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.
Don’t Wait Too Long to Talk About Jesus
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 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.
Discipleship is living in a way that makes no sense to the world unless Jesus is King.