A long, long time ago, in a city far, far away, for a brief time, I once worked at a car dealership. They would place these elaborate ads in the Sunday paper with a full page spread—with lots of colorful pictures of the cars that would be on sale that week at amazing discount prices. Of course, the specific stock number of the car at that price was listed but rarely did the picture resemble that car.
Furthermore, we were instructed to steer anyone who was interested in the aforementioned vehicle away from it and into a more expensive one—or at least one that would make more profit. I actually saw someone fired because he pulled the ad out in front of a customer who had not seen it to check a price.
This is classic “bait and switch.” Lure someone with a tempting offer that you never really intend to follow through with and then get them to do something they didn’t anticipate doing in the first place.
Is that what believers do when befriending someone who is an unbeliever in hopes of one day seeing them come to saving faith in Christ? I think it depends on three things.
It Depends Upon Your Opportunity
When developing friendships, is it natural? I can honestly say that over the years and throughout the many relationships that have come and gone—with both believers and unbelievers, they have all blossomed without effort.
In other words, I didn’t have to push myself into someone’s life in order to become their friend. It just happened. This is likely the case with most people. Friendships just develop fortuitously (well—not by accident because I don’t believe in coincidence, but you know what I mean).
It happens at work, in the neighborhood, participating in sports, and in many other lifetime activities—including church (where you may actually meet non-Christians). People have common interests and become friends.
Clearly, there are exceptions—for example, most romantic relationships begin because one person is attracted to another and pursues that relationship. But by and large, friendships in general begin with a casual connection. The opportunity is already there and not forced.
However, there may be times when a Christian is so zealous for the gospel that they make their own opportunities. In other words, they seek out relationships with absolute intentionality—focused on a long-term goal of seeing those people come to Christ. They may not even have any other connecting points—the thing that usually inspires “fast-friendships.” Should we be critical of this?
It Depends Upon Your Motivation
I’m reading a book right now about Gunslingers in the old west. It’s fascinating to learn about the different personalities—how some gunfighters wanted everyone to know just how many men they had shot down. And then there are others who liked being mysterious—never letting on about whether the stories told about them were true or not.
For some, killing was all about establishing reputation. For others, however, they didn’t necessarily set out to become a “gunfighter,” but had to out of duty as a lawman, or honor, defense of the innocent, or other justifiable reasons. Their motive was not recognition.
As a believer, are you motivated to evangelize because you want to put another “notch in your belt?” Like those gunslingers who sought to be famous and feared, is it simply for the sake of reputation and reward that you desire to see unbelievers saved? If so, it could be that the motivation drives a “bait and switch” tactic when making friends. This is the danger I think we need to avoid.
If the only reason you try to start relationships with unbelievers is so that you can somehow feel a sense of accomplishment when and if that new friend comes to saving faith in Christ, that’s not the correct motive. It would seem to me in that case, there actually is a “bait and switch.”
If, however, a believer has genuine concern for a person’s eternal destiny, we may have to check our criticism. When we recognize it is to God’s glory (not ours) and by His hand that salvation occurs, then I think whatever reason leads us into friendships where we are able to share Christ are pure and unselfish—even if it is just so we can have the opportunity to evangelize.
That’s why motivation is so important on many layers. Perhaps a believer genuinely cares about what will happen to an acquaintance. Because they want to earn the right to share the gospel, they pursue a deeper friendship with that person. Is there deception in that? Is it bait and switch?
It Depends on the Long-Term Commitment to the Relationship
As much as we all love the movie Finding Nemo, the reality is that fish rarely care for their young like that. Turtles are even less likely to do so. I loved that scene with the sea turtles caring for the kids and reflecting the fun part of parenthood—fact is, most of the species don’t stick around to give their offspring such guidance.
In the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul refers to the fact that he and the other apostles cared for new believers. They didn’t just share the gospel—spawn new converts to Christ and then take off. In fact, throughout his mission work, Paul was caring—indirectly or through those he sent—for those new believers to whom he felt responsible.
This follow-up work demonstrates a commitment to maintain relationships with those who we have had the privilege of sharing the gospel. The very nature of “bait and switch” implies a desire to accomplish a certain goal, and then once attained, move on to the next. If there is a willingness in the believer to continue in a mentoring relationship with a new Christian—is it really bait and switch? Has there been deception? If you are seeking to disciple those with whom you have shared Christ, there is no switch. The friendship is, in fact, even more authentic and can then grow deeper in meaning.
- if the opportunity to develop a new friendship is natural and the relationship doesn’t have to be forced,
- your motivation is not to seek glory for yourself, but rather for God and for your friend’s eternal condition, and
- finally, if you are committed to seeing the relationship through, willing to disciple and mentor a new believer for better or worse,
—you are probably not practicing bait and switch evangelism.
We should always be aware of those opportunities that God may bring into our lives, maintain pure motives, and be ready to disciple if God should bless us with the privilege of seeing someone trust in Christ as a result of His work through us.
Ultimately, the most effective way to avoid any deceptive practices in our evangelism is reliance upon the Holy Spirit and humility.