It’s very tempting to remain content with only befriending the Lord and befriending the Church. But spiritual friendship is not meant to be kept to ourselves as Life Groups or participating in “fellowship” with one another (which is just the Christian term for “holy hanging out”).
If the greatest act of friendship in human history was Christ’s death to restore our friendship back to God, then the greatest act of friendship we could ever do is invite someone into his Friend Group (also known as the Church). Entering into Christ’s community in its fullest sense happens through receiving Christ as one’s Savior (more on this in a future blog). The main means this happens, by God’s design, is by partnering with his Holy Spirit to make disciples of all nations. Plain and simple.
The term typically used for reaching the world is “evangelism.” And that word bears a lot of baggage these days. There is a preconceived notion that evangelizing consists of boisterous preaching similar to that of Billy Graham on the streets, walking through a step-by-step process for how a lost person can become a Christian, or having a pivotal conversation with a total stranger’s lost nature on an airplane with the pressure that if he or she doesn’t pray the prayer of salvation by the time you land, then you’ve failed the Great Commission.
These are extreme examples of evangelism, yet this is where the average Christian’s mind goes when they hear the word. There was certainly a time and place where these evangelistic efforts and structured conversations had their place, and were incredibly effective in a plethora of ways. The kingdom expanded because of these methodologies.
However, as America becomes more and more of a post-Christian nation, less and less people are willing to have that conversation just out of the blue… Yet that unwillingness doesn’t necessarily come out of a resistance to its message, but rather an ignorance of Christ and the Christian life altogether. Being an American and just knowing about Jesus through the grapevine is no longer a reality quite like it used to be.
Evangelism for this day and age is beginning to look very different, while simultaneously very similar. I have heard it said recently that reaching a post-Christian culture parallels to reaching a pre-Christian culture. Therefore, the methodology for reaching a post-Christian culture can be discovered by simply looking back at our Church history. Our new evangelism methodologies is actually an old one, already tested and tried as true. And who better to look back towards than Christ himself?
There is a verse in John’s Gospel from Jesus’ prayer on behalf of his disciples that has stuck out to me for quite awhile. He says to the Father, “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world” (John 17:18). We as Christ’s disciples are sent into the world just as Christ was sent into the world. That’s a loaded a statement. And it begs these questions: How was Christ sent? And how are we sent as Christ is sent?
This is a dense question that has books upon books of implications, but here’s my take on what this could mean for our conversation. Think about it: Jesus was sent into the world to live among us as a means to granting us salvation. Another name attributed to Christ is “Emmanuel,” which means God with us. When he was sent to this earth, he became a human person, which, as we learned in the blog post on The True Meaning of Personhood, means he is someone who exists in relationship with others… And if science says that we are who we are with—forming us into the people we spend the most time with—then Jesus came in a way that his people could be transformed into his image by spending time with him through his friendship.
This is huge. We’ve already talked about the salvation implications of Jesus’ friendship with the world climaxing through his death on the cross to regain a friendship with God. But we cannot overlook the fact that Jesus’ ministry took place within friendships. His discipleship relationships were friendships, and his ministry to the least, the last, the lost, and (may I add) the lonely took place through friendships. Only a small chunk of Jesus’ ministry happened through preaching and teaching to the masses.
The majority of his ministry took place through his friendships.
Author and pastor Judah Smith talks about this exceptionally well in his book, Jesus Is, when he writes:
“In full view of everyone, he hung out with today’s equivalent to pimps, prostitutes, and crackheads…. Jesus associated himself with people who were shunned by every upstanding Jew. They were the butts of jokes and the targets of smirks. No self-respecting person would risk befriending them for fear of being found guilty by association… [But] Jesus liked spending time with sinners. He was God and he was perfect, but he spent much of the three-and-a-half years of his ministry hanging out with bad people. He talked with them, ate with them, cried with them, and served them. People weren’t just a charity project to him. He cared about them and listened to them. He offered unconditional hope and compassion.”
If we are to reach the world as Jesus did, then perhaps it comes down to a revitalization of our friendships. Perhaps it comes down to recognizing the missional power that is hidden behind the most fundamental human relationships we could ever have. As we will eventually come to see, ministering to someone is synonymous with befriending someone, when we truly start to recognize the spiritual power of our friendships.
But before we get there, we need to talk about viewing the lost nature of a person’s soul through the new lens of being “spiritually lonely.”