“I had a great opportunity to talk with someone about Christ today,” a sharp young woman once told me, “but I just couldn’t think of a way to begin. I felt very awkward. How do you guide a conversation toward Jesus, in a way that’s natural and doesn’t seem contrived?”
Some folks practically shout Repent! as if from some seedy street corner in the inner city.
Others inch their way ever so cautiously toward spiritual things–so cautiously, in fact, that the conversation never does get around to the Lord Jesus.
I’m not personally comfortable with the first approach. And I know from experience that the second can get so easily sidetracked that the gospel usually loses out to the weather, football, or stories of Johnny’s latest escapades at school.
So there needs to be a happy medium–a means of turning a conversation toward Christ that is natural and sensitive, yet which helps the person you’re talking with face his need for the Savior.
Basically, the person you’re talking with falls into one of two categories. Either he’s (1) a loved one, friend, neighbor, or co-worker, or he’s (2) a casual encounter–someone next to you on a bus or plane, a waitress or cab driver, the person seated next to you at a concert or seminar, or a business contact.
Friendship Evangelism vs. Initiative Evangelism
For the person with whom you’re in frequent contact, your approach should generally be less direct. It’s important to take the time to build a relationship of friendship and trust, to show by word and deed that you love and care about him. This approach has been called friendship evangelism by some, and it does have its place. Especially important among family members, but also recommended for other close relationships, friendship evangelism urges a go-slow approach that is intended to virtually love the non-Christian into God’s kingdom.
But with its strengths also come two glaring weaknesses. First, many Christians mistakenly subscribe to the friendship evangelism philosophy to the extent that they rarely share the gospel with another because our relationship isn’t quite strong enough yet. Then, when they feel the relationship finally is strong, they are afraid to say anything that might spoil the friendship. To justify this approach or non-approach, they decide they’ll wait for the non-believer to ask me about my personal faith, and try to simply model Christianity through their non-verbal witness. As a result, the gospel often falls by the wayside.
The second weakness of the friendship evangelism approach is that Christians can also use it as an excuse to never share their faith. Some Christian authors have written that initiative evangelism (sharing Christ with casual encounters, door-to-door canvassing, etc.) will almost invariably turn off the non-Christian because it cannot present Christ from a basis of friendship and relational trust.
Yet, we see initiative evangelism modeled for us throughout Scripture. Jesus had only a few moments with the Samaritan woman He met at the well, but he took the initiative to talk to her about Living Water. In Philip’s brief encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, he led the stranger to Christ. Paul wrote, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom…” (Colossians 1:28).
As I have suggested, I believe there is a place for friendship evangelism, and I would be wrong to say that the philosophy of friendship evangelism is unscriptural. Likewise, those who hold that it is the only way to share Christ, and that initiative evangelism is unscriptural and ineffective, are just wrong. A careful reading of the New Testament makes it emphatically clear that initiative evangelism is the intent of our Lord when He commands us to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Both approaches have their proper place in the task of spreading the gospel. But I am convinced that if I were to err in sharing Christ, the Lord would prefer that I err on the side of taking initiative than in not sharing Him at all.