems that the other person is being enticed into something that they might not choose to involve themselves in if they knew your true intentions. I am also very uncomfortable with justifying this action with the sense of urgency that accompanies most Christian “witnessing,” feeling some kind of compulsion to do this because hell is lurking around the corner and Jesus can come at any time, and you should feel guilty because you didn’t really care enough about them to tell them. I’m most uncomfortable when these relationships are talked about as if the person who is getting involved in them is earning some kind of feather in his spiritual cap for making some kind of personal sacrifice.
O.K. Now, here’s the bottom line. God wants us to build the relationship to share the gospel, and then make sure that the relationship is genuine. Period. You have to go into this with the idea that it is permanent, and you are going to work to maintain the friendship regardless of whether your new found friend ever accepts your invitation to receive Jesus as savior or not. That’s the bottom line. This is really dangerous, from a spiritual perspective, because their spiritual life is in your hands, so to speak. If they get a sense that your motivation for being their friend was only to convert them, not only will that end the friendship, but it will put them on guard against attempts to share the gospel with them by others. So you’re in the friendship, and you maintain the commitment to the relationship, and you keep loving them. Because that’s the way it has to be.
Because that’s the way God intends for it to be.
I don’t know very many Christians, myself included, who are able to make, and sustain, friendships with people who don’t share that world with you, whose lifestyle and personal habits are so different from yours, and who don’t respond in a positive way to your invitation to be converted. It is much easier for us to retreat inside the four walls of the church, especially one that has built its ministry around attracting those who are retreating. And so we continue to congregate in larger and larger churches, to gather larger amounts of resources to minister to ourselves and, because there is safety in numbers, to attract other Christians from churches that can’t gather that many resources.
From personal experience, if you do ever decide to form a friendship with someone who is on the other side of the spiritual gulf, and be committed to keeping it going whether they convert to Christianity or not, you may discover that it is easier than you think. If you are willing to look for positive personality characteristics, you will find them. You will grow personally, by learning how to be patient, and also by learning how to work at getting along with, and actually liking someone for who they are. You will develop a genuine maturity in the area of acceptance without personal compromise. You will slowly begin to understand the kind of unconditional love that God continuously showed to his human creation as it continuously rejected his truth.
When we get to that point, things will happen.