We sat around in a circle, listening to their war stories. Some had seen victory and others had felt as if they had been defeated. All seemed to be looking for something. Some wanted help, some wanted encouragement, some were probably wondering why they even came.
My brother and I had made the journey down to Tennessee to meet with this group that consisted mostly of students, both undergrad and graduate. They had asked us to come down to have an open discussion about evangelism, how to have to live up to those words that Jesus gave us before he ascended into heaven,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing then in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Matthew 28:19, TNIV).
I am not sure if anyone would classify me as an expert on the subject of evangelism, but I was more than willing to share any knowledge that I might have gained over the years on the issue. I didn’t think that I could do any damage.
It was a good time. We sat around, ate some food and had conversations about what they were either facing on the campuses of their colleges and universities or what they were battling outside the world of academia. And by listening to their stories, hearing their struggles, I was affirmed in what I had experienced in my own life: the necessity of relationships.
I work in a bank. Everyday I deal with one of the most sensitive issues in people’s lives—money. It is funny, even though I have studied and trained to take care of people’s finances, it is difficult for me to help those that are monetarily struggling. Even though I have the ability, unless clients are willing to grant me their financial information, I can do nothing. For some, it is because they are embarrassed at their situation. Some just seem to think that I am some vulture, looking for my next dying prey—unfortunately in the financial world, this concern is sometimes justified.
How do I help someone whom I know nothing about?
I don’t. I can’t make a recommendation without the proper information. If I do, I might not help, but hurt their current situation. It would be reckless.
Over time, I have found that the best way to get people to open up to me is to get to know them, find things in common, talk. I get to know about their family, their job and the things they like to do for fun. We build a relationship, and I earn the right to learn and talk about their finances. And I can finally help.
I am seeing the era of hit-and-run evangelism coming to an end. Sure, I believe that God can use anything —and He does—to spread His incredible message, but our culture is becoming less trusting, more cautious and less willing to say “OK” to some person on the street or at their doorstep. Our culture needs something more real, more personal, more trusting.
My brother asked the group an obviously difficult question, “How many of your friends are not Christians? Not acquaintances. Friends.”
Only a few raised their hands.
And I don’t think that their response is that much different from most of us. We are naturally attracted to people who are like us, who believe the same things we do. It is comfortable. It is convenient.
This group was not opposed by any means to the idea of reaching out and creating relationships with those who are not Christians. They agreed it was necessary. But there seemed to be a hesitation in making it happen in their lives.
Relationship building is difficult. It takes time, effort and cannot be faked. You have to get involved in an individual’s life and, even more frightening, open up your own life to someone outside of your clique. It takes eating a meal together, watching a ball game or grabbing a cup of coffee. It takes an open-ended commitment, sometimes lasting years. It takes getting out of your comfort zone, out of the beautiful bubble.
Developing a relationship is done on purpose; it is no accident. Sure, I believe that God can put people in our lives that He wants us to reach out to, but it takes us, willing to make a move, before anything happens. We must want to go beyond the occasional classroom run-in, beyond the office water cooler chat, to develop a relationship and earn the right to share about the God who changed you life.
Christian friends are good; we need them in our lives. But we cannot shut out those who need to hear our story the most. They are not the ones in the Bible study or the ones sitting across from us in the pews. They are the ones who are getting drunk at the bar, giving strippers dollar bills at the club and taking yet another pill alone in their home. They are those who haven’t heard God’s saving grace, who haven’t been able to feel true freedom.
If hit-and-run evangelism the only opportunity God gives, take it. Take whatever He gives you. But don’t miss the chance to develop relationships. No how-to-be-a-Christian tract can compare to a life, your life, lived for Christ.
It is bold. It is courageous. It is needed.
As my brother and I left the group, I hoped that something I had said made some sort of impact. I hoped that I was of some use to them. Sharing God’s story is not easy for the average Joe, the world has made sure of this. It takes us, diligently cultivating friendships so that we can move beyond the surface talk and into a conversation about the One who has already saved our lives.