Practicing Relational Evangelism
If you’ve been around the church much at all, you will not be surprised to hear that Christians have an obligation and responsibility to tell the world about what God has done through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ last words before ascending to the Father, he told the apostles,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
As Christians, we share in the same call to evangelism that the Apostles received in the first century. We must realize that we have not been merely called to share the gospel with those who look like us or act like us, but with everyone despite their age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. This may all sound good theoretically, but how do we share the gospel with the strangers in our community?
Historically, the Church has chosen to focus on either sharing the gospel with their actions or their words.
Preaching the Gospel with Actions
You’ve undoubtedly heard the famous quotation, which is often misattributed to St. Francis of Assissi, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Adherents of this quote suppose that Christians should focus their time on sharing the gospel with their actions. Rather than concerning themselves with theological precision and a robust understanding of Scripture, they focus on serving and loving non-believers well. They find themselves investing in the lives of the less fortunate in food banks and elementary schools. They spend time with non-believers and hope that, through their distinct lifestyle alone, others will come to trust in Jesus Christ.
Preaching the Gospel with Words
On the other hand, there are others who place their attention solely on theological clarity and Scripture memorization. They stand up and boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel on city buses, in airports, and in shopping centers. They point to Christ who is the risen Son of God and call sinners to repent and follow Christ, but their lives don’t reflect this reality. They call sinners to leave their sins behind and cast their cares upon Christ, but they are not invested in the lives of any non-believers. They are seen in front of the grocery store calling sinners to repentance but are nowhere to be found when a struggling mother has no food to put on the table.
A Call to Relational Evangelism
Rather than focusing on one or the other, Christians should meet strangers with the intention of sharing the gospel with them as they develop a relationship with them. It is not that the previous methods are inherently wrong, for they both rightly place an emphasis on an aspect of God’s care, but they are incomplete, missing an important aspect of a multi-faceted gospel approach. As Christians, we have not been called to simply love others or speak the truth, but to practice relational evangelism. Let us care about what God cares about. With that being said, let’s examine a strategy to fulfill this call to relational evangelism.
Meet a Stranger
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
I believe the first step to sharing the gospel with the world around us is by meeting strangers. As Christians, we are outgoing people, not because God has wired each of us as extroverts, but because God is an outgoing God. God has reached out to us through Jesus Christ, pulled us out of the dominion of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of the Son whom he loves.
We cannot afford to be too content with the comfort of current friendships that we do not seek out new ones. Evangelism starts with reaching out and meeting strangers. All of us walk past dozens, if not hundreds, of strangers each day. What would it look like to step out of our comfort zone and meet a stranger each day? What kind of impact could the Church have if each Christian committed to this daily act? I challenge you to commit yourself to meet someone new each day.
Remember a Name
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.
While meeting someone new each day is incredibly important to our pursuit of evangelism, it can be rendered useless, and even harmful, to our ability to evangelize if we do not remember their names. In pretty much any conversation with a stranger, the first piece of information that you share with each other is your name. There is so much value in this that we often overlook. One of the primary ways we can add value to strangers is by listening to them when they tell us their name and committing to remember it.
In the days leading up to my freshman orientation, my dad encouraged me to read Harry Lorayne’s The Memory Book. Before reading this book, I would not have considered myself “good at remembering names,” but the helpful tricks and, perhaps even more importantly, the newfound desire to intentionally remember names has served me well. How are we expected to have quality gospel conversations with strangers if we are not communicating the value that God says they hold? What kind of influence would we have with those around us if we committed to listening and remembering their names? I challenge you to listen closely to the names of the strangers that you meet and remember them.
Make a Connection
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
-1 Corinthians 9:19-23
At this point, we have met a stranger and remembered their name. This is a good start to developing a gospel friendship, but in order to move past the surface level awkwardness, we need to make a connection. In this step, we act as a networker, making a connection with this new acquaintance for the purpose of it growing into a friendship, that we might learn to love another member of God’s creation.
For example, a friend and I began strategically practicing relational evangelism with a student in our class and we learned that he liked sand volleyball. We reached out to him and invited him to ride with us to the intramural courts to play sand volleyball with our friends. By doing this, we invited him into our lives and were able to develop a friendship with him.
Become a Friend
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
-1 Thessalonians 2:8
The previous statement is huge. We cannot forget that, as Christians, we are in the business of inviting people into our lives. This is hard, and sometimes even messy, but look at what Paul says here in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. He says that he, Silas, and Timothy were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves. Why? Because they affectionately desired them. The love they received from the Father motivated them to lovingly invest in the lives of the Thessalonians.
I believe the best way to share the gospel with others is to follow the example of Paul, Silas, and Timothy in this text. We open up our lives, let non-believers in, and share the gospel with them. Throughout this process, we have been examining different principles of hospitality, but friendship is the deepest way we can show hospitality with others, opening the door to gospel conversations.
Share the Gospel
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Throughout this entire process, we have been developing a friendship with the purpose of sharing the gospel. Far too often, well-meaning Christians stop at the end of step four and hope that non-believers see Christ in their lives and repent without audibly hearing the gospel.
I want to be clear, as Christians, we hope non-believers see Christ in our lives, repent, and believe in the gospel, but we have been given the responsibility to present the gospel. It is through this presentation of the gospel that we share what God has done for sinners through Jesus Christ. We are not looking for moral conformity, but spiritual regeneration. This can only be accomplished through the work of God. Paul says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
A dear friend of mine spent years investing in a “new kid” he met in middle school, remembered his name, made a connection with him, and during high school started getting coffee with him weekly. This former “new kid” was far from God and my friend knew that. Over time, my friend cultivated a deep friendship with this classmate, sharing the gospel with him and answering his questions. Halfway through our senior year, my friend and I had the opportunity to pray with this friend as he repented of his sins and followed Christ. This is what God has called us to.
Evangelism is not a comfortable calling. This is not an optional activity. This is a messy calling that every Christian has received from God. A calling that draws us out of our comfort and into the broken world. A calling that leads us to meet strangers, listen well, and remember names. A calling that leads us to make connections with people and make new friends. A calling that leads to changed lives and transformed hearts.