“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29).
In a world that has seemed to go off the deep end by not caring about others, the question “Who is my neighbor?” seems to be out of place. The world is saying to each of us: “Take care of you and don’t worry about the rest of humanity.” This is a very scary thought, especially when Jesus tells us plainly that our neighbor is not just the person who lives on the same block as us but everyone in the world. So what does this statement mean to you and me?
Let’s start off with the fact that we have the responsibility and the privilege to share some very important news with those around us. Yet, how do we share this valuable news with others? There are many ways to do this but not all have the best of results.
There is the “door-to-door salesman” technique. That type almost never works and, in a day and age when knocking on someone’s door might get you hurt, it is probably not the way the go. If you look at statistics of each type of evangelism effort you will find that door to door is one of the least effective ways to share the Gospel.
Then there is the type of evangelism I call “door is open evangelism:” “The church’s doors are open and they can come in any time they want!” I have heard this come out of more than one parishioner’s mouth and unfortunately I have also heard a pastor say it. Yes, that is very true, our doors are open, or at least appear to be open, to anyone. How many churches do you know of that are growing with this type of evangelism? There are none that I am aware of.
The Most Effective Way of Sharing Jesus
So, what way would work the best? One of the most effective ways I know from experience is to make friends. This way seems to be the most effective way to share your faith. Now, I want to be clear: It is not us who bring people to faith. Someone coming to faith is the work of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. These means are the Word of God and the Sacraments. Yet, as the Scriptures say, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14–15). This Word of God is not only proclaimed from the pulpit in sermons but it is literally proclaimed as we go out into the world and speak of His truth with our neighbors; whenever we share what God has done in our lives.
Taking the Word out of the church and into the community is needed as well. We—each one of us Christians—are needed to proclaim God’s Word. We are the hands and feet of God on earth. Make no mistake that we are to be out in the world letting it know who Jesus is and what He has done for all who believe in Him. The greatest impact we can have for the spread of the Gospel is when we become friends with people and then, when the opportunity arises, to proclaim Jesus crucified and resurrected for all.
There are many programs that teach various styles of friendship evangelism. The LCMS has one called Everyone a Witness. Also, the book Joining Jesus on His Mission by Greg Finke has a lot of valuable information.
Friendship is the key to any of these programs working for you, but it must be a genuine friendship. If your only motivation to become someone’s friend is so that they come to your church, or if you plan to drift away from them after they come to faith, then you need to rethink why are you becoming their friend and why are you sharing Jesus with them in the first place. Friendship with someone should be a lifelong commitment, just as Jesus made a lifelong—even more than that, eternal—commitment to all who believe in Him and walk in His ways.
We all have made friends throughout our lives. Some are lifelong friends and others are really only acquaintances, not true friends. You see, becoming a friend to someone means more than just discussing the weather or having a beer with them on a hot summer’s day. True friendship shows up in your friend’s life when they need you most. A friend is there for the one who is going through a difficult time. I think about a friend of mine who was going through the loss of his wife. She was killed in a car accident. He would wake up in the middle of the night crying and couldn’t deal with the pain he was feeling. He would call me and talk to me on the phone at all times of the day or night. There were many times when I climbed out of bed, got dressed, and went over to his house and sat with him and listened to his pain. I lost many hours of sleep as he moved through this time of pain. But that was not what was important. What was important to him and to me was that we were friends and friends are there for friends in any circumstance. My friend was not a Christian. He had heard about Jesus but never felt or believed that Jesus was for him. It took many visits in the middle of the night and many long conversations on many subjects before he ever got around to asking me why I believed in Jesus.
Why Should I Care?
So we know that friendship evangelism is the most effective way of sharing Jesus. But why should I care about evangelism? Why should I worry? It is a pretty simple answer, but the follow-through is not that easy. The answer is in Matthew 28:18–20: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus calls all who believe in Him to make disciples. Yet, some fall into the category of “believing in Jesus but it is not my responsibility or privilege to proclaim the Gospel.” Those who want to believe but do nothing miss out on a great privilege—seeing someone come to faith in Jesus. Standing on the sidelines was not Paul’s way of doing things. Paul was in a race—a race of time, a race for life. The race of time was the time he had left on earth to proclaim the Gospel. The race for life was about all the people who would be lost if he did not proclaim the Gospel to them. It was a race he was compelled to run, not because of fear but because of love. Love for all people in his world.
Let us run that race the same way with love, not fear. Love for all people.
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