Sharon Beougher and Mary Dorsett
A. What is Relationship Evangelism?
This true story illustrates one answer to the question:
One day I was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering how I could make more contact with non-Christians, when the gar¬bage collector drove up to my house. It dawned on me that he came to my house every week, and I Tools of Relationship Evangelism didn’t even know his name, let alone his spiritual condition. Since the garbage is picked up on my day off I began to plan to be outside doing yard work when he came by. I learned his name and began to pray for him specifi-cally. In hot weather I greeted him with a glass of iced tea, and in cold weather with a cup of hot chocolate. I threw the trash while he drank and had a break. One day Claudia baked cookies, and we invited him in. Soon he rerouted his pickups to stop at our house for lunch. After several months, we finally had an opportunity to share Christ.1
Relationship evangelism is a way of life centered around the Lordship of Christ. It is showing a genuine interest in other people and getting involved in the lives of those we want to reach for Christ. Relational evangelism builds bridges to people by discovering their needs and learning to love them. While not neglecting “strangers,” it seeks to focus our energy and efforts on those within our circle of influence: that is, family members, relatives, friends, neighbors, work associates, acquaintances, or perhaps our garbage collectors! People are starving for love, and often seek it in a variety of ways. Recently a physician with many years of experience wrote:
“I have been practicing medicine for over thirty years. I have prescribed many things. But in the long run, I have learned that for most of what ails the human creature, the best medicine is love.”
“What if that doesn’t work?” the woman to whom he was talking asked.
“Double the dose,” he replied.2
One of the most important Christian responsibilities is to love other people. On the night before He died, Jesus instructed His disciples: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” [John 14:15]. A few moments later He reiterated His thought: “My com¬mand is this: Love each other as I have loved you” [John 15:12]. Relationship evangelism is not a method or an activity but rather an overflow of love for the Lord and for people.
The effectiveness of relationship evangelism has been under¬scored in a study done for the Institute for American Church Growth. The statistics, as compiled by Win Aran, tallied the results of a poll of eight thousand church members from different denomi¬nations.
There is no doubt that relationships are a key element in evangelism! Happily, the ability to love people does not depend on gifts, experiences, emotions, or feelings. Loving people is best shown through caring actions and unselfish giving of ourselves to others. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” [Phil. 2:4]. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” [Romans 12:9-10].
The Great Commission’s “go ye therefore” is best translated “as you are going.” We are to be making disciples as we are going about our normal business, and relationship evangelism is one way to carry this out. “As we go” and as we relate to people we can have an impact on their lives.
B. Biblical Examples
The concept of sharing with those in our immediate circle of influence is by no means new. The New Testament contains numer¬ous stories about relationship evangelism. When Jesus met people in the Gospels, He became their friend. He enjoyed people. People were not just “projects” to Him, but rather a very important part of His life.
The apostle Andrew provides a perfect example of relationship evangelism. After first meeting the Lord, he did not start his own evangelistic organization. He simply went and told his brother, Peter. This is the basic pattern for all evangelism: one person finds forgive¬ness, love, new life, and purpose through an encounter with Jesus Christ and then brings another person to experience that same relationship with Christ. The Bible is full of examples of relationship evangelism including: Philip and Nathaniel [John 1:40ff]; Lydia and her household [Acts 16:15]; the Philippian jailer and his family [Acts 16:34]; Timothy, his mother, and grandmother [2 Tim. 1:5].
Evangelism is most effective when it is accompanied by love and care. We need to be a channel through which God’s love can flow to those around us. God has chosen to use people to communicate His love to nonbelievers, and showing true concern for others means spending time with them and building closer relationships. The apostle John’s words are as timely today as they were two thousand years ago: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” [1 John 3:18]. We need to respond to the cries of loneliness, frustration, and despair by personally investing our lives in others.
C. A Needed Caution
Relationship evangelism has many strengths, but there is also a potential weakness to this approach. Because the focus is on relationships, there is a tendency to rely on our lifestyle instead of our lips to get the message across. It is not enough merely to live a good life in front of people—you must also share the gospel verbally.
