My friend, Chris Heuertz, who is an author, international speaker, and missionary who serves the poorest of the poor around the world, and worked alongside Mother Teresa for several years, once said that friendship evangelism is a betrayal of friendship. I couldn’t agree more. Today, most of our churches “evangelistic” efforts are filled with gimmicks and programs that try and attract new people: From friendship evangelism to friend day at church to rock concerts to a variety of expos ranging from arts and crafts to wild game and outdoor life.
Now, in and of themselves, our attempt to make the church a place where people are comfortable and welcome is not wrong. Our attempt to reach out to the larger community is also a good idea. The problem is our goals are wrong. We are looking for converts. We are attempting to enlarge our congregation’s numbers. We are trying to convince ourselves that we are fulfilling the great commission.
The problem is the great commission never says anything about inviting people to our stuff. In fact, it never mentions marginalizing people and making them projects. The great commission can be summed up in one word: Go!
I understand that part of the Great Commission is to disciple the nations and I am fully on board with that (thought I would question some of what we call discipleship), but the main emphasis is on the “go” part.
There are two key things when we talk about “evangelism”, both mentioned just here. I want to look at each one of them briefly.
It’s Go Time
The Bible never mentions inviting people to our programs or our churches – never, not once! In fact, that idea would be so foreign to the people of the early church that they would look at us with utter confusion at that idea. The method for sharing God’s crazy, unconditional love has always been to go to them.
Not only does the Great Commission speak that, but both before and after that particular section we have deemed the Great Commission, the order to go is everywhere. Take for example Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve in Matthew 10.
Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness.
Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!
Matthew 10:1, 5, 7-8 (emphasis mine)
Or consider Mark’s account of this commissioning.
Then he appointed twelve of them and called them apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons.
Mark 3:14-15 (emphasis mine)
Luke gives us his version of the twelve disciples commissioning and then just a little later Jesus commissioning another seventy-two disciples.
One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Luke 9:1-2 (emphasis mine)
The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.
Luke 10:1 (emphasis mine)
Not only did Jesus commission all His followers with the intent of going, when He sent the Holy Spirit He also spoke of our witnessing as an act of going.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Acts 1:8 (emphasis mine)
All of these verses are not simply speaking to the early disciples and apostles or even just the first century church. No, these instructions were for the Body of Christ through all time until Christ’s return. We are instructed to go! Now, does that mean that hosting events at our church or having special days for people is wrong? No, of course not, but let’s never fall under the delusion that that is what evangelism is. We were called to go, the reasons are numerous, but none as important as the fact that the Father is pursuing His children. He is not just sitting at home and waiting for them to come back, no, He is actively pursuing them, always on the watch because of His great love.
One of my goals is to get us out of out pews and into the marketplace: where people live and work and play. God’s love is extended at Wal-Mart and the grocery store and the playground and the bar all the same as at church. We need to go to them and bring the unconditional love of Father to them.
I opened with a quote by a friend of mine, a quote that might rub people the wrong way, but is true nonetheless. My friend said, “Friendship evangelism is a betrayal of friendship”. Why? Because then we are pursuing people out of selfish motivation. They become our projects, not our true friends.
Jesus was called the friend of sinners not because He made them His projects and was always trying to “convert” them, but because He actually was their friend – even when they didn’t follow Him. Jesus is our model. We are not trying to get people “saved”, that is the Jesus’ job (and I think He is pretty good at it). Our commission is to love people. Does that include talking to them honestly about the truth, of course, but that is not our objective. We are called to love! Period!
The most radical “witness” of God in today’s western society is when people love those who are not like us and do not convert to be like us. When our love remains constant, even through disagreements and outright differences, a Light shines through. When people know that we love them because we are imitating our Father and not to get something from them (i.e. get them saved), that will speak volumes to them.
Remember the ten lepers who were all befriended even though Jesus knew they wouldn’t all return to follow Him? What about the woman caught in the act of adultery, who legally could have been stoned, but instead Jesus showed a much higher law – that of love? What about Paul going to all the Gentile nations to bring the love of Christ? Or Abraham, who fought with God over a city of moral failures? What about the Great Feast and those who were called to come?
You see, God is not only about love – He is love. He knows no other way. Even in His all knowing knowledge of past, present and future, and knowing that some will never turn to Him, He still offers His love unconditionally and repeatedly. Why? Because He would be a lousy God if His love were conditional. He would be just like everyone else and every other god.
But our God is not like everyone else and He is far superior to other so called gods! He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life and He is madly in love with His creation. His love is enduring and unconditional. Our job is to imitate Him.
There is a familiar Scripture that most people know. Paul, writing to the church in Galatia said, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Listen to how the Distilled Bible translates this verse:
I consider myself as having died and now, enjoying a second existence which is simply Jesus using my body.
That’s it! I have been crucified with Christ and now I no longer live, but He lives in and through me. In fact, Jesus is simply using my body; therefore, I will act like Jesus. Jesus was a friend of sinners. So am I!
John, in his first epistle, said this:
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
1 John 4:16-17 (emphasis mine)
Jesus’ life and ministry here on earth can be summed up by two distinct characteristics: First, He was the friend of God. He only did what He saw Father do and only said what He heard Father say and only went where Father said to go. Even at the end of long days of teaching and healing, instead of going to sleep He would steal away time just to be with Father in His presence. Jesus understood that everything flowed from the relationship with His Father and therefore He valued that more than anything else. Period.
For you and me to be like Jesus, we must embrace being the friend of God as well as our first and foremost priority in life.
Second, Jesus was the friend of man. He valued them for who they were and not what they could do for Him or His cause. Jesus was a genuine lover of people, even those who had failed and missed the mark somewhere along the way. Jesus was never judgmental towards people who had faults; He loved them and pointed them heavenward. Jesus was never accused of being too religious or “churchy”, but He was called a friend of sinners, a glutton and a drunk. Why? Because He genuinely befriended people and was truly interested in their well being.
For you and me to be like Jesus, we must learn to love people unconditionally, regardless of their political views, sexual orientation or religious preference. We love them like Jesus.
Our only “job” here on earth is to love God and to love others. Jesus said it was the only two commandments. If we truly learn these two things we will shake the nations.
As for me, I am the friend of God and the friend of man. What about you?