The following is an extract from Roland Muller’s book The Messenger, The Message and The Community: Three Critical Issues for the Cross Cultural Church Planter 3rd Edition 2016, Lightning Source UK, Milton Keynes.
We hope that you enjoy this helpful comparison between friendship based and teacher based evangelism.
Follow the link to buy the book and read more.
In analysing the various successful evangelists, one of the first common denominators I noticed was that none of them majored in using the “friendship evangelism” approach that is commonly practiced by many of today’s evangelists and church planters. While none of these evangelists was opposed to making friends or building friendships with those they were trying to reach, most of them mentioned that they did not see friendship evangelism as a missiological strategy that should be exclusively followed. In fact, there were those who were
quite adamant that friendship evangelism was woefully lacking as a missiological strategy. They felt that too much emphasis was put on this approach when other approaches might work better.
Whenever 1 bring up the concept of friendship evangelism with my church planting colleagues, I have discovered that each person has a slightly different view of what is meant by this term. In pursuing this further, I have also discovered that few missionaries have thought through the biblical basis of this approach, and most seem surprised that I would even question its validity. What surprises me more, however, is that so many of these same people seem to agree that friendship evangelism is the correct and accepted method for reaching
Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others. What Western missionaries often miss, as it pertains to these cultures, is that friendship is a lifelong commitment, not simply a missiological strategy.
At this point, I must admit that my own thinking has also been challenged over the years. When I set out on my missionary career I was well aware that the traditional methods of evangelism, like door-to-door outreach or tent meetings, had proven very offensive in Muslim countries, and so I, too, had friendship evangelism as the only viable alternative.
I first became aware of the concept of friendship evangelism in the 1970s when a veteran missionary couple spoke in glowing terms about “Gossiping the Gospel” As a young man, I had been involved in door-to-door evangelism, intriguing coffeehouse evangelism and crusade evangelism in Ireland. Now that I was entering ministry in the Middle East, I was interested in learning what would
work in a Muslim setting. When I arrived in the Middle East and started my language study, I began to look around for experienced workers who could tell me “how to do it.” It soon became evident that there was a woeful lack of converts from Islam. Few workers had won any Muslims to Christ, so we new missionaries had few role models to follow.
Once I had acquired some language skills, I began using the friendship evangelism approach that everyone was promoting. Perhaps we didn’t really understand what friendship evangelism was all about. Some of my fellow students and I had arrived at the conclusion that all we needed to do was to develop a close friendship with a couple of Muslims. Once a friendship was firmly established, we would then be able to share Christ with them. As with all evangelistic attempts there were some successes, but most of us never really got around to presenting Christ to our friends. After all, having spent so much time and energy developing the friendship, we were loath to destroy it
by saying something that might offend our friends. Only a few workers, with special gifs in evangelism, had any measure of success.
What concerns me is the large number of people around the world who still exclusively use this approach with little, if any, success. Several things may be happening. First, making close friends in cross-cultural situation is very difficult. In many cases, new workers discover that the target People who try and befriend them usually do so for a reason. A frustrated young missionary
poured his heart out to me one day. The young men who had befriended him on the street and in the market place were always
looking for something from him. Within a couple of days they would be asking about any sisters he might have, looking for help to fill out applications for a visa and so on.
This young man had also discovered that when he did finally make friends, their concept of friendship was different from his. On the street below his apartment were a group that was open were a to him. They hung out together, wandered in the market, or just stood talking in the evening drank tea. They saw each other until late at night, every night. The young missionary just did not have that kind of time to maintain this kind of friendship. When he told them he had other commitments, they basically said, “Fine it’s us or them.”
This left him in a quandary. Should he drop his other commitments, even church-related activities, in order to spend all his time with four or five young men? What about making friends with others? Was his ministry to focus on this small group alone? So far there had been very few opportunities to share the Gospel with them. How long should he be a friend before he shared? What if they rejected his message and him? Was there another strategy he could use?
The concept of friendship evangelism is a strange contradiction for many cultures. as it focuses only on a few individuals and
is not broad based. Somewhere at the root of friendship evangelism is the desire and pressure for the missionary to be successful in ministry. But how do you report successful friendships? Eventually you must wake up and realize that friendship- based evangelism isn’t primarily aimed at making friends, converts is the true aim.
During my years of ministry as a church planter, I have had many opportunities to observe, and to use friendship evangelism. I’ve seen well meaning missionaries give their lives to a few close friends. They’ve taken years to build friendships within these families. When they write their prayer letters, they describe the friends they are making, the family events they attend, and the individuals they are closest to, But many of these workers have told of how terribly difficult it is to share the Gospel with their friends. Having built a good friendship, it’s as though they feel that they’ve used these people, and if they share the Gospel, they reason for their friendship will become clear.