In the previously cited examples of relationship evangelism, notice that one person took the initiative and clearly shared the truth about Christ with another. No believer’s life is good enough by itself to lead people to salvation. People must hear and respond to the message of the Gospel. “How shall they believe unless they hear?” [Romans 10:14]. Bill Bright, author of The Calling of an Evangelist, shares this story:
A dear friend in Singapore…shared with me the story of how for years he “witnessed” by his godly life, and how he prayed daily that God would use his life to be a model to those with whom he worked, so that they would take the initiative and ask him what made him different. Then as a result, he would have the opportu¬nity to be a witness of Christ to them.
The weeks and the months passed. A couple of years later, he was still praying, “”Lord, help me to be such a model of you in my life that this man will want to know you, too.”
One day, the man said to him, “Fred, I’ve been watching you.” My friend said, “Oh Lord, thank you. At last, you have answered my prayer.”
“I have observed that your life is different.”
“Thank you, Lord, he sees the difference in my life.”
“I want to ask you a personal question.”
“Thank you, Lord, now this is the moment that I have been praying for.”
His friend asked, “Fred, are you a vegetarian?”
At that moment, my friend said he realized that he needed to do more than to live a good moral life. He needed to be a vocal witness for Christ.3
Or consider the following illustration from Leroy Eim’s Winning Ways and note the need for a verbal witness as well as an exemplary life:
A Christian businessman in Seattle confessed how he had unknowingly discouraged a business associate from coming to Christ for years. One day the friend told the Christian businessman he had met the Lord the night before through a Billy Graham meeting. The longtime Christian was elated and said so, but the new Christian replied, ‘Friend, you’re the reason I have resisted becoming a Christian all these years. I figured that i f a person could live a good life as you do and not be a Christian, there was no need to become one!’ This Christian businessman had lived an exemplary life but he had not revealed the Source of strength for living it. Immediately he asked the Lord’s forgiveness and His help to tell what and whom he knew that made the difference.
II. WHY BUILD RELATIONSHIPS?
There are several reasons why building relationships is effective.
1. Relationships provide a natural network for sharing the gospel. It is natural to tell those closest to us about what Christ has done in our lives. Whenever we have good news, we immediately want to tell our friends and family.
2. People with whom we have a relationship are more recep¬tive. They will accept what we, as a friend, have to say much more readily than what a stranger tells them. Relationship evangelism deals with persons, not strangers.
3. Building relationships helps us to find and focus on stress¬ing the points of similarity rather than differences with a non-Christian. We cannot expect the non-Christian to fit into our environment. We need to build bridges to her in spite of different beliefs and practices.
4. When we build relationships, there are many opportuni¬ties to share with the person. Whether at a backyard barbecue or over a cup of coffee, our frequent contact provides numerous opportunities to discuss spiritual things.
5. Relationships provide a natural means of support and follow-up when your friend does accept Christ. You are there to help her grow and learn to live as a disciple.
Unfortunately, few Christians have meaningful relationships with nonbelievers. Studies have shown that the average Christian loses contact with her non-Christian friends after two years. Con¬sequently, we need to learn how to build relationships with unbeliev¬ers and set out to change our world.
III. HOW TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
A. Your Quality of Life
Before discussing some steps for building relationships, we need to examine the quality of our own Christian life. Are our lives really any different from our non-Christian friends? Are we at peace in the midst of stress and crises? Are we content with our circum¬stances in life?
Relationship evangelism develops when people are attracted by the difference Christ has made in our lives. According to Ephesians 2:12, the main difference between the Christian and non-Christian is hope. The hope that is within us then produces other qualities such as joy, peace, purity, self-control, and endurance. As the non-Christian observes this and comes in for a better look, our genuine love and care breaks down the barriers and we are able to freely explain our faith to her.
