Key to Home Bible Study Success: Friendship
Don’t evangelize mad.
I get that there is a lot in the world and the Church to be mad about: cultural compromise, declining churches, the Left Behind movie. It is easy to get frustrated. In our frustration, we sometimes adopt a combative style of evangelism, and in the process wind up taking out our anger on the very people we’re trying to reach. Instead, we must show the heart of Jesus, who proactively loved the lost. How? Let me suggest some ways.
Move from argument to conversation.
Most of our canned evangelistic approaches are designed to engage someone who’s ready for a fight. Often we’re trained to argue, debate, trick and “prove” our position with the ultimate goal of making an unbeliever concede defeat. We have all seen the studies—the unchurched (with good reason) expect us to bludgeon and not befriend them. We’ve become experts in an angry form of evangelism. For many of us, raising our voice or yelling means a greater gospel. But being argumentative doesn’t work because it doesn’t reflect Christ.
Know who the enemy is—and isn’t.
We’re too busy playing “gotcha” with people who are spiritually confused. Evangelism is not about trick questions (“If you were to die tonight…”). Far too often, we identify unbelievers as the enemy we’re supposed to trick and fight when, in reality, they are the ones who need to be rescued. They are prisoners of war, and we are rescuing them from behind enemy lines. Instead, we waste time and energy—and resources—launching spiritual missiles at people who are unaware there even is a war.
Stop being afraid of who’s touching us.
In the first year of the Church, Peter was confronted with racism toward Gentiles. He had been taught that Gentiles were outsiders, but Jesus told Peter to visit Cornelius’ home. Peter’s reaction mirrors our own; he didn’t want to touch or be touched by those people. Yet, you cannot talk to people when you keep them at arm’s length, let alone show them how much God loves them. Real evangelism is done up close—life on life. Too many of us forget that holiness is avoiding sin, not avoiding sinners. Instead of being consumed with righteous behavior and the ability to recite an evangelistic outline perfectly, we need to spend more time walking with unbelievers as friends and not prospects.
Visit with “sinners and tax collectors.”
Jesus was accused of hanging out with the wrong crowd because, among other things, he went to other people’s homes for dinner! Here’s a simple question: When was the last time an unchurched person invited you to dinner? Skip the excuses: “Well, I go and witness to people,” or, “They’re afraid of me because I’m a pastor.” Just be honest. Are you the kind of person other people want to hang around? Apparently, Jesus was. It’s essential that we stop expecting unbelievers to show up at our churches and be dazzled by our programs and pontifications. Instead, we need to live out our Christian faith speaking about the Gospel and the Kingdom, as we spend time with our friends who don’t know Christ.
Reflect God’s searching heart.
Reflecting God’s heart toward the lost requires us to adhere to Paul’s twin admonitions:
• Our conversation should be full of grace (Col. 4:6).
• We should speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
In today’s evangelism, basic biblical hospitality and friendship are necessary—though often missing—components. It cannot be confrontational evangelism or relational evangelism. Rather, we need to initiate and develop friendships that come to the inevitable crossroads where Christ is lifted up and the Good News is shared. Angry is easy. Living like Jesus—to show people Jesus—takes more work.
Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research (LiftWayResearch.com) and co-author (with Philip Nation) of the new book, Compelled by Love: The Most Excellent Way to Missional Living (B&H). You’ll find Ed’s research blog at OutreachMagazine.com, and can correspond with him at EStetzer@Outreach.com.
This article “Key to Home Bible Study Success: Friendship” written by Ed Stetzer, was excerpted from Outreach Magazine, July/August 2008.
This article may not by written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”