Evangelicals talk a lot about loving their neighbors and doing good to others. Pastors and parachurch leaders encourage Evangelicals to befriend their neighbors, workmates, and anyone and everyone they come in contact with. Sounds like a good idea, right? I am all for kindness and compassion toward others. I am all for doing good and loving my fellow humans (and dogs, cats, possums, squirrels, and raccoons). We only get one trip through this thing we call life, so why not be a good person, help others, and make the world a better place to live? The problem when it comes to Evangelicals doing these things is that they almost always have an agenda. Lurking behind practically every act of kindness lies an ulterior motive. That’s not to say that non-Evangelicals, including atheists and agnostics, don’t do the same, but Evangelicals have turned subterfuge into an art form.
Every year, thousands of American Evangelical churches have what is called Friendship Day (or Friend’s Day). Held on a Sunday, Friendship Day is an evangelistic effort meant to inspire Evangelicals to befriend their neighbors and invite them to church. The goal is not to meet new friends, but to evangelize people who have been labeled as “lost.” Congregants are encouraged to scope out their neighborhoods and workplaces, looking for people who need to be born again. Once targeted, church members are asked to invite these sinners to the Friendship Day service. Unwary “lost” people will be told that the church is having a special day just for them, complete with food and entertainment. What they won’t be told is that while they are there, the pastor of that church will preach AT them about their need for salvation. You see, the offer of friendship isn’t genuine. Evangelicals, according to their interpretation of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Bible, believe they are commanded by God to distance themselves from the “world.” James 4:4 says:
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
Befriending the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world for friendship’s sake is a sin. Christians are commanded to not be yoked together with unbelievers.
Evangelistic endeavors such as Friendship Day have one goal in mind: evangelizing non-Evangelicals. And once someone is successfully won to Christ, the next step is to incorporate them into the Borg collective, also known as the church membership; and once made part of church, they will be taught that the God who saved them expects them to attend church on Sundays, daily read the Bible and pray, and donate a portion of their income to “the church that loved them enough to tell them about J-E-S-U-S.”
You see, the goal was never for Evangelicals to be friends with non-Christians. In their minds, Jesus and his gospel are so important that it is okay to act deceitfully towards their neighbors. If, through outreaches such as Friendship Day, souls are saved, what’s a little deception among friends, right? The end justifies the means.
When Christians fail to show up, those around us remain unreached. Complacency is a sickness that keeps us from loving our neighbors. In fact, we misrepresent the gospel when we fail to bring it to our unbelieving neighbors. This proves our lack of love for them, our lack of gratitude for our own salvation, our underestimation of its primacy in our lives, and our rejection of God’s call to go.
But Christ’s love is the antidote to complacency, and it compels us to go to the lost. Jesus spent his life among the needy, and that’s where he sends us (John 17:18). We shine his light in the darkness. We speak up where the truth is silenced. We welcome when the world abandons.
We think strategically about how we can live out our mission to make disciples of the nations (Matt. 28:19). The global refugee crisis has, in many cities in both the United States and across the world, brought the nations to our neighborhoods. They’re coming to us. We have an unprecedented opportunity to show up.
My local church, Imago Dei Raleigh, cares for refugees who live in an apartment complex in our city. We seek to build friendships as these families transition to life in Raleigh. Recently we facilitated a vacation Bible school inside the complex. The gospel was shared with the children and their parents through Arabic and Burmese translators. My boys played soccer with new friends who speak multiple languages and have multiple skin tones.
I also met a Syrian woman with her four children. She lives in isolation, because she speaks little English. One tangible way I can love her is to help her practice conversational English. We exchanged phone numbers so that we can make plans to visit together. I’m committing to show up—not to exegete Romans, but to love her by helping her to learn English. Hopefully, as we become friends, I’ll have the opportunity to share Christ with her.
God orchestrates the placement of his people for his purposes. Our presence in our neighbors’ lives creates space for us to share the gospel. Engage your relational networks with gospel intentionality. Who’s better equipped to reach your neighbor than you are?
We’re not bound by one playbook for how to reach our neighbors. Be creative! For example, my friend hosts a neighborhood book club. Ladies come to her house to spend time with their friends as they discuss the latest bestseller.
Over time, as they get to know each other better, the group begins to see the genuineness of my friend’s affection for them and her love for God. They see gospel fruit displayed in and through her life. Planting a church presents opportunities to think creatively about reaching the lost. It forces us to ask questions that push us to create new spaces for people to encounter Christ.
We don’t show up to invest in the lives of others because we’re “do-gooders” or “super Christians.” We invest in people for their good and God’s glory. As churches are planted across the globe, God’s kingdom advances, and God’s fame is magnified.
Britton succinctly illustrates what I call agenda-driven evangelism. She makes it clear that the motive for Evangelicals engaging non-Christians is not to be “do-gooders,” but to give them what they need — Jesus. Never mind what non-Christians might really need physically, emotionally, financially, or socially. These things are but red meat waved in front of hungry lions; distractions meant to soften unbelievers up for evangelization. The agenda, as Britton makes clear, is to evangelize the lost.
Over the past decade, I have had numerous Evangelical pastors, evangelists, college presidents, and Holy Spirit-led laypeople attempt to befriend me. (Two people just today.) They have offered me breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and/or beer (but no sex). Some of them have even sent me generous donations through PayPal. In every instance, these friendly Evangelicals had an agenda: to win me back to Jesus. They weren’t interested in me as a person. All these evangelizers saw was a man in need of saving; and if they could win the former Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist Bruce Gerencser back to Jesus, why, they could then put another notch on the wooden grip of their gospel revolver. These deceivers never wanted to be friends with me. Their goal was evangelization, not friendship. One preacher swore up and down that he just wanted to be friends with me. After repeatedly saying his motives were pure, I said, fine. Let’s meet for dinner at the strip club in Fort Wayne. Just two guys out on the town, right? Of course, he declined my invitation. I suspect he knew that semi-nude women dancing near us might negate his attempt to evangelize me. Jesus can’t compete with naked women. 🙂
I have no problem befriending Christians, even Evangelicals. I have plenty of things in common with Evangelicals: family, grandchildren, sports, good food, to name a few. If a prospective Evangelical friend is willing to not speak of Jesus/Christianity unless I ask them to do so — and I will do the same with my atheistic beliefs — then we can be friends. I want to be left alone. I know almost all there is to know about Jesus/Christianity/the Bible. I am a godless heathen by choice. I have weighed Christianity in the balance and found it wanting. If an Evangelical is willing to let me go to Hell in peace, then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends. Unfortunately, Evangelical zealots have a pathological need to talk about Jesus; to share the “good” news; to evangelize anyone and everyone deemed unsaved. This need to proselytize keeps Evangelicals from being friends with people just for friendship’s sake.
I want friends who love and accept me as I am. I want friends who can revel in the things we have in common and ignore the things we don’t. I want friends who see me as a good person; as a man who loves his family, neighbors, and friends. That’s why Evangelicals can’t really be friends with me “as I am.” The Bible tells them that I am broken; an enemy of God; a man whose father is Satan. Ponder all the atrocious things the Bible says about non-Christians. Why would I want to be friends with someone who thinks I am fundamentally a bad person; a man whose behavior warrants eternal punishment in Hell? No thanks.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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