Evangelism: approaching relationships with, or without, an agenda?

The relationship just isn't the same when it's all about the sale.
The relationship just isn’t the same when it’s all about the sale.

This is a reflection I originally posted on my family’s Sabbatical Year site. I’m posting a modified version here because I think it applies generally to conversations about relationships and evangelism. [To those who are on both mailing lists — sorry for the duplication. It will be rare.]

My family came to Spain seven weeks ago. We’ve met more new people in the past seven weeks than we had met in the past several years. I’m sure that’s usually true for anyone who moves to a new place. And the people have been wonderful. Kind, quick to welcome, quick to offer help.

We’ve already been semi-welcomed into what appears to be a fairly closed and tight-knit group of families in our neighborhood. They’ve invited us to one of their cookouts in a few weeks and have already told us to plan on being with them for their El día de Reyes celebration (that’s Three Kings day on January 6 — bigger than Christmas here).

On not having an agenda

When it comes to sharing faith and meeting people, there’s a lot of talk in church and missionary circles about not having an agenda. You don’t develop a relationship just so you can get someone to come to your church or get them to make a profession of faith. That’s not “relational evangelism.” It’s relational manipulation to achieve a result. It’s phony, and it devalues the person. The door-to-door salesperson is just off-putting when he acts like he wants to become my friend then tries to sell me a magazine.

[To be sure, I’m not totally knocking things like door-to-door evangelism here. Just don’t pretend like you’re interested in developing a relationship if your real interest is achieving an outcome. See “How to become an evangelist” for more.]

From our early experience in Spain, I can honestly say that we don’t have that kind of agenda with people. If we never expected to share about our faith with the people we met, and if we never expected any of them to follow Christ, we would still be forming the relationships that we are.

We would do that selfishly — because these are great, kind, hospitable people who have been a joy to meet. And they have been a blessing to us when we’ve needed help, while we may not yet have done more than provide some comedy for them.

We would do that altruistically, too, I hope — because these are people created in the image of God and loved by God. And so even if they weren’t great and kind and hospitable, I hope that we’d still be showing an interest in them and trying to develop relationships with them.

Our number one agenda is to meet and know and enjoy and bless the people God puts in our path during our short stay here. No relationship hinges on anything more than that.

On having an agenda

And yet I’d be lying if I said there were no further agenda — perhaps hope would be the better word — in these relationships.

Nothing has changed and enriched my life more than knowing God’s love, following Christ, and receiving the Holy Spirit. Neither marriage nor kids nor accomplishments nor other relationships has been as important – great as those all have been.

And so if I’ve truly found such treasure in this faith — and if I believe that treasure is available to everyone — wouldn’t it be uncaring for me to say that I don’t care if others ever receive it?

Moreover, I believe a final judgment awaits, and then a new heaven and a new earth. I don’t presume to know exactly who’s “in,” or who’s “out.” I think those things are a part of the judgment we’re to leave to Christ. But this I know: we can have assurance of God’s love and our redemption through Christ. Would it be anything less than cruel not to offer these to people?

So in that respect, we do have an agenda for those we meet. We want them to know Christ.

Would we be developing and nurturing these new relationships if we didn’t have that agenda? Absolutely! But we certainly hope and pray that the latter comes, too.

People in missions have called Spain a “missionary graveyard.” People have come with huge aspirations, then felt like failures when they had few, if any, conversions to report. In several parts of the globe, they measure numbers of people coming to Christ and numbers of new church plants by the week, the day, or even the hour. In Spain, these are more commonly measured in years and decades. This is why we’ve said before that they call Spain a “hard-soil” area. That’s actually one of the reasons we wanted to be here, though.

Could a revival break out in Spain? We certainly hope and pray so. And if there’s a part for us to play in that, we want to play it. But we’re not concerned to measure our “success” by any of these numbers. We have nothing to prove.

So we hope to share our faith and an invitation into the Church with many people here. We’ll do that out of a sense of gratitude, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of concern. The rest we’ll leave to God. And regardless of the rest, we’ll enjoy and hope to bless these beautiful people.

And a final note — This is no different in Spain than it should have been for us in the U. S. You may have had some of the same feelings wherever you are. These reflections are just highlighted because of all the new relationships we’re developing and the fact that we’re helping to start a new church here. I hope our attitude toward these things will always be the same: developing relationships out of our own desire to know and enjoy and bless people, but also sharing our faith out of a sincere hope that people might know our Lord and Savior.

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