Though our love and concern for people is certainly an impor¬tant motivation in sharing, it should not be our primary motivation. Our primary motivation for telling the world about the Lord stems from our love for Jesus. We need to be sure that we continue to pursue the lordship of Christ in our lives and that we continue to deepen our love for Him.
We also need to be persistent in our prayer life to ask Him to lead us to those He wants us to befriend. As many have observed. “Prayer is not preparation for the battle, prayer is the battle.” We should begin each day by asking God to show us the people He wants us to love, and then pray for opportunities to share about Him.
As well as a persistent prayer life, we need to daily study God’s Word for ourselves and strive to live in obedience to Him. We need to have a genuine concern for people, have infinite patience, and be willing to live according to God’s timetable. An anonymous writer sums it up quite clearly:
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Are read by more than a few,
But the one that is most read and commented on
Is the gospel according to you.
You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day
By the things that you do and the words that you say.
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true,
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
Do men read His truth and His love in your life,
Or has yours been too full of malice and strife?
Does your life speak of evil, or does it ring true?
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
This is not to say that we have to be perfect—we never will be this side of heaven—but we can have the sincere desire and make conscious efforts to live a life pleasing to Him. Take encouragement from Acts 4:13: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Peter’s and John’s confidence did not depend on theological de¬grees or upon being perfect—they simply had been with the Lord. Our friends should be able to see a difference in our lives and our confidence in God’s Word.
B. Principles in Building Relationships
Meaningful relationships seldom happen by chance. Successful evangelism follows a plan. Bringing lost people to Christ means involvement and risk. If we really love God (who so loved the world that He sent His only Son to die for us), then we must be willing to lay our lives on the line as well. We need to accept, love, and care for those we hope to reach. As we plan to do this, the Holy Spirit will guide and enable us.
Ann Kiemel Anderson had a unique way of using chocolate chip cookies to accept, love, and care for those she hoped to reach as the following incident in her life shows:
Oh God, it’s so ironic—it’s so ironic that the people living closest to us are almost always the ones we overlook and fail to really love—i was out to love my neighbors to Jesus. Everyday i would pray—”Jesus, what can i do to share you with them?”
And i threw everything together and put the cookies in the oven and when they were done i threw them on a plate and ran down¬stairs.
“Sir, hi. My name is Ann. And sir, i baked some cookies for you and your wife. i’m your neighbor from upstairs.
“Well, i baked them for you, sir, because i love you and i … well, what i mean is, sir, i love you because Jesus loves me and i don’t know why, He just makes me want to love you and your wife.”
He looked blank and shocked and sort of helpless. And suddenly i couldn’t think of anything else to say and i felt foolish and stupid and sort of helpless, too.
And so i kind of shoved the cookies into his hand and said goodnight and tripped up the stairs and ran in my apartment and burst into tears.
Oh, God, i blew it. i really blew it. What a ridiculous thing for a twenty-six year old girl to do. Take homemade cookies to the man downstairs and tell him i love him. He’ll think i’m weird.
But God, you know what my motive was. i was trying to tell him. Jesus, that he is a part of my world and his wife is and i wanted to befriend them and love them to You.
Jesus, can you make something out of this mess? If you will, God, i promise—i will never do anything irrational again. i’ll think it through clearly.
For three days i was heartsick. i mean they didn’t tell me they liked the cookies, they didn’t return the plate, they didn’t do anything. But at the end of the third day i was running up the stairs to my apartment when there on the carpet in front of my door was an empty plate with a note taped to it. i’ve never been so happy to see a plate in my life. i ran in the door, dropped my books and picked up the note and began to read.
“Dear Ann—Thanks a lotfor the cookies. We never heard anyone talk about God the way you did. I was in a convent studying to be a nun when I met Mike and we’ve wandered from God. Could you come down and have coffee with us sometime and share your God with us? Thanks a lot. -Mike and Kay.”
i see people— warm faces, a running tear, a small child’s hug, an old man’s gnarled grip of love.
Saroyan said, “People is all there is— and all there was— and all there ever will be.”
