A lot of us wrestle with the simple thought of evangelism boiling down to friendship. It can’t be that simple, can it? Aren’t we suppose to stand on street corners and proclaim the truth with megaphones? Aren’t we suppose to know the exact thing to say, sit people down, and have a deliberate conversation about how the person should become a Christian? Aren’t we suppose to travel to the other side of the globe to do missions? Aren’t we suppose to know all the answers and win people over with good arguments and head knowledge and scientific evidence and Christian apologetics which prove God’s existence? Aren’t we suppose to put on big events that draw people in to the church? Aren’t we suppose to put on church services that attract people to our holy clique that inspires them to join us?
Granted, we see Jesus perform tons of miracles and do a lot of teaching, some of which took place within large crowds. But so many of Jesus’ miraculous acts and teachings in the Gospels were done by just being with people, right there, in the moment.
If we are sent into the world just as Jesus was sent into the world, then we are to reach people just as Jesus reached people: by extending a gracious, self-sacrificing, service-oriented love that is found in the total package of being a spiritual friend. All of his teachings and miracles flowed out of his friendship and love he had for everyone he came into contact with.
Which is why it’s so important that I reiterate this point: When Jesus commands us to go and make disciples, in a sense, he’s telling us to go and make friends. Again, we’re not talking about making friends according to our American standards. In light of our understanding of spiritual friendship, to be a disciple is to be a part of the unified body of Christ who mutually serve one another out of the same love Christ has for them, which means that our friendships should always be pointed towards helping each other become more and more like Christ. Friendship is discipleship.
So if evangelism is simply the initial steps to discipling people, then it ultimately starts with befriending them.
Let’s look at one of Christ’s examples found in the Gospel of Mark 2:15-17: “Later, Levi [who was a tax collector] invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
This was a huge deal!! The reason the Pharisees were freaking out about Jesus dining with sinners was because, in Jesus’ culture, eating with someone was a symbolic expression of identifying with them. This was something the rabbis and teachers of the law just didn’t do, because they didn’t want to be identified as “one of them.” Yet Jesus had no problem with it. He knew that the greatest ministry he could do was in a way that deeply resonated with how they were designed: to identify with his people through friendship.
We are sent on the same mission as Jesus by using the same method as Jesus: Befriending the world. And this raises a point that I don’t want us to miss. Last week, we hit home that making friends is synonymous to making disciples. But the interactions that make up that disciple-making friendship can really be summed up as ministry. Which is why Ministry and befriending are synonymous, as well. Ministering to someone and befriending someone are essentially the same thing, because everything that pertains to effective ministry can be understood as simply being good spiritual friends.
Simply put, ministry = befriending.
Making friends = Making disciples.
Reaching the world = Befriending the world.
When we understand ministering to others as befriending others, then this removes a ton of pressure. Even just thinking about “ministering to someone” can sound like we’re approaching him or her with an agenda to serve them or do something for them. Which is fine—but what we learned from our friendship with Christ is that it’s so much more than us doing something for God, and God doing something for us. There are certainly tons of actions that take place between us and God, but the actions don’t mean anything if intimacy isn’t involved. You can’t have effective ministry that’s detached from relationships. You can’t effectively minister if you don’t care about the person.
A friendship is so much more than doing stuff for the other person, which means ministry is so much more than just doing stuff: it’s being present with them, having fun with them, doing stuff you enjoy, getting to know them, helping each other grow into a better person, loving them and being loved by them, hearing their stories, and connecting them with other friends. Ministry is best understood through friendships that want the best for each other, which culminates with helping them develop a thriving friendship with the Lord and being connected to the unified friends of Christ known as the Church. The missional nature of spiritual friendship always returns to befriending the Lord and befriending the Church.
How exactly do we do this, though? Stay tuned next week as we begin dialoguing the nuts and bolts of how we can befriend the World – even with those who are the most difficult for us to befriend.