These are the good situations. In some of the poorer ones, the workers, having discovered the difficulties, have resigned themselves to the fact that their lives will have to reveal the Gospel as they are never going to get around depend on friendship to having a b0 in with something that is neither friendship nor evangelism. Some of their contacts get friendship, some get evangelism, but many get neither!
As I observed this phenomenon, I have wondered why we have so quickly embraced friendship evangelism as a good missiological strategy? No one I know is pointing to any wildly successful “friendship evangelists”, although there certainly are those who have led some to Christ using it.
In thinking this through, the conclusion I have reached is that friendship evangelism actually offers several attractions to the expatriate Christian. First, it is a comfortable, secure kind of ministry. We often spend a lot of energy, time, and money on being comfortable. We want a home that is pleasant to live in. We need a place where we can get away from the hustle and bustle of life around us and unwind. We want comfortable places to relax in, some familiar books and videos to tickle our fancy, and some familiar foods in the refrigerator. So while the culture around us is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, our homes become an important refuge to us. Likewise, since friendship evangelism is the most non-threatening form of evangelism, it nicely fits into the kind of comfort and security we want to enjoy.
Friendship evangelism is also a readily available option. Door-to-door work, street meetings, crusades and the like are very difficult, if not totally impossible in many cross-cultural settings. Only a specialized few can get involved in producing videos or literature, so for most of us wanting to witness, friendship evangelism is often the only understandable option we know of. In addition, it fits our active lifestyles. After all, evangelism must somehow fit between the kids’ schooling their after-school activities, team meetings, shopping, and any expatriate gatherings that we attend. We may find that two or three friendships are all we can comfortably handle while still
giving our supporters the impression that We are actually doing something of spiritual value.
Many find that friendship evangelism fits with the modern concept of tentmaking. In most closed countries, tentmakers shy away from projecting themselves as trained religious workers in order to maintain a secular identity
in the community. Friendship evangelism then becomes the desired strategy for reaching people both on and off the job.
Since few tentmakers ever reach a high level fluency in the language, we often find that we function best as we chat with people on a friendship basis. Thus, friendship evangelism often fits our level of language ability as well.
Now, I’m being very hard on everyone, including myself. Nevertheless I found that the successful evangelists had a totally different approach to life While they made friends with their neighbors and colleagues at work, these friendships were true friendships. If their friends ask them about their religion and their beliefs, they were happy to share with them. Often conversations
about faith flowed out of a mutual closeness and concern in their relationship. But these evangelists never made friends with the intention that evangelization was the goal of that friendship. Their friendships were true friendships, open and clear of any ulterior motives.
In almost every case, these successful evangelists did not use friendship as a missionary strategy. They all used something I will call “teacher-based evangelism.” Most of these successful evangelists never put a label on what they were doing, but after observing all of their ministries, I felt this term best describes their approach.
First, let me state that in every case, the successful evangelists had the reputation of being spiritual people – men and women of God. They knew the Scriptures and they knew how to communicate them in a way that can only summed up as teaching. In my own life
I discovered that people who did not know me well would often engage me in religious conversations in order to convert me to Islam. To my frustration, they assumed that I was a secular Westerner and they therefore set out to inform me of a better way of life.
Most of us start out on our missionary careers feeling that we are the ones. Our schoolmates, out fellow churchmen, and often our families
have lifted us up to great spiritual heights. To them we are sacrificing both our futures and our security to travel to far-off parts for the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, we sometimes believe their platitudes, arriving in the country of calling, feeling that we have sacrificed a great deal, and thus are wonderful spiritual beings.
Hopefully, arrival on the field shocks us out of our self-deception. As we struggle with strange languages, cultures. and loneliness, our real self comes out. In dealing with newly arrived workers on the field, I have often termed their initial struggles as “self shock” rather than culture shock. Most western cultures have insulating activities that shield us from ourselves. We fill our lives with music, sport, or friends, and seldom spend time alone with ourselves. Once we arrive on the field, however, we are stripped of all the insulating factors. We come face to face with who we really are, and often we don’t like what we see. Added to this is the struggle with language and culture, and suddenly the newly arrived worker feels less and less spiritual, and more and more needy. As a result it is often much easier for the new worker to concentrate on friendship evangelism than it is to try to discover how to portray himself as a person of God, especially if he doesn’t feel very spiritual at the time.