People— that’s all that matters to me that Jesus be Lord and people.5
Joseph Aldrich, in the booklet “Friendship Evangelism,” sug¬gests that before you do anything, you should visualize the readi¬ness of others to receive Christ. Believe that the Spirit of God is working in your neighborhood, workplace, or school. The fields are white unto harvest. God will lead you to these people.6 The following practical principles provide concrete guidelines for getting started:
1. Identify the people with whom you come into contacton a regular basis.
Make a list of all the relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, people that you see often. Oscar Thompson, a professor who taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, maintained that there is a certain order of con¬centric circles of relationships that we need to be concerned about.’ It would look similar to the diagram to the right.
Christians sometimes jump from self to person “X,” bypass¬ing family and friends. This may happen because there are rup¬tured relationships between the “family” and “acquaintances” circles, or it may be because we are embarrassed about a lack of consistency in our Christian life. We know that with person “X” we can talk and be on our way, but relating to family and friends requires a time-consuming involvement in their lives. However, if we are sincerely interested in sharing our faith, we will see the wisdom of taking the time and effort to build relationships with those near to us.
2. Narrow your list to a realistic number of people.
Given the other responsibilities in your life, you may find that you can only focus on one person, or you may have the time and energy to work with several. Start collecting facts about those on your list: birthday, anniversary, important events in their lives, job, leisure activities, and names of other family members. Perhaps you will even want to keep an information sheet on each of those you are seeking to reach.
3. Establish additional points of contact.
One of your immediate goals is to find ways to improve or strengthen your relationship. Try to really understand what moti¬vates your friend. Ask about her profession, hobbies, sports, family activities and interests, vacations, children’s activities and accom¬plishments, current news, home improvements, books, and films. Be genuinely interested in her. Try to put yourself in her shoes. Your friend’s first glimpse of Christ can begin with what seem to be very inconsequential things. A casual conversation can be turned into a significant step forward.
For example, be the kind of family your neighbors would want to know. Simple acts of kindness and pleasant attitudes can be powerful instruments when under the control of Christian love. Our neighbors will not believe we are truly concerned about them if we never have them over or if we do not take the time to speak to them in their front yards. We have to know our neighbors before we can meet their needs. Borrowing and loaning things among neighbors, conversing over the fence, doing small favors, taking cookies to new neighbors, and sharing your list of baby-sitters grow into larger acts of friendship.
Simple acts of kindness and pleasant attitudes will also be noticed among your work associates. Co-workers usually observe your life more than you realize. Lunches or coffee breaks often afford opportunities to express genuine interest in all aspects of their lives.
4. Deepen the relationship with her.
a. Be sensitive to specific needs and opportunities where you can serve. Jesus gave us one of the greatest examples of One who was a servant. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” [Mark 10:45]. Take the initiative to help out when appropriate. Look for specific things you can to do meet specific needs. For example:
• provide transportation if a person’s car is getting repaired
• baby-sit to allow for a special night out
• clean the house for a new mother or elderly person
• mow the lawn for a neighbor who cannot do it
• help to meet a material or financial need
• take a meal to a sick or grieving person
• help a neighbor move in
• water the lawn, get the mail, or feed a pet while a family is on vacation
• send a card if you know someone is feeling down
• offer to help paint a house
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” [Gal. 6:10].
b. Concentrate on being a good listener. Everyone needs a good listener in her life. Listening means giving up the right to talk about yourself. When you listen, look your friend in the eyes, pay close attention to what she says, ask pertinent questions, nod, smile, and comment briefly along the way. Sincere listening is one way to say “I care about you.”
