An Examination of Relationship Evangelism
Bob has been thinking about evangelizing his co-worker for years. His hope was that, given enough time, his co-worker would see that Bob was so honest and loving that eventually his co-worker would ask him about his faith.
Unfortunately, late one Saturday evening, Bob’s co-worker passed away suddenly from a fatal asthma attack.
Ok… there is no Bob. This is the true story of what actually happened to me as a young Christian. My co-worker was a young Jehovah’s Witness. Despite countless opportunities and times where I felt that I should the Gospel, I did not. It never entered my mind that my mid-thirties co-worker could die at any moment.
You may be thinking about the fact that God is sovereign and in no way dependent on me alone for the spreading of the Gospel, but that’s not the point. The point is that I failed to abide by what Scripture clearly commanded me to do in this case, and now my opportunity to be faithful in this instance has passed. The object of focus is not my co-worker’s conversion or unconversion but rather my own sin.
I had succumbed to a common problem with “relationship evangelism.” Relationship evangelism is often summed up in a phrase by an unknown author (likely not Francis of Assisi) “preach the Gospel, when necessary use words.” It’s the idea that the Gospel is to be preached through our relationships and actions. In and of itself, relationship evangelism is not a bad thing. We are to be likable, friendly and loving people. We should make friends regularly and we should live a life that speaks the Gospel through our everyday actions.
However, being friendly/loving is a fruit of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself. At some point, a conversation about the Cross needs to happen. Without a mention of how one has been ruined by sin, can be redeemed by the Savior and rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit, then evangelism is not taking place.
This is the “problem” with relationship evangelism. It’s just too tempting to our sinful flesh to focus on the relationship alone, thus forsaking the evangelism part.
Thankfully, it does not take a relationship to share the Gospel. Even a brief look at the lives of Jesus and the Apostles makes it clear. Did Jesus have a prior human relationship with the woman at the well (John 4)? Did Paul have a prior relationship with the men of Athens (Acts 17)? Did Peter have a prior relationship with the masses in Jerusalem (Acts 2)? No, they did not.
Our Lord’s Great Commission to us is this, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
You do not have to have a relationship prior to sharing the Gospel, but you should share the Gospel to everyone you have a relationship with.
Bottom line: regularly preach the Gospel… with words.
Believe it or not you can go up to a complete stranger and have a 15 minute conversation, and see the power of the Gospel firsthand. I’ve seen it happen dozens of times. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), all we have to do is proclaim it!