The challenge is doubly hard as we struggle to maintain personal spiritual momentum and also
establish ourselves as a spiritual resource for people around us. Some of the more radical evangelists I surveyed, had in time, established
themselves as formal religious teachers. They adopted the forms and roles of culturally accepted teacher and ministered from this point of view. The less radical ones nevertheless moved every contact towards a place where they could
sit down with them, and teach them the Scriptures. Some had formal lesson plans, some had a general idea of where t they were going, and some used a day-by-day mentoring approach. But all played the role of a teacher, imparting spiritual knowledge and truths.
Another important point I observed was the awareness of agenda. The key to many sucessful evangelistic effortsis the development of the
evangelists agenda. I discovered the importance of this, years ago while doing door-to door evangelism in southern Ireland. When someone opened the door and asked, “Yes, what do you want?”, I needed to have a well- prepared answer. I knew where I wanted to end up. and could deal with unwanted questions, objections and distractions as they came along.
The situation in the Muslim world is quite different. In the early days evangelists arriving with their well-worked-out agendas quickly discovered that the Muslims already had their own agendas, No sooner would the evangelist get started on his agenda when the Muslim would make a comment, “Oh yes, your Scriptures have been changed, haven’t they?” or perhaps ” How could God have a son?” Many conflicts arose when these two agendas clashed. As a result, when the western Christians started talking about friendship evangelism, here were many sincere workers among Muslims who thought that this approach held great promise. If the missionary had no other agenda than making a friend, and in the process, slipped in some quiet discussion, then the clash would disappear. However, since the missionary had no agenda for presenting a clear picture of what salvation, and ultimately what the Christian faith is all about, he seldom got around to doing this. Most of the religious discussion still had centered around the Muslim agenda.
Now this is troubling. Since the missionary often feels that he is accomplishing little, any religious discussion is considered a success. Many of us share with each other about the “good conversations” we are having with any of our Muslim friends. However, on closer examination, I have often noted that these discussions had been on the Muslim, not the Christian, agenda. This also holds true for ministry to Hindus, Buddhists, and even secular humanists.
Satan is busy contriving lies and rumours to promote the agendas of others. Suddenly we can be dealing with Muhammad in the
Bible, or the alleged stories of astronauts in space hearing the Muslim call to prayer, or the sordid lives of television evangelists, and other things. Most missionaries have a real struggle switching from someone else’s agenda to presenting Christianity. Many of those I’ve talked with really have no other option other than “gossiping the Gospel.” They have never consciously thought through the best way to present the Gospel to their particular audience, be they Muslim, Buddhist, animist, secular humanists or whatever.
Perhaps they never expected to be given the opportunity. Perhaps they never had the opportunity because they were SO busy making friends or dealing with the other person’s agenda.
When studying the successful evangelists in the Middle East, I discovered that they all had their own agendas. Each one had, over time, worked out various ways to present the Gospel, When they met someone, their ultimate goal was to start on their Christian agenda. Along the way, they dealt with the other person’s agenda. If the Muslim objected about the Scriptures, they had an answer. That answer invariably ended with an invitation to look into the Christian faith. If the Muslim objected about the son-ship of Jesus, the evangelist had an answer thar again ended with an invitation to study Christian doctrine. Given the least opportunity, the evangelist took it, and began his own agenda of presenting a clear and understandable picture of Christianity. These evangelists had an advantage. The people to whom they were witnessing realized that they were sitting at the feet of a person of God, who could speak with authority, and communicate effectively. These people of God personifed teacher-based evangelism
Biblical Basis for Teacher-based Evangelism
Is teacher-based evangelism biblical? Can it be supported from the Word of God? Years ago I read A Practical Approach to Muslims by Jens Christensen and was challenged with the biblical support for openly proclaiming Christ.
Rather than doing detailed study of styles, a quick overview of evangelism in the Bibie will suffice. The words preach and teach are used in relation to Christ many times. Along with this, it is very good to notice the identity Jesus had among the community. Names like Rabbi and Good Teacher show his teaching lifestyle. He taught in the synagogues, the temple, boats, in the street, in the desert, on a mountain, cities, and in villages. As Jesus discipled His followers, especially the inner core of twelve, taught them to become fishers of men. His teaching included things like as you go, (Matthew 10:7,NIV); proclaim upon the house-tops (10:27, ASV); preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV)
The Bible tells us that after Jesus’ ascension into heaven the disciples” preached the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4, NIV). When Peter and John were taken before the Sanhedrin, the court “commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18, NIV). When the disciples were imprisoned, and an angel released them, the angel instructed them, *Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life!” (Acts 5:20,21 KJV) So the apostles entered the temple about daybreak and immediately
began teaching. Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, begins his letter by pointing out the differences between human wisdom and godly wisdom. The whole chapter is steped in wisdom about how to teach, not with clever answers and arguments, but rather, in brokenness and humility, the ” message of the Cross.”