There was a lady at one of the places Holly worked who was rather unpleasant and critical. Usually Holly just ignored her and tried to stay out of her way. But one day she was convicted of her lack of love for this woman and Holly made a conscious effort to start a conversation with her and really listen to her. The woman broke down and cried and shared how her marriage was breaking up and her family was falling apart. She was waiting for someone to show a real interest in her life.
c. Cultivate common interests. Build a reservoir of shared experiences. Discover what interests her and then plan to do one of these things together. Let her know that you enjoy spending time with her. Some ideas are that you could invite your friend to:
go to dinner play tennis go jogging
a PTA meeting go to a rodeo a knitting class
get coffee play bridge an aerobics class
play golf go fishing a sewing class
go boating go bowling go to a movie
go to a concert go to lunch go ice skating
play racquetball go skiing go bicycling
go for a walk
d. Talk about her needs. Meaningful conversations naturally spring from a deepening relationship. She may be dealing with loneliness, lack of purpose, loss of self-control, low self-esteem, financial problems, or wayward children. If this is the case, your friend needs you. She needs your steadfast love that stands with her in difficult moments.
e. Be transparent with your friend. When appropriate, relate her struggles to your own experiences and share how your faith in Christ has given you answers for problems. For example, if you have a financial need, tell her of your concern and then explain how you are relying on verses such as Philippians 4:19. If you have an ongoing struggle with needless anxiety, share with her how you are learning how to rely on Philippians 4:6-7. If you are battling self-control in your diet and weight control, tell her of your desire to overcome that weakness in your life. When you are vulnerable, it makes it easier for your friend to be open.
5. Use hospitality to help build your relationships.
a. Definition of hospitality. “In Webster’s dictionary, the definition for hospitable is wedged between the word ‘hospice’ which is a shelter, and the word ‘hospital’ which is a place of healing. Ultimately, this is what we offer when we open our home in the true spirit of hospitality. We offer shelter; we offer healing.”‘
The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos, which is a combination of two words that mean “love” and “stranger.” If we put this together with “evangelism” (meaning the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ), then “hospitality evangelism” is sharing the good news of the gospel through hospitality and deeds of love so that our friends and relatives will see their need for a relationship with Jesus.
Practicing hospitality is a way to show love for another person and offer genuine warmth and acceptance. It is one way to turn love from theory to a practical application. Our home is a wonderful tool through which we can minister. However, hospitality is also a duty. Romans 12:13 commands us to “practice hospitality.” 1 Peter 4:9 exhorts us to “practice hospitality without grumbling.” 3 John 7-8 says for us to “show hospitality… so that we may work together for the truth.”
Hospitality defined in a practical way is cheerfully opening our homes and lives to friends or strangers. Hospitality is not trying to impress people, but rather making people feel welcome. It encour¬ages us to develop the attitude of a servant and is a way of ministering to lonely people. Nothing leaves a better impression on someone than a friendly invitation into a Christian home.
b. Goal of Hospitality. Hospitality is not just entertaining others.
Entertaining has little to do with real hospitality. Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking.” Hospitality seeks to minister and serve.
Entertaining always puts things before people. Hos¬pitality puts people before things. Entertaining looks for a payment—the words “My isn’t she a remarkable hostess” and esteem in the eyes of friends. Hospitality does everything with no thought of reward, but takes pleasure in the joy of giving, doing, loving, and serving.9
The story of Mary and Martha illustrate the danger of placing priorities on impressing rather than ministering. They lived with their brother Lazarus in the village of Bethany, and Jesus frequently stayed with them. On one occasion, Martha wanted him to have the best possible meal and spent all of her time preparing it. Overwhelmed by all the work, her attitude grew worse and worse as she thought of her sister Mary, who did not help with the preparation. In exasperation, she complained to Jesus. “Jesus gently chided Martha, but not for exercising hospitality. She was right to serve her guests. He did scold her [however] for placing a priority on an impressive meal.”10
One of the main goals of entertaining for evangelism is to create a social atmosphere where friendships can be made and strength¬ened. This can be done in a variety of ways. You could consider having a youth group fellowship, Bible study, or campus meeting at your house. College students might make their rooms available for study and talk times, or a neighbor might keep a cup of coffee ready to share. Some families may invite a church visitor home for a meal after the service. Jo Ann Cairns, author of Welcome Stranger, Welcome Friend, suggests a wide range of ideas for offering hospi¬tality: welcoming a person or family to your neighborhood; offering friendship to employees or fellow members of an organization; providing a loving setting for the family and close friends of the deceased following a funeral; interacting with other believers about the Christian life; providing a sympathetic ear to persons experienc¬ing difficult times; and getting to know new people in your church and making them feel welcome.11
“Although we want to see people enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we should not make their salvation an end in itself. Hospitality must be an outworking of genuine Christian love, no strings attached.”” A person does not have to have a lot of money to practice hospitality. Serving soup and salad or cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill can be just as nice as cooking a gourmet meal. Remember that your goal is not to impress, but to serve. Nor does a person have to have a big home in order to be hospitable, as is proven in this example of a seventy-seven-year-old lady:
She lived in a one-room efficiency apartment on the fifteenth floor of a senior citizen building. She continually shared hospitality with a cup of tea or coffee, a few raisins and mixed nuts, perhaps some banana bread or cookies. Her guests always felt special, sipping tea in real china cups with a flower or rose in a drinking glass and many times a candle on the table. These simple touches say, “Welcome, I care.”13
Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, and his wife, Lila, determined to make their home a center of hospitality from the beginning of their marriage. As a result, within three or four years, a sailor from every state had come to know Christ as Savior in their living room.
