Don’t KNOW Nobody?? Can’t REACH Nobody!
Excuse the bad English in the title, but I’m making a point. Distance is dead in evangelism. If you are going to make an impact on people you must have contact with people. It is arguably the weakest feature of Adventist evangelism. We have often isolated ourselves to the point of irrelevance.
There is no Impact without Contact
I just left a powerful Ministers Conference at Hampton University in Virginia. Over 9000 ministers were in attendance from various Christian denominations. For years I have attended this conference and others for the amazing preaching, insightful workshops, and fellowship. Yes, the fellowship. I have developed valued personal and professional relationships with ministers of other denominations as we worship and study together.
This year the new African American hymnal by GIA publications was introduced at Hampton. The previous hymnal was a classic. It’s an ecumenical/non-denominational hymnal that pays particular attention to contributions by people of color. It will be enjoyed by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Christians across the globe. Dr. Jason Ferdinand was on the organizing committee that selected the hymns, and many Adventist classics are included.
From the host of religious communities involved, 3 religious leaders were asked to pray at the special service introducing the hymnal. I was one of the 3 religious leaders. I was asked, not necessarily because of my position or perceived talent. But I was asked because of a confidence and comfort forged through relationships.
I listened with pride as Jason led the group in the Adventist standard, “Watch Ye Saints.” His relationships gave him a platform to remind the crowd of our passion for the second advent- “Lo He Comes!” It was a musical testimony to the power and importance of relationships.
When Your Friends All Look Like You
When we prepare local churches for public evangelism, we always include a request for the members to identify and invite their non-Christian friends to the meeting. Like Jesus, that lost sheep is our priority. Inevitably we discover that the saints have a problem. They don’t have many friends that fit that category.
Now for new Christians, it’s good counsel to be extremely careful about your exposure. It’s safe. And each of us needs to know our limits and then ere on the side of caution. But if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, it’s time to grow up! How can you be salt if you don’t mingle? How can you be the light of the world if you’re avoiding the world?
Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. ..As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” John 17:15-18
Paul put it this way, “When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too……Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. I Corinthians 9:21-22 LB
We have to forge relationships with Christians and non-Christians that disagree with us on scripture and points of doctrine. Now the depth of the relationships will vary based on our maturity and other variables, but effective evangelism won’t happen without it.
To those who are concerned that their faith might be challenged or compromised by exposure to other beliefs, perhaps you’re right. Continue to develop and ask God for openings. For those who are convinced that they may be “contaminated” by exposure to other believers because they are obviously sinners who “know better.” Please don’t go! Your attitude will kill your opportunity.
But this is how I feel. If I don’t have a faith that can stand a challenge, then I don’t have a faith at all. I have had opportunities to explain my beliefs to religious leaders because we were friends in discussion, not enemies in debate. We need to put a premium on developing relationships that God can use to build his kingdom.
So, what do you think? Do you have many friends outside of your faith tradition? Why or why not? What are the dangers? How can you protect yourself?