There is more than one way to evangelise, and if you can develop good relationships with non-believers, that is great. But the point is, if Jesus, the disciples, and the church for so many centuries concentrated on actually proclaiming truth to anyone and everyone, then we should not be dismissive of it – even in a rather different culture today. Sure, use the internet or social media or all sorts of new technologies to share the gospel message. And engage in “friendship evangelism” and the like. But do not think that just being nice and “being there” will ultimately cut it. Please make sure that you eventually SAY something!
If you know your New Testament, you will know that Jesus and the disciples had particular ways in which they shared the gospel. These were not the only ways in which folks can share their faith, but if it was good enough for them, then presumably we can learn something from them – especially if many modern forms of evangelism seem to counter what they had done.
It is not just that much of what Christians do today in this regard seems to conflict with what Jesus said and did – along with the disciples – but often we are hearing from some folks that evangelism and proselytisation is wrong altogether.
I kid you not. Plenty of those claiming to be Christians have said that we should not proselytise others. Consider these words that I penned nearly a decade ago. They involve the then Australian head of the once strongly evangelical para-church group World Vision. He actually came out and said this back then:
“We don’t engage in proselytism, and we work cooperatively with people of all faiths and those without a faith. In fact World Vision has more Muslim employees than any other NGO in the world, including Muslim NGOs. We strive to serve people everywhere without regard to their race, religion or politics.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/03/28/clueless-christianity-fuzzy-thinking-and-some-spiritual-lessons/
Wow. The group’s founder Bob Pierce would be rolling in his grave at that. Then we had the case of Pope Francis saying in 2019, “You must not proselytise. It is not Christian to proselytise”. Yes, he then had to go on to explain and defend his remarks. Whether or not he was ‘taken out of context,’ there are many believers today who do seem to look down on evangelism.
Certainly, the idea of waltzing into a town and engaging in open air preaching seems to be a big no-no for many of these trendy and progressive Christians. Such actions are considered to be ‘intolerant’ and ‘unloving’ and we must just slowly build relationships with folks first. You know, let’s just go to lots of cafés over a long period of time and sip on our lattes, and maybe one year we might be in a place to share your faith.
Now, is the building of relationships with non-believers generally a good thing? Yes it is. If and when we have that luxury of doing this, then by all means go for it. But two responses come to mind. This does not always work as planned. I know of Christians who kept putting off sharing their faith in order to “build a relationship” – only to then be told the person had died, and they never did get to hear the gospel! This happens far too often.
Secondly, it implies that everything Jesus and the disciples did were wrong, or not at all paradigmatic for us to follow. Hate to say it, but as far as I know, Jesus and the disciples did NOT normally spend many weeks or months getting to know folks and trying to get onside with others. They quite often simply went up to complete strangers and told them the gospel!
That was their normal way of doing evangelism. Sure, as a fledgling and persecuted new community of believers, they may have been rather limited in this regard. As I say, today, if relationship building is possible, then go for it.