c. Practical Suggestions. If you want to start inviting people into your home, consider adopting one or more of the following suggestions:
• Set some hospitality goals for yourself. You might decide to invite someone new over once a month so that you can become better acquainted.
• Clean the house the day before so you can enjoy your company. Plan your work so that, if possible, most of it is done ahead of time.
• Make a “to do” list and a corresponding timetable.
• Strive to make the guests feel comfortable. Make it a point to listen to your guest and ask about her interests and experiences.
• Keep it simple. Elaborate meals are fine when you have the time, but most people are just as happy with soup, a casserole, or coffee and dessert.
• If someone volunteers to bring a dish, offers to clear the table, or to wash dishes, let them. It can help them feel more involved and can lighten the load for you.
• Have fun. Try not to be so busy in taking care of things that you don’t have time to get involved with your guests.
• Look for areas of common ground. Listen for felt needs in the conversation, but do not feel pressured to turn the evening into a serious conversation about Christ. This is not necessarily your immediate goal.
• If you want specific suggestions for meal planning and house cleaning tips, check the resources at your local library.
6. Sham spiritual things and eventually present the gospel.
a. Keep your focus clear. Never lose sight of your evangelistic aim of reconciling your friend to God through Christ. The ultimate goal is not to help your non-believing friends feel more comfortable with their secular lifestyle or merely to impose Christian morals on friends, but rather to introduce them to Christ and His lifestyle.
b. Look for open doors. Be assured that the Lord will prepare hearts—yours and hers. Keep your eyes and ears open for the appropriate moment to tell your friend in simple, everyday lan-guage what the Lord means in your life. When you look at your friend, remember that she has the potential to have the same relationship with the Creator of the Universe that you have, but she needs to hear the gospel presented in words she will understand.
Your faith in God is an important part of your life, and your friend should allow you the freedom to talk about that area of your life. As your friendship deepens, begin looking for open doors to share with her about Christ. Ask about her own religious back¬ground. Try to determine her spiritual condition.
There are certain signals and symptoms in a person’s life that may indicate that your friend is ready to hear the gospel. For instance, you may find that your friend has a low self-image and constantly compares herself with others. Share how she can be¬come a new person in Christ and how God fashioned her in a unique and special way. A complaining and unpleasant spirit are symptoms of restlessness and a lack of contentment with circumstances. Real contentment begins with inner peace. Philippians 4 speaks elo¬quently to this problem. Many in our society feel rejected, and they need you to tell them about God’s unconditional love.
c. Take advantage of appropriate materials and outreach opportunities. Be alert for opportunities to share quality Christian literature with a seeking friend. For example, if your friend is struggling in the area of parenting, give her a book based on solid
Christian principles such as Dr. James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline (Bantam Books) or Dr. Kenneth Leman’s How to Make Children Mind Without Losing Yours (Revell Publishing Company). If she is struggling with her marriage, Gary Smalley’s books, For Better or Best and If Only He Knew (Zondervan Publishing House) might be of interest to her. Verna Birkey’s book, You Are Special (Revell Publishing Company) speaks to those struggling with self-image. If you don’t know of a particular book for a need, ask for suggestions at your local Christian bookstore.