Paul emphasizes that he was not sent to baptize but to preach (1 Corinthians 1:17). He points out that he knows “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” (1:18, NIV). However, “in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishnes of what was preached to save those who believe.” (1:23, niv)
The strength of the Christian argument is logic; the strength of the Muslim argument is ultimately submission to what he considers the will of God, whether it makes logical sense or not. Seldom is there a winner. Paul, however, points to something beyond human wisdom: the proclamation of truth, As the cross of Christ is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit can work in the the hearts of men and women and draw them to Himself. Paul highlights this in Romans 10:14 when he asks: “And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him?” If we spend all our time in human reasoning, we can be distracted from proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. It is not enough to only answer objections; We must move on to our agenda and proclaim Christ.
Teaching is the core of our work as evangelists. It may seem foolish to those who are listening, it may seem foolish to us, but it is the method chosen by God. The pattern laid down in the Scriptures is that God leads us in our proclamation. The Holy Spirit also takes the Word of God and speaks it into the hearts of those who are listening.
Another struggle is that many well-meaning Christians today have little or no idea of how to go about the business of actually proclaiming Christ so that a Muslim mind can comprehend it. We err either on the side of being too quiet, or being too forthright. Under colonialism some Western missionaries abused their privilege as teachers of the Gospel, and began to teach Western culture and lifestyle rather than simply presenting Christ crucified.
During my short lifetime, I have had the privilege of spending time with several successful Christian workers from various places around the world. While they worked in different languages, cultures and situations, there was one thing I noticed about them: they were all preachers and teachers. They were always ready and able to speak about Christ in a whole variety of settings: Sunday School classes
School classes, church services, after a meal, in a home, on a bus, or in an airplane.
My friend Harry Young was a good example this. Harry was always preaching. Everywhere he went he was raking
out his Bible to share from its pages. Indeed, all the older, successful evangelists I’ve known preach and teach. People knew them and recognized them as Christian teachers who could speak with authority.
We’ve lost much of that today. Perhaps we don’t want to appear to be forcing ourselves on anyone. In our timid attempts to be subtle in
our approach we can be completely misunderstood in a culture that is very up- -front.
When Harry visited us on the field, he shared with us his “toolbox. In his wallet he had some slips of paper. On the papers were his teaching outline and references. As he was getting older, his mind was getting slower and more forgetful, so he carried these outlines around in his pocket. And at the right opportunity, he pulled out an appropriate tool.
In 1980 my wife and I had the privilege of working with Harry in Birmingham, England. Harry’s ministry was among Muslims living there. He took us with him on his visits. At some point during his visit, he would take out his Bible and ask politely if he could share something from the Injil (Gospel). Then, to our amazement, he would stand up, open the Scriptures, and deliver a lesson. At first, we found ourselves astonished by his approach, but we soon realized that Harry was one of the few people we knew who was
successfully proclaiming the Gospel message to Muslims.
Other Styles of Evangelism
In talking with other missionaries, I discovered that many People considered Harry’s approach to be confrontational They felt that Harry, and others using this method , were deliberately looking for opportunities to confront Muslims, and argue with them. In speaking to Harry about this, I came to realize that he was aware of this danger. Like most teachers he struggled to keep a balance in his teaching style, but he chose to err on the side of confrontation rather than miss a chance to proclaim Christ.
There have always been those who simply proclaimed Christ to the Muslim masses, exactly as they would have preached to any crowd at home. They had little imagination, little empathy, and succeeded only in clashing with their Muslim audiences, While there is a place for confrontation, (such as organized debates), it is not the sole or even the best form of evangelism.
Lifestyle — Friendship — Teacher-based — Proclamation — Confrontation
Questions for Reflection or Discussion
1, What do you think is meant by the term *friendship evangelism”?
2. Have you had any success moving from a friendship to a relationship where you could freely talk about Christ? Describe what happened.
3. Do you have gifts in evangelism? Has it been quite easy to lead people to Christ?
4. Do you have teaching gifs? Have you ever used this gift to lead someone to Christ?
5. Do the people work among already have a spiritual agenda
for you? Do you they want to reach you with their religion? What are some of the things that are on their agenda?
6. How will you move from their agenda to yours?
7. How comfortable are you in a teaching/preaching situation? Do you need more experience in this area? What are some ways you can get this experience?
8. Can your team set up times when you practice teaching through a set of lessons with each other?