Re-Thinking Relational Evangelism: Getting the Gospel Out in Front

To get right to the point, I wonder if many of us haven’t gone too far in the direction of “relational evangelism.” We’ve seen contact evangelism done poorly in certain circumstances, we realize that many of our peers are hostile to the gospel, and we ourselves have grown up going to school with and working with unsaved people, and therefore we’re accustomed to fitting in pretty well with them, and consequently we don’t make it a point to make sharing the gospel the most important thing in our friendships with lost people. There is some good to this, particularly in certain instances, but in considering the biblical testimony, it’s hard to make the case that the model of biblical evangelism is relational. No, the apostles and disciples are pretty up-front with their truth claims. Where we worry about stepping on toes, and saying just the right thing, the apostles spoke the truth, and worried about pleasing God rather than man.

Don’t hear me wrongly. I’m not saying that there is no place for relational evangelism. There are times when a person makes very clear that they do not want to talk about Christ and salvation. I have had this happen on a number of occasions. We’re always going to have use discernment in our evangelism and attempt to determine what exactly to say and how best to say it. I also am not making an explicit argument here for the kind of public “contact evangelism” model that some use (I’m actually not addressing it here). However, I think that many of us have reversed the biblical paradigm for evangelism, which is this: declare one’s faith, call others to this faith, and then allow them to observe your life in order to show that the gospel is transformative and powerful. The order many of us have adopted in the current day seems to be something like this: demonstrate a transformed life, get to know the person we’re seeking to evangelize, and then, at some late and very comfortable point, share the gospel. This order does make people feel comfortable, and it is less confrontational than the first paradigm, but I’m wondering if it does not reflect an overly culture-conscious Christianity and a fear of man.

As Christians, whether postmen or waitresses or moms or pastors, our duty is to honor God by sharing the gospel of salvation by faith in the atoning death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ. We seek to graft lost people into the story of the kingdom, to show people that there is a great reign and rule that they need to be a part of in order to be saved and to participate in everlasting worship of the coming King. All of us do this, and all of us should do this. We’ll do it in different ways and at different times and some of us will do it more than others, but if you are a Christian, this is what your life is about: knowing Jesus and making Him known. In the current day, I think that many of us have grown far too culturally aware of our status and perceived image. We don’t want to be identified with “fundamentalists,” we don’t want to be ostracized, and we just want to live in our little corner of things and not be bothered by others. But here’s the thing: the point of being a Christian is to get the gospel out there. We need to get the gospel out in front of people so that they can consider it, so that the Spirit can work, and then we need to demonstrate its power by living distinctively transformed lives.

I’m not saying that I’ll never use “relational evangelism.” To be honest, I’m sure that I will, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of fear. But with that said, it is my goal to work against the prevailing paradigm and to get the gospel out in front of people, in order that they can consider it and also observe the difference it makes in a person’s life. In God’s infinite wisdom, the gospel has the power to save immediately. Evangelism does not always bear such quick fruit, and we may well sometimes need to build a friendship over time with a particularly wary or hostile person, but we must remember that the gospel is powerful. It’s not your people skills that save people, it’s not your perfectly crafted relationships that save people, it’s not introducing exactly the right conversational topic at exactly the right time that saves people–it’s sharing the gospel, period. The Holy Spirit magically and miraculously uses the incredible simple device of verbal communication of a clear and concise message to save sinners from hell. So let’s do “relational evangelism”–yeah, let’s boldly and clearly declaim the privileges of being the children of God. That’s an evangelistic program that cannot be topped, a strategy that will never be supplanted.

  • Terry Delaney

    I agree that we have gone too far to the relational approach to evangelism. I have talked about this some on my diary and have come to the personal conviction that relational evangelism should be used primarily in the work place and/or with neighbors.

    I say the work place because I struggle with “evangelism on the clock.” I don’t know that we should use every free moment at work, while on the clock to evangelize. I do believe we can earn that right but should not assume that right.

    I say with our neighbors (I am talking about the people living in the house on the block or in the same apartment building) because it is very easy to offend someone when sharing the gospel. Many time people go above and beyond in their retaliation of being offended. I have known some that have had their tires slashed the next evening after having shared the gospel with someone down the street. They had never had any problems before that night.

    Relational evangelism has its place in our daily walk and fulfillment of the Great Commission. Unfortunately, I believe it has become the only way for too many.

  • Benji W.

    Owen,

    Good thoughts. I offer two mantras my teacher used in our “personal evangelism” class that have been quite helpful to me.

    1) All evangelism is confrontational.
    2) All evangelism is intentional.

    1) means that if we ever think or act like we can bring someone into the Kingdom without any form of gospel-confrontation, we err in fear or ignorance. Ultimately, the gospel message is itself confrontational and accusatory. We must balance this confrontation wisely, but we shouldn’t succumb to the lie that we can ever share the gospel relationally without any measure of “confrontation.”

    2) means that if we say we desire to tell the good news, we must be proactive in considering situations / people / opportunities and the like. So, the extreme forms of relational evangelism are unhelpful models because they often lack the intentionality necessary to share the message faithfully and consistently.

    Hopefully these ideas (which are not my own) will help us share the gospel in the midst of relationships, while avoiding some of the common pitfalls.

  • HS

    Owen,

    I found your blog via Matt Wireman’s blog. I would like to take you up on the offer to link to your blog and have you link to my blog. My address is

    http://www.theocentricview.blogspot.com


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