Most churches or Christian organizations sponsor evangelistic events where the Gospel is clearly presented. The choices are endless. Evangelistic dinners, Christian business breakfasts, Chris¬tian movies or concerts, conferences or retreats, and church sports programs provide a wide variety of opportunities for your friend to hear the gospel.
Len Andyshack, author of A 30-Day Evangelism Plan, recounts the story of Levi throwing a party so that all of his tax-collector buddies could meet Jesus, and it appears that a lot of them came [Luke 5:27-32]. “One of the advantages to an invitation like this is that you are not asking a person to make the final leap to conver¬sion. It just gives them a chance to take a step closer in the safety of your friendship. “14
C. Use Spiritual Bridges As a Means of Sharing
The following illustrations, taken from Richard Sisson’s Evan¬gelism Encounter, may be used to begin a meaningful discussion of the gospel message. Study each example carefully and then deter¬mine how you might adapt it to sound like you.
Church bridge: You’re right, Jessie. I am excited about our church. I think it is because we are trying to meet people’s needs. Our pastor has been teaching us that the purpose of our church is to show people how they can have a fulfilling life in this world and have eternal life in the next.
My life has not always been fulfilling, but since I started trying to straighten it out, it has taken on new meaning and purpose. What about you, Jessie? Do you feel your life has any real significance?
Personal experience bridge: Tammy, do you realize that we have worked together for two years now? We have talked together about so many things, yet there is a very important part of my life I have never shared with you. Could I share with you now how I found meaning and purpose?
Philosophy bridge: Lori, we have been friends for years and we have done a lot of things together and have talked about a lot of things. But there is one thing of interest to me that I don’t think we have ever discussed. Do you mind if I ask you a rather philosophical question? Where are you in your own personal search for meaning?
Current issues bridge: Yes, Hope, the threat of nuclear war seems like such a real possibility. I just wonder what is going to happen in the next few years with all the latest war technology. What about you? Does the thought of nuclear war ever scare you or make you think about the meaning of your life? How do you deal with your fears about the future?
Loneliness bridge: Yes, Courtney, I sometimes feel lonely, but not nearly as much as I used to. I used to wonder if anyone would miss me if I died. I asked myself if I thought my life had any significant purpose or meaning. I’m glad now that I asked the question. Here is what I discovered.
Love bridge: Allison, I appreciate your trusting me enough to share with me that you feel very unloved. Everybody needs to feel loved. We need to know that others realize that our lives have value. Do you think your life has any value?15
No matter what the outcome of your discussion, be sure that you continue your relationship with that person. Let your friend know that your love and concern for her is not based on her response or on her decision, but is unconditional. Leave the door open for further opportunities. But at the same time, keep your eyes open for other people God may want to put in your life. The fields are white for harvest. Do not abandon the relationships God has given you. Just keep praying, fishing, and expecting God to work.
Bringing people to Christ is not an impossible job. It only seems impossible when we try to do it in our own strength rather than Christ’s. If you genuinely seek courage for witnessing boldly, God will give it to you. He has given us His Holy Spirit for that purpose. Paul said, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” [Eph. 6:19-20].
As we try to share good news with people, we need to remember that evangelism is a process. God may use you at various places along a continuum of a person’s life. He may choose to use your witness only to plant seeds in another’s life, to water seeds planted by a previous witness, or He could choose you to reap the fruit by being the one to actually lead her to Christ. Each stage along the continuum is vitally important, and we must remember to be faithful and obedient to His command to share the Gospel.
