Friday, July 20, 2007

More on Friendship Evangelism

Part of a series on Friendship and Evangelism
[Two Ways] [Leaving 'em Hanging] [More on Friendship]

I was talking about the concept of friendship evangelism with a good friend of mine last night, and she (as usual for her) made a very insightful comment. She agreed with what I was saying about friendship not being the same as evangelism, and then added "in fact, I've found it sometimes gets harder to share the whole Gospel with somebody as I get to know them better."

It made a lot of sense to me, and is quite in accord with my own experience. Thinking about the different stages of a friendship, I think we can delimit the following stages, which follow fairly closely popular communication intimacy models:
  1. First meeting: The point where you first meet the person. This can take place either through another friend or by meeting somebody cold (e.g. on the street, at a conference)
  2. Acquaintanceship: You know each other, act friendly to each other, but that's about it. You discuss facts and opinions but that's about it.
  3. Friendship: You start to discuss feelings and want to spend more time together.
  4. Deep friendship: You trust each other to be vulnerable and discuss your needs.
We reach this fourth level with very few people: most stay in the first three categories. Even if we wanted to and there were enough people out there with whom we have enough in common, we don't have sufficient time to devote. This makes me wonder whether we ought to resurrect the old-fashioned idea of circles of deep friendships similar to C. S. Lewis's Inklings group - you have the luxury of close friendships without the exorbitant time demands required if you met with each of them separately.

Anyway, if we think about these levels of friendship as related to evangelism with my friend's comment in mind, it seems that the folks who try to give the Gospel at the First Meeting level might qualify as "bullhorn guys." (By the way, unlike Rob Bell, I think there's a place for that kind of evangelism - after all, the reality is that some of these folks would never get close enough to a Christian otherwise to hear the Gospel. You can't practice "friendship evangelism" with them, because they simply don't want to be your friend. Frankly, if I were them, I would question your sincerity anyway: "You want to be my friend so you can share the Gospel with me? What am I, chopped liver?) If you listen to the Way of the Master radio show, you'll hear people sharing the Gospel at this point without being pushy stereotypical bullhorn guys, and we all should be able to do it if God arranges appropriate circumstances. But for most of us (not especially gifted in evangelism), most of the time, this level is probably not the place for sharing the Gospel.

At the fourth level, Deep Friendship, you can talk about anything without worrying about offense (always assuming, of course, you do it lovingly). At this level, hopefully, you would feel comfortable talking about the full Gospel, including sin and repentance. That assumes, of course, that you are ever comfortable sharing it. Way of the Master is ideal for learning how to be comfortable sharing the real Gospel, no matter who you're talking to. Unlike what some people think, it's not just for people you accost on the street: it's for learning to share the whole Gospel with anybody.

However, it is these middle levels I think my friend was talking about. It is hard, when you are in that level 2-3 area with a person (acquaintanceship to friendship), to talk about "icky" and non-friendly things. I may be wanting to get to know this person better because I feel we have things in common, and I honestly don't want to mess it up by talking about threatening things like the Gospel. At this point, if my own experience is correct, they have started to trust me, but not to fully trust me. Thus, not wanting to offend, I find excuses not to share the complete Gospel. And since I actually advance to the Deep Friendship level with few of those people, I never actually get around to helping them see their need for a savior.

In my counseling at 1st Choice Women's Health Center (despite the center's name, we also counsel men, usually the boyfriends of the young women that come in), I am in kind of an odd situation. I don't really know the people - usually having just met them - but we talk about an entire range of things: the whole gamut of levels of communication despite the fact that we may have just met. That's a situation that is rather unusual, but it still has the same challenges: the same opportunities to share the Gospel, the same slight natural resistance to the icky-ness of it all.

So what is the solution? First is to pray, of course ... pray for opportunities with people, pray that you'll recognize times when the other person may be more open to God's truth, pray for the boldness to step forward and start the "icky" conversation when need be, and pray that you'll have the right words to say. Second is to get yourself trained. I keep mentioning Way of the Master. The more I know of them, the more I appreciate them. There are several useful aspects to their ministry:
  • The radio show is very valuable because you hear a wide variety of situations in which the guys share the Gospel, as well as tips. Just recently, for example, they talked about good and bad experiences with witnessing, and how you can feel closer to God after a bad session of witnessing to people because you find yourself praying for that person more.
  • They have the Training Courses - basic and now advanced.
  • They have a TV show that may be available in your area or on your satellite. Another resource that I have just found out about is Streaming Faith, which apparently shows the show several times a week on its various constituent broadcast stations. For example, TBN has the show on Monday nights at 7:00 Eastern. (Believe me, I don't like TBN any more than you do, probably - but they do have some good shows.)
  • They also have lots of tracts. Ray Comfort apparently is a big believer in tracts. I personally wonder whether they are really effective: I never would have paid attention to a tract when I was an unbeliever. But that's a personal opinion: lots of people say they are very useful tools, and Way of the Master has many kinds.
So, there's really no excuse. Finally, get out there and share the whole Biblical Gospel. You'll never do it if you don't start!

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