“So-called friendship evangelism does not love the person; the love of person has no ends, it only acts so that the beloved can live and love. Friendship evangelism actually loves the idea, the third thing it is trying to get people to know, do or come to. In friendship evangelism, I don’t really love the person, but the idea of church membership, the idea of converting you. I love not you, but the thing I’m using the relationship to get you to do.” (66)
Upon first reading this, it might seem too harshly stated. These words are challenging long-held beliefs about the way effective evangelism works. In addition, isn’t it loving to point them to the Gospel since Jesus is the only thing that can help them “live and love”?
However, he is not challenging the reality that the Gospel most easily spreads across relational lines. Nor is he saying that abundant life is not found in Jesus.
He’s actually pointing out the fact that if we are going to have loving relationships, we need to relate to neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends in a such a way that we actually encounter them in the relationships instead of using the relationship to get something from them. If we are trying to get them to line up with our beliefs and ideals, we are not demonstrating the Gospel. We are peddling it.
In my book, Difference Makers, I talk about two sets of relationships where we can make a difference through our relationships.
The first is neighbors and the second is networks, which might include relatives, connections made through work, club memberships and the like. I then encourage readers to draw a tic-tac-toe box for each. For the one marked “Neighbors,” write all the names of the people who live around you. For “Networks,” write those closest to you in your various networks of relating.
I still believe that God will speak to those who don’t know God through our relationships with them. I’m just no longer a fan of relationship evangelism because we so easily relate to get something from unbelievers, which means that we do not relate well.
We don’t befriend in order to convert them or influence them to change. Root states, “Friendship can have no goal of influence—it seeks only to share our place, to invite us to share in the life of the other.”
We befriend in order to love neighbors and those in our networks because we are created to give and receive love. This is who God made us to be. Love is only love when love is the end, not the means to the end of “getting people saved and in our churches.”
In this encounter, they may very well see Jesus. We might have opportunity to share the Gospel. But if our aim is to get people to that point of hearing the Gospel, then we are focused not on loving the person, but on some kind of ideal that is less than God’s kind of relational love.