We need to be patient and always keep in mind that not all fruit ripens at the same time. We are not God—He has his own timetable. Note what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants not he who waters is anything, but God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” The Holy Spirit is the One who converts an individual. His work in a person’s life sometimes takes days; sometimes it takes years. Our job is to keep loving, sharing, and remembering that “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” [1 Thess. 5:24].
Dawson Trotman used to pray that God would use him in the life of every person he met. Following his example, we should pray that we can help every person we meet to move just one step closer to Christ—whether it is through sharing a smile, doing a kind deed, listening, sharing an answered prayer or a verse with them, or sharing the whole gospel. Be ready to take advantage of those relationships that may briefly come into your life.
Now stop and take a look at your own unique world. No one knows the same combination of people. That is exciting! Ann Kiemel affirmed this fact in her life when she shared:
I could tell you many stories from my life. I could tell you of taking children to Israel to watch me run my first marathon. I could tell you of those children today, and where they are. I could tell you of God giving me the idea of building a gymnasium in the heart of Boston for ghetto children who had no place to play and of using all my money to build a gym in Boston. Dr. Ken Taylor from Tyndale came and dedi¬cated the gym for me on Easter Sunday the day before my first Boston marathon. I could also tell you of things that are happening in Idaho Falls. But basi-cally, it has been built around the Holy Spirit taking my simple prayer every morning: “Jesus, I’m yours. I’m so inadequate. I’m so imperfect. But make me creative today so that the world will be different because you live in me—that somehow may that power in my life today extend to others around me.” I’ve truly seen that happen and I challenge you today to try and make Jesus creative where you live. Begin to pray for creative ideas that fit who you are, how you feel and what you do. Pray for creative ideas that God will take your one life. If you live in the smallest house on the most ordinary block, and drive an old Dodge Dart, I want you to know that you have all the power in the world to make a difference. If you really care enough to say, “Yes, Lord, I will let you plant a dream in me,” God will do it—a dream that is bigger than you, a dream that is greater than you, a dream that will take all of you and all of God to really live.16
God has a special and unique role for you in this world! Prayerfully consider Ann’s challenge: “Let Him plant something in your heart that will make you stand on your tiptoes and reach for something bigger and greater than you’ve ever experienced be¬fore.” Expect God to give you opportunities to share and the boldness and wisdom needed for that moment. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty” [Zech. 4:6].
Now if you haven’t already done so, listen to cassette tape #3B in the series featuring Evangelism and Relationships by Ann Kiemel Anderson. Also on the tape are excerpts from Roberta Hestenes, Joanne Shetler, and Judy Streeter.
1 Jerry and Claudia Root, Friendship Evangelism (Wheaton: Shaw, 1990), p. 38.
2 Herb Miller, Actions Speak Louder Than Verbs (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), p. 69.
3 Bill Bright, The Calling of an Evangelist (“The Evangelist’s Personal Witness,” Worldwide Press, 1986), p. 28.
4 Leroy Elms, Winning Ways (Victor Books, 1980), p. 48.
5 Ann Kiemel, I’m Out to Change My World (Nashville: Impact Books, 1974), pp. 109-112.
6 Joseph Aldrich and Sterling Huston, Friendship Evangelism (Minneapolis: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1988).
7 Oscar Thompson, Concentric Circles of Concern (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981), p. 21.
8 Karen Mains, Open Heart Open Home (Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co, 1976), p. 18.
9 Ibid., p. 15.
10 Jo Ann Cairns, Welcome, Stranger: Welcome Friend (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1988), p. 30.
11 Ibid., pp. 45-46.
12 Ibid., p. 46.
13 Emilie Barnes, Things Happen When Women Care (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1990), p. 217.
14 Len Andyshack, A 30-Day Evangelism Plan (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), p. 11. 15
15 Dick Sisson, Evangelism Encounter (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988), pp. 137-138.
16 Ann Kiemel Anderson, talk given at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, March 26, 1991, pp. 3-4 of transcript.
The above article, “Evangelism and Bible Study” was written by Sharon Beougher and Mary Dorsett. The article was excerpted from their book, Women & Evangelism.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be 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.”