“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep. ” Phil Cooper (Danny DeVito) from The Big Kahuna

The topic of friendship evangelism has popped up a couple of times lately. In one context, it was because a Christian lady decided that she wanted to pursue a relationship with a non-Christian guy and hopefully he would become a Christian in the process. A lot of times we accept a profession of faith as “good enough” simply to mark this item off our dating check list. If your faith is the most central part of your life, you want to have this in common with whoever you choose to have a romantic relationship with. Which means you have some difficult things to figure out if they came to know Christ through such “dating evangelism.” Part of you may be wondering if they made a profession just to be with you. [Heck, I’m a guy. I’d have claimed a love for worshiping the Norse pantheon if it meant getting close to someone. You know, back in my less “spiritually enlightened” days.]

The second context that the topic crept into conversation came when we were discussing the nature of how we go about doing ministry work. If all life is our mission field, we should be about developing intentional relationships. Doesn’t this sound exactly like a form of “friendship evangelism”?

I have friends. I’ve had dates (a lot less now that I’m married, but you know what I mean). I don’t believe in friendships with agendas. First and foremost, the friendships need to be authentic, in an of themselves, for the sake of themselves. The instant you insert an agenda, this can prostitute the friendship and by default invalidate the evangelism.

Is there a big difference between intentional relationships and friendship evangelism or is it a fine, semantic line. I would submit that it’s about the heart. With friendship evangelism, too often I’ve seen people pretend (well, “pretend” is too strong a word) to be someone’s friend in order to proselytize. Evangelism has become salesmanship such that conversations aren’t genuine but merely witnessing opportunities as we look for an opening to make our pitch. In this “relationship”, God becomes product and we keep notches in out spiritual belt of how many people we’ve saved. A salvation sales chart.

Apparently we’ve missed or forgotten the point that people don’t like salesmen for a reason: They seem fake, oozing smarm, or at least possess a disingenuousness that is smelled a mile away. It’s like we try to love someone for their potential, as if they’re not okay or worth loving now, as they are. Partly I think we believe that if we change the way people think then it will change the way that people act. The sad reality is that there is too much evidence to the contrary.

The first step in proselytizing, for me, is shutting up. I like to listen to people and see where they are. This goes against a lot of what we’re taught. By going in, spiritual guns blazing, whipping out our ragged copy of the “Four Spiritual Laws” or running through the “Romans Road”, we fail to see God already at work in people’s lives. We like to prove man’s sinful dilemma using verses, as if everyone buys the authority of the Bible. Being silent solves this other dilemma. We live in a biblically illiterate culture. And even if people are biblically schooled, that still doesn’t guarantee that they hold it as any sort of authority. We need to try to be living Bibles for people. They need to see it lived out in our lives and we need to be Christ in theirs. If not, we’re wasting perfectly good oxygen.

The mission of the church is to be a blessing to the world. Church doesn’t exist for the benefit of its members, but to equip its members to benefit the world. It’s about community, a place of belonging. It’s about spirituality, pursuing holiness and communal relationships. It’s about being missional, being apostolic, sent into the world. Friendship/dating evangelism objectifies people, reducing them to objects to obtain for God. The difference between friendship evangelism and intentional friendship is the difference between manipulative vs. genuine relationships. Intentional friendships is about sharing life with people without an end strategy, not looking for an opening to make a pitch. It’s about loving people for who they are, where they are, and how they are. Be a genuine human being and care for other people genuinely. Sheesh.

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