One of the great misnomers of friendship evangelism is the idea that it is much more difficult to witness to strangers than it is to people with whom you have a developed and committed relationship. Yet most Christians, when asked who are the most difficult people to reach in their sphere of influence, will say that friends and family fit that category. The reasons are several, yet simple.
- People closest to most Christians (friends and family) are the people who know them the best and know who they are when the rest of the world is not looking. So, many Christians refrain from spiritual conversation with their unbelieving friends and family members because they fear being labeled as a hypocrite.
- People closest to most Christians (friends and family) are the people who are mostly likely comfortable to give the Christian a sharp retort or an angry response. There is more fear of causing an offense between friends than between mere acquaintances.
- Christians are fearful of the ongoing repercussions they may face as a result of sharing the gospel with the people closest to them (friends and family). That is to say, unlike with a stranger who the Christian may see only once in his lifetime, a friend or family member will be seen regularly, if not daily. If a gospel conversation goes bad, the tension created in the ongoing relationship could become very uncomfortable.
- Christians are fearful of doing anything to jeopardize the friendship or relationship they worked so hard to cultivate. Sadly, this mindset brings to light an inescapable truth. Many who believe they are engaged in “friendship evangelism” care about their friendships and relationships more than they care for the eternal soul of their friend or family members.
By and large, American Evangelicalism is responsible for the mess that is “friendship evangelism.” Well-meaning pastors, putting the traditions of men over and above the clear teaching of Scripture, have led Christians to believe that which is unbiblical–false notions such as, “You must develop a relationship with people in order to earn the ‘right’ to share the gospel with them.” Or, “People will not care about what you have to say until they know you care.” Or, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Or, “You shouldn’t shove the gospel down people’s throats.”
Again, none of the before-mentioned anecdotes have a shred of biblical support. None. They are, again, merely conclusions drawn upon the canvas of man’s traditions, which, in the end, form a portrait of what is wrong in many evangelism strategies in American Evangelicalism.
However, the Christian’s unsaved friends and family members still need to hear the gospel. And Christians, even those who practice unbiblical evangelism methods or do nothing at all, still want to see their unsaved friends and family members receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior1. Their depraved indifference made manifest by their refusal to share the gospel with their friends or family members is in constant conflict (whether consciously or subconsciously) with their real love and concern for those same people.
When most Christians say, “I’m not sure what to say to so-and-so,” what they are actually saying is, “I’m afraid to say anything to so-and-so.” If a person is born-again, then they know the gospel of Jesus Christ; for a person cannot be saved by a gospel they do not know. Is this to say that every Christian automatically has the ability to perfectly and succinctly articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ? No–not at all. A person can be saved, know the gospel, but be unsteady, unsure, clumsy, and make mistakes when sharing the gospel. This lack of ability is often a result of either the Christian’s newness of faith (spiritual immaturity), the Christian’s laziness in Bible study and prayer (sinful spiritual slothfulness), or the fact that the Christian sits under weak preaching, teaching, and leadership (speed of the pulpit, speed of the pew).
So how should the Christian witness to his friends and family members?
From this point forward, the writer assumes the reader already has a basic understanding of “Biblical Evangelism”–biblical principles and doctrines, which govern the content and presentation by the Christian, of God’s good law and His glorious gospel. If this is not the case, then the reader should stop reading here and first read the article titled: “What Is Biblical Evangelism?”
The keys to witnessing to friends and family members are as follows:
Remember to Whom You are Speaking
Sometimes Christians can get so caught up in one particular methodology or another, even if that methodology is solidly biblical, that they can sound robotic or even scripted, especially in the minds and ears of people who know them best. This is not at all to say that following a certain set of biblical principles and presenting the gospel using similar questions or verbiage each time is synonymous with being an evangelistic, scripted robot. Sadly, many Christians who make such accusations against other Christians–believers who actually share the gospel–are themselves Christians who never open their mouths to proclaim the gospel. So, in order to appease their own guilt for not being obedient to the biblical call to share the gospel, they go out of their way to discourage those who are obedient to that call.
When sharing the gospel with a friend or family member, it is important to remember that the person in front of you is not a stranger. Therefore, do not talk to him like one. If you are going to ask question of the person–questions regarding his violation of God’s law–do so in such a way as not to come across, in his mind, as a cold interrogator. In other words, do leave your friend or family member feeling like you don’t know him, when in fact you know him well. Carry on the conversation with the same tone, comfort, and ease as you would in any other conversation with that person. Granted, the subject matter couldn’t be more serious–the eternal state of the soul; but engage your friend and family member in such a way as would be consistent with any other friendly, normal conversation you might have with him.
