It’s like being a missionary – only you don’t have to learn another language.
You spend all of your waking hours thinking about how to get people over the line.
You rarely have real conversations with people, because what you are really interested in getting them to cross the threshold.
I had a friendship very similar to the one Tony talks about in this chapter. I was, like Tony, in my early 20’s, and I was sold out, on fire, fired up, committed to the core and a whole bunch of other things. I was working on a construction site as a painter and I struck up a friendship with a guy who’s family was from a different country.
It was a great friendship. We talked daily and ate many meals together. He was technically of another religion but in reality he was of no religion. He participated in his family’s rituals and observances but it was more cultural than anything. He didn’t believe. That is not me putting that on him – he would say that often and loudly.
Then something happened. Through our talks and the gentle prodding of god’s holy spirit my friend’s heart changed. He came to believe. I had the honor of praying him in (as we called) and he stated a new life with god. It was very exciting.
Please understand. I am not being the least bit sarcastic. It was very exciting. It is still very exciting. When I get to pray with someone to start a new relationship with god, I am pumped. When someone turns from their old ways, I rejoice. When someone pledges to be in community and begin living a new way, I am thrilled to the core of my being.
Admittedly two things are different now than when I was in my early 20’s:
- I learned that having the agenda to get people over the line is not true friendship.
I know that evangelists will say that it is the highest form of friendship. But the truth is that it feels more multi-level marketing or a pyramid scheme than it does a true friendship. You are not there to soak in somebody’s presence or to experience their full participation in your life and story. You are up to something.
- I learned that there may not even be a threshold or line.
Over the years of getting people to “pray to receive christ” I have watched dozens and dozens of people who prayed to be ‘in’ have trouble getting out of their old life and ways. I have watched people who had not prayed the prayer yet clearly in a new relationship with god.
I grew suspicious that maybe there is no line per se. Or that it isn’t as clear a demarkation as I was led to believe.
I found it interesting last week that one of my mentors in evangelism emailed me a post from Scot McKnight where Scot is wrestling with “threshold evangelism” [here is a link to that article]
Here is where it became real for me: in that friendship that I mentioned earlier, we hit speedbump. Once he was in our friendship changed. Some of it was very good. But there came a day when he was telling my about the political and religious conflict in his home country and I, in my youthful naiveté, insisted that it had nothing to do with the true and living god.
I had over extended myself. I got exposed as a zelous young man who had read a lot of Josh McDowell and Ravi Zacharias books but who had a shallow understanding of the world and was interested really in only one thing: getting people to pray a prayer.
I was not there for my friend. I was not fully entering into his story and walking with him in his deep heart. I had an agenda … and it got exposed.
I would be interested in your thoughts about true friendship and agendas – evangelistic or otherwise.