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The term “evangelism” gives many Christians the willies. We immediately think of canned presentations that seem stiff and unnatural. We are paralyzed by the thought of knocking on a stranger’s door and talking about Jesus.

In response to these images of evangelism, we promote the idea of “building relationships” before sharing the gospel. We call it friendship or relational evangelism.

I think this development is a healthy one. We don’t share the gospel apart from who we are as witnesses. The most effective evangelism takes place within the context of relationships where the life of the Christian is on display.

But sometimes, I wonder if our emphasis on relationships might cause us to turn all our focus to relationship-building and indefinitely postpone gospel proclamation. So someone asks you, “Are you sharing the gospel regularly?” and you think, Of course! I’m building a relationship with an employee at a coffee shop; I’ve got a friend who watches football with me; I’m getting to know the parents in my child’s preschool class.

Weeks and months (maybe even years) go by, and we’ve made friends, but no disciples. We still haven’t spoken about our Christian faith and what it means to trust in Jesus.

It’s true that effective evangelism usually takes place after trustworthy relationships have been built. But something is amiss when we can “get to know” people well over a period of months and never talk about Jesus.

A few months ago, I struck up a conversation with the father of one of the kids on my son’s T-ball team. We talked a little about his work, about his kids, about our community. I asked him why he had chosen our town. His answer? The church drew him here. They had wanted to raise a family in a small town with a good church. Several family members had recommended a particular church, and so they upped and moved here.

This guy had no idea I was an associate pastor at another local church. He didn’t even know I was a Christian. Yet within a few minutes of the conversation, it was clear that he was a believer and that his faith in Christ was central to his life. As I thought about that conversation later, I realized that it would have been impossible for us to form a lasting friendship without talking about Christ. His Christianity was so central to his identity that it could not go unnoticed or unmentioned.

In pastoral ministry, I have the same “problem.” Whenever I talk to a neighbor or strike up a conversation with a stranger, I usually am asked about my occupation. As soon as I mention that I’m a pastor, the relationship changes. The conversation shifts. (Things either go uphill or downhill from there.) But there’s no sense in hiding. What I do is connected to who I am. To form a good friendship with someone, my occupation has to be on the table.

I am all about building relationships and sharing the gospel within the context of those relationships. I’m not saying that every conversation has to end with an altar call. But it worries me when Christians can become “good friends” with non-Christians without revealing their Christian identity.

Waiting too long to talk about your faith is counterproductive. If I can get to know you well over the course of several months and yet never hear you speak of Jesus, then when you eventually do share the gospel, I will probably assume that Jesus is not very important to you.

On the other hand, when your Christian faith runs deep, Jesus has a way of making an appearance much sooner. Our identity in Christ should be such an integral part of our lives that it is impossible for someone to know us well without understanding how our Christian faith informs our lives.

So, yes. By all means, build deep relationships with unbelievers. But be up front about who you and are and what you believe. Don’t go in cognito in order to be a better witness. Let people see Christ in you and let them know Who it is they’re seeing.

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8 thoughts on “Building Deep Relationships Before Sharing Christ? Impossible!”

  1. Don’t go in cognito in order to be a better witness. Let people see Christ in you and let them know Who it is they’re seeing.

    A helpful reflection Trevin. In my experience, if I don’t bring up my faith within the first or second conversation, then it is just too difficult and awkward later on. It is easier for me(like with you) due to my involvement with the church and my full-time seminary studies. People always ask, “So what do you do?”

    If we’re honest about who we are, and still demonstrate a genuine desire to grow a relationship, then I think there is a great means the Lord can use for further in-depth discussion about the gospel, deconstruction of world views and false ideas about Christianity, etc. Not all will want that friendship and that’s okay, but some will. I think this can be much more helpful than drive-by evangelism.

  2. Wow… thanks for the exhortation.

  3. Lance Parrott says:

    Thanks for the encouragement in this post. We are preaching through Acts at Christ Fellowship and this really hit home to our series. Also, glad to hear about the move to Nashville and the new ministry with Lifeway. I would love to eat lunch sometime when coming to Nashville.

  4. Andrew says:

    This sums it up so well:

    “Our identity in Christ should be such an integral part of our lives that it is impossible for someone to know us well without understanding how our Christian faith informs our lives.”

    Great post. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Caleb Barrett says:

    This is a great post Trevin, it strikes a great balance.
    I agree that “Our identity in Christ should be such an integral part of our lives…” and part of that identity is that we are members of a body.

    Lately, I have been thinking that evangelism and outreach shouldn’t be done as ‘lone rangers.’ Most of the time, we should be sharing Christ out of the context of our Christian community. I’ve been thinking these things in light of passages like John 13:34-35 and 1 Peter 3:15.

  6. Jeff Stem says:

    I have always liked what John Macarthur says when asked about his profession…”I tell people how they can be reconciled for their sins.”

  7. Jordan says:

    Great post. Once again, there is a tension between words and lifestyle, but the people we get to meet and know will soon enough find out what is most important to us (by what we say or don’t say, do or don’t do concerning Christ).

    I have recently been reading a book about a missionary couple living in a Muslim community, and because they believe God has called them there primarily to be and make disciples of Christ, who they are and what they do has to come out. They are careful about how they do so, but they are amazingly upfront considering the ramifications of doing so in such a strong Muslim community – much more so than those of us who live in (most parts of) America.

    I suppose that if every Christian really felt called to live where they are primarily to be and make disciples of Christ, then they could not help but be more upfront about who they are and what they are doing. It would just come out, and as they pray daily for Kingdom opportunities, God would either directly or indirectly bring such conversations, questions, and relationships to bear.

    Thanks for the post.

  8. I lead a mentoring ministry that is built on just that…sharing what Christ has done and is still doing in our life as the foundation of building godly relationships.

    The main hindrance in sharing our unique salvation story is just as you stated…getting the cart before the horse.

    View comments and pics of Age to Age Mentoring on facebook.

    Thanks for the affirming devotional.

    Nancy Dempsey

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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