Have you ever heard people playing different methods of evangelism off each other—elevating one way of proclaiming the gospel and dismissing others? God uses many ways to reach many people, and quite often He uses a series of persons, each with their own means of evangelism, to bring people to saving faith. I don’t think that any sincere effort to reach people with the gospel should be dismissed as long as it is done with integrity.
I’ve heard some speak dismissively of friendship evangelism,” just as I’ve heard others use the term “friendship evangelism” to dismiss any public proclamation of the gospel. But real friendship evangelism is not about dismissing other ways of evangelism. Real friendship evangelism occurs when people involve themselves in the lives of others to the point where they are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the spiritual well being of their unbelieving friends. And as such, friendship evangelism takes at least as much courage as handing out tracts on street corners, because a real friend, sooner or later, must lay the gospel truth on the table.
It is easier to face rejection from a stranger on the street than from a friend. As someone who has practiced both types of evangelism, I think it’s silly to say one way is better than the other. People may gravitate to evangelizing in one way more than others, but that doesn’t mean other ways are not valid. Public evangelism is a way to care for people that we don’t know and won’t otherwise meet. It often provides opportunities for other believers to water the gospel seed we sow. Friendship evangelism is an opportunity to care for people we know on an ongoing basis, and to offer the gospel to speak into various situations in their lives. As such, any Christian who has unsaved friends can be, should be, involved in friendship evangelism.
What I don’t like is when people misuse the term friendship evangelism along with such phrases as “silent witness,” “loving people to Jesus” and “letting my life do the talking,” in a way that dismisses the need to actually say something about Jesus. Yes, there are many times when actions speak louder than words. A life well lived is very eloquent and love certainly breaks down barriers. But again, in order to be a real friend, there will always come a point when we take or leave the opportunity to tell our friends about Jesus.
The true test of friendship evangelism is whether we are more concerned with being a friend, or having a friend. If the former, we will prayerfully seek opportunities to carefully and lovingly explain God’s plan of salvation. It would be a shame if we were to allow our desire to keep a friend to interfere with that friend’s need to be reconciled to God. Some say they don’t want to risk the friendship because they are afraid to lose the opportunity to witness. They don’t realize that the opportunity can be just as lost through their fears as it would be were the other person to shut down the friendship.
I appreciate those who are truly engaged in friendship evangelism, just as I appreciate those who hand out tracts on street corners. Whenever we share the gospel either way, we run the risk of rejection. The great thing is to be able to encourage one another in anything that results in people hearing about Jesus, whether or not it’s “our way” of doing things. God has His ways of reaching people, and He is gracious to use various attempts in public and in private. So should we also be gracious—and appreciative—whenever we see a brother or sister stepping out in faith to tell a friend or a stranger about Jesus.