As a young believer, I learned from older believers that we were supposed to evangelize lost people—but do so from a distance so you’re not stained by the relationship. I understand that thinking, especially when we’re not yet spiritually mature enough to fight temptations that might come with those relationships. Godly wisdom is always in order.
On the other hand, I’m convinced we miss a lot if we never have genuine relationships with non-believers. Here’s what I’m learning these days as the Lord deepens my burden for lost people:
- Lost people know when we’re treating them as “projects” over against just loving them as people created in God’s image. They’re generally not naïve. If they know they’re only another “notch in our spiritual belt,” they’ll have little interest in our message.
- These relationships remind me just how deeply caught in the bubble of Christianity I have been. My world is sometimes quite narrowly focused on believers, and I’m caught in an unhealthy cocoon. So much have I tried to correct this problem that I wrote an upcoming Church Answers free e-book entitled, Lord, I’m Caught in the Bubble.
- These friendships help me to realize the questions non-believers have. I’ve assumed their questions—and I’m learning I often assume wrongly. Sometimes I’ve been answering questions they’re not asking; at other times, I’ve been forced to study and seek answers to questions that surprised me.
- I’ve come face-to-face with non-believing doubts about the genuineness of the church. I’ve read about those questions, but that’s different than talking with someone who genuinely thinks the church is hypocritical and judgmental. Those concerns, I’ve learned, are often overstated, but they’re nevertheless real. Defensiveness on my part has seldom been the best answer.
- These friendships have forced me to my knees much more than most relationships with believers. The Lord is increasingly breaking my heart over lost friends. I’ve spent more time in prayer and fasting on their behalf in the past few years than I did in many years prior.
- They’ve also pushed me to rely on the Holy Spirit in the context of a friendship. I’m realizing how sensitive I must be in determining when to listen, when to speak, what to say, how to read eyes and hearts, when to push and when to back off. I mess it up when I just charge in without seeking the Spirit’s guidance.
- I’ve learned much about myself in these relationships. They’ve tested my willingness to be uncomfortable around people who think, talk, and act differently than I do. They’ve forced me to ask, “If I really believe what I say I believe about lostness and salvation, won’t that change the way I live?” They’ve pushed me to consider how much I am really willing to give up—including my life—for the sake of others who need Christ.
- Frankly, I’ve realized that some non-believers are more fun to hang around than some believers are. At least in my experience, many lost people have no pretense about them. They’re honest about their questions and doubts. And, they respect and care for someone who seriously seeks to connect with them, love them, live real faith in front of them, and try to point them to Jesus. I want them to see there’s joy in following Him.
What are your thoughts about building real friendships with non-believers?
Dr. Lawless, I loved this article. I teach full-time at a faith-based college and pastor bi-vocationally; but for the past 12 years, I have served as the faculty advisor to a fraternity on campus. Many of the members are not believers, but by spending time with them on a weekly basis, doors are constantly being opened for me to share Christ. Two questions that always get a response are – (1) How can I pray for you? and (2) What’s the best/worst thing that has ever happened to you? I have never had someone not ask for prayer, and the best thing that happened to me was following Christ. Beyond that, these students have asked me to be on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. This has allowed me to see into their lives in a way I would not have otherwise. Many times I find myself sending a private message or a text message (since they all have my cell #) to pray for them and to encourage them. They will even come to hear me preach! They are a sweet blessing to my life and pull me away from academia and “church” work. They are fun to be around and my life is richer because of them.
Thanks, friend. Your response has made my day!
Good morning, I feel that developing a relationship with nonbelievers, a friendship, not a project is vital. I have been a believer but also a project to women that thought they needed to correct my belief system, they assumed that my faith was at a “baby” stage because I was new to reading the Bible and it was their role to “mature” me. That hurt immensely when I thought I had found a friend and was only a project. My Bible knowledge may have been little, but my knowledge of how Jesus treated others and how much God cared for me was 60 years old. Thank you for making this point for nonbelievers, I want to include it for those new to Bible study as well.
#4 To my great sadness and concern I find this a very real, very big concern of Americans that are Followers of Jesus. Our churches are failing, they are weak through a combination of things, pride, concern about secular inclusion, concern for $$$$ and ###’s, concern for being accepted by other pastors, concerned about how they may be perceived if they agree to public prayer outside their brick and mortar, desire for power and control, in short they have forgotten who they serve, God. They are more concerned with Man and self image. Because of the decline of our churches less people identify as “Christian” and more as Jesus Followers, to not be included in the egotism of current churches. I meet these people in Bible Studies held in community centers and in home worship gatherings. They are seeking New Testament community, and leaving behind the project based, entertainment, clique oriented brick and mortars. They want support and wisdom for post 2020, not the calendar based sermon of the day, not the worship team of performers, not the unlimited events.
They just want the Bible, pure worship music from within the group, and solid leaders. America is where we are because our church leadership has failed us.
You have written an article about how a believer ought to conduct himself in reaching the lost; and you have managed to give eight “thoughts” without including even one reference to scripture, let alone a quote or exposition. This says a lot about what you believe about the scriptural strength of this method, to say nothing of the sufficiency of scripture.
Perhaps this would be because the Bible never commands or exemplifies relational evangelism, but dozens (if not hundreds) of times commands Christians (and gives examples of Christians) to simply preach the gospel to lost sinners, regardless of your relationship. Because the gospel (not a relationship) is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16)