INTRODUCTION. A series of posts sharing some personal thoughts on evangelism and on some of the potential sticking points of “friendship evangelism.” This first post is on the problem of mixed motives in friendship evangelism.
Our church has three pillars to our general ministry: evangelism, discipleship, and Christian hospitality. Since these pillars are central to our ministry, our pastors frequently talk about these from the front, and those in the pews are exhorted to make sharing your faith and proclaiming the gospel a normal part of the life of every Christian. Like every church, we do not do this perfectly, but the heart of those in the congregation is bent toward telling unbelievers about Jesus.
One of the common strategies for evangelism is “friendship evangelism.” This is the idea of making friends with unbelievers in your neighborhood or at work or at the gym or whatever, with the hope of gradually introducing them to spiritual topics and going through Bible studies with them so that they come to faith in Christ. It is a good strategy, especially for those who are naturally friendly, because it is done for the right motive, namely, to lead unbelievers to Christ. The believer remains focused on the gospel and how he or she can present the gospel to their unbelieving friend. The believer prays for the unbeliever and has others in the church praying for the unbeliever, that their eyes would be opened and that they would come to faith. These are all positive points to commend this approach.
But, while friendship evangelism is a good strategy for church members to pursue, I have observed that there are also some sticking points that should be considered and addressed when using this evangelism approach.
- Mixed motives (the evangelist and the unbeliever)
- Radar goes up (the most significant “sticking point”)
- When do you decide to abandon this friendship because you have determined it is not going to bear fruit?
- If you need to disengage, how do you disengage (awkward, at best)
MIXED MOTIVES. The issue here is a feeling of a lack of integrity or a lack of sincerity on the part of the evangelist. The cliché is, “Am I viewing this person as a friend or as a ‘project’?” Implicit in the cliché is the assumption that Jesus or Paul or any “sincere” evangelist would never befriend someone merely for the purpose of bringing them to salvation.
But no matter how it is worded, there exists a certain tension here for the evangelist.
- “Am I a friend first, or an evangelist first?”
- “Is the friendship the goal, or is proclaiming the gospel the goal?”
- “When do I stop pouring energy into the friendship and start pouring energy into the evangelism?”
- “If I have built a friendship that does not include evangelism, how do I continue the friendship that now includes evangelism?”
- “What happens if my evangelism threatens the friendship?”
- And then, even more concerning, “What happens if the friendship silences or muffles my evangelism?”
Another consideration in this point of mixed motives involves the perceptions of the unbeliever whom the evangelist is befriending. Hopefully, this person is aware that their new friend is a genuine Christian, but this should not be assumed. The unbeliever may be surprised if the believer suddenly starts talking about “religion.” If the unbeliever is aware that their new friend is a Christian, is an unspoken condition of the friendship that the believer keep their faith to themselves? Also, the unbeliever may wonder, “Why is this person being so friendly to me (now)? (I wonder what they want?)” What will happen to the friendship when the believer begins to proclaim Christ? Will the unbeliever feel used and betrayed because the “real agenda” is now out in the open?
PROPOSED SOLUTION TO MIXED MOTIVES
Since these feelings of mixed motives are common to those who proclaim the gospel through friendship evangelism, I would propose two remedies. First, ask those in your church who have the most experience with friendship evangelism how they have overcome this potential sticking point in their own evangelism. Second, I would recommend that a brainstorming group be formed from those in your church who are most active in evangelism, and that this group discuss these ideas about mixed motives, considering personal experience and Scriptural instruction.
NOTE: No method of evangelism is perfect, so it is possible that there is no “silver bullet” for this sticking point, or for any sticking point. That means that the possible result of asking and brainstorming is to confirm that there is no solution to this sticking point. It is simply inherent in this method of evangelism. And that would be fine.
NEXT POST: The next post in this series will consider the other “sticking points” and how we can overcome them or minimize them in our evangelism.
SDG rmb 3/24/2022 #507