As a young believer, I learned from older believers that we were supposed to evangelize lost people—but do so from a distance so you’re not stained by the relationship. I understand that thinking, especially when we’re not yet spiritually mature enough to fight temptations that might come with those relationships. Godly wisdom is always in order.
On the other hand, I’m convinced we miss a lot if we never have genuine relationships with non-believers. Here’s what I’m learning these days as the Lord deepens my burden for lost people:
- Lost people know when we’re treating them as “projects” over against just loving them as people created in God’s image. They’re generally not naïve. If they know they’re only another “notch in our spiritual belt,” they’ll have little interest in our message.
- These relationships remind me just how deeply caught in the bubble of Christianity I have been. My world is sometimes quite narrowly focused on believers, and I’m caught in an unhealthy cocoon. So much have I tried to correct this problem that I wrote an upcoming Church Answers free e-book entitled, Lord, I’m Caught in the Bubble.
- These friendships help me to realize the questions non-believers have. I’ve assumed their questions—and I’m learning I often assume wrongly. Sometimes I’ve been answering questions they’re not asking; at other times, I’ve been forced to study and seek answers to questions that surprised me.
- I’ve come face-to-face with non-believing doubts about the genuineness of the church. I’ve read about those questions, but that’s different than talking with someone who genuinely thinks the church is hypocritical and judgmental. Those concerns, I’ve learned, are often overstated, but they’re nevertheless real. Defensiveness on my part has seldom been the best answer.
- These friendships have forced me to my knees much more than most relationships with believers. The Lord is increasingly breaking my heart over lost friends. I’ve spent more time in prayer and fasting on their behalf in the past few years than I did in many years prior.
- They’ve also pushed me to rely on the Holy Spirit in the context of a friendship. I’m realizing how sensitive I must be in determining when to listen, when to speak, what to say, how to read eyes and hearts, when to push and when to back off. I mess it up when I just charge in without seeking the Spirit’s guidance.
- I’ve learned much about myself in these relationships. They’ve tested my willingness to be uncomfortable around people who think, talk, and act differently than I do. They’ve forced me to ask, “If I really believe what I say I believe about lostness and salvation, won’t that change the way I live?” They’ve pushed me to consider how much I am really willing to give up—including my life—for the sake of others who need Christ.
- Frankly, I’ve realized that some non-believers are more fun to hang around than some believers are. At least in my experience, many lost people have no pretense about them. They’re honest about their questions and doubts. And, they respect and care for someone who seriously seeks to connect with them, love them, live real faith in front of them, and try to point them to Jesus. I want them to see there’s joy in following Him.
What are your thoughts about building real friendships with non-believers?
–Chuck Lawless is Dean of Doctoral Studies and Vice-President of Spiritual Formation and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions.
This article originally appeared at ChuckLawless.com