The good open-air preachers and street evangelists know that even a stranger whom they meet in a brief moment of time can discern if the evangelist is blowing smoke at them. If this is true with strangers (and it is), then it is even more so the case with the people who know you best–your friends and family members.
Never beat around the bush with friends or family. If your relationship is a good one, then it is based, in large part, on the level of honesty within the relationship. Be straightforward, yet sensitive and respectful, when initiating the conversation. “John, I want to talk to you about spiritual things.” “Sue, I’m concerned for your soul.” “Bill, can I share my faith in Christ with you?”
Never Sacrifice Content for the Sake of the Conversation
Everything you would say to a stranger on the street regarding the law and the gospel, you should say to a friend or family member. Granted, you may not say it the same way; but you should say it nonetheless. The content of your message proper (the law and the gospel) should be the same with each lost person, regardless of your relationship. Remember, the power of your evangelistic effort is not in you–your personality, your affability, your friendliness, etc. The power of your evangelistic effort is in the message itself, the content of that message, the gospel (Romans 1:16).
Your evangelistic conversations with friends and family members should include sin and its eternal consequences (judgment, wrath, Hell), the deity of Christ, His humanity and sinlessness, the cross, Christ’s propitiation, justification by faith, the resurrection, repentance, and faith. Whatever you would say to strangers regarding their need to repent and believe the gospel, you should say to your friends and family members.
Remember Your Place
A critical mistake many Christians make when sharing the gospel, with family members in particular, is that they forget their place in the family structure. This is especially true when trying to share the gospel with the older generations in the family.
Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents: they do not like to be schooled by the younger generations in the family. Those in what are now the older generations (baby boomers and older) grew up in a day and age when one’s spiritual convictions were deeply private. Emotions were kept close to the vest. Religion and politics were subjects often avoided, rightly or wrongly, out of a sense of propriety.
Asking grandma at the Thanksgiving table if she ever told a lie might not sit well with grandma, or the rest of the family for that matter. Nonetheless, grandma needs to hear the law and the gospel. Grandma needs to repent and believe for the glory of Christ.
I have found that the best way to present the law and the gospel to older members of the family is by using a testimonial approach as opposed to and interrogative approach. In other words, instead of placing grandma on the spot by asking her questions about herself, I would share my story with grandma. This means I would communicate the law and the gospel to grandma, in the first-person.
Instead of asking grandma if she ever told a lie, or stolen anything, or looked with lust (oh yeah, that would go over well), I would explain to grandma how I came to a knowledge of my sin–how I learned what sin was and how that made me an enemy of God. Instead of telling grandma she would spend eternity in Hell, I would explain to her how I came to the realization that the just punishment for my sins against God is eternity in Hell. And then I would continue this first-person discourse through the presentation of the gospel.
I would conclude my testimony with how I answered God’s call on my heart to repent and believe the gospel; and how God saved me by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
Remember, your older relatives (like grandma) are smart people. The reason you shared your testimony, and thus the law and the gospel, will not be lost on your older family member. But by sharing your testimony, the law, and the gospel in the first-person you have not embarrassed your older family member by putting her on the spot, either privately or in a family setting. You have allowed her to maintain her sense of dignity and privacy by not asking direct and personal questions. You have shown an appropriate level of respect without compromising either the content of the message or God’s command to share it with everyone–even your older relatives.
You Must be Willing to Sacrifice the Relationship for the Soul of Your Friend or Family Member
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
Needless to say, Jesus is not saying that the Christian should hate his family members. What Jesus is saying, by way of comparison, is the Christian’s earthly relationships should appear as hatred when compared to the Christian’s overwhelming love for Him. So great is the Christian’s love for Jesus Christ every other relationship falls to a distant second in importance.
Christian, you must be willing to sacrifice everything, lose everything, forfeit everything in this life for the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ and because of your love for Him. A cross you must be willing to bear in order to live by the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:35-40) is the cross of sacrificial love (John 15:13). Whatever you are unwilling to sacrifice in obedience to and love for Christ is (including your relationships), at that unwilling moment, your god.
To refuse to share the gospel with a friend or family member because you are afraid it might cost you the relationship is to love yourself more than your friend or family member. In so doing, you are putting your friend or family member’s relationship with you as of greater importance than your friend or family member’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Could there be a more blasphemous sin other than unbelief itself? The question was rhetorical. The answer is obvious.
Witnessing to friends and family members is not easy; but it is absolutely necessary. Swallow your fears and love your friends and family members more than you love yourself. Present the law and the gospel to them with humility, honesty, respect, patience, kindness, and love. Trust the Sovereign Creator, Lord, and Savior to do with them as He wills, just as He did with you.