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Building Authentic Relationships

April 2, 2015

Fire Fighter - RescueLast year a private ambulance service set up shop in our community. As part of starting their business they went through meetings with local officials, complied with state and federal regulations, invested a lot of money, purchased advertising to let people know about the new service but has shown no interest in developing a relationship with me. Not once since the time the company started have I met one of the ambulance workers and had him tell me how much he cares about me as a person. Not once have the drivers and mechanics shown up on my doorstep to get to know or invited me over for coffee to convince me they are deeply interested in me as an individual. I don’t care. I do not expect the EMS worker, fireman or policeman to first show he cares for me as a person before he begins to give aid in life and death situations.

Evangelistic methods tend to follow faddish cycles. From lifestyle evangelism to Evangelism Explosion to door-to-door to The Way of the Master, a school of thought pops onto the scene and becomes for a little while the most Biblical or most effective way to witness. One popular method of evangelism is often called “relational evangelism.” Definitions differ, but a popular kind of relational evangelism encourages people to get to know their neighbors, spend time hanging out with co-workers, have coffee together and build a friendship before giving the gospel.

Developing intentional relationships to open up more opportunities to give the gospel is not a bad thing. Striving to engage those in the neighborhood with the gospel is very good. Seeking opportunity to do good to the lost is good. However, the gospel is not something that needs to be set up by a careful series of coffee encounters or insightful advice about rebuilding an engine. The gospel does not need to be preceded by a lengthy relationship building. The gospel is a life saving conversation that stands on its own merit.

The church has allowed the world’s feeling of being loved to define what is really loving. This makes as much sense as allowing Hellen Keller’s appreciation of music to be the standard for beautiful music. Phrases like, “People don’t care how much you know until they know ho much you care” sound good, but they don’t respond to reality. Evangelism has become perceived as walking down the road of life with others nearby and convincing them to join us on the right path. As a result, we feel the need to say things like “build authentic relationships” or “if people think you are just trying to convert them, they are going to see right through you.” Evangelism is not trying to convince someone to join you on the journey of life. Evangelism is a rescue mission, dragging people from the very gates of hell. Evangelism is a warning sign, demanding men turn from destruction.

Does the fireman dragging a victim from a burning building need to show some extra level of love before the sufferer will let him rescue her? Does the man collapsed in front of a subway train need to know he is important to the rescuer before he will allow himself to be carried off the rails? Do you ask the paramedic if he likes you as a person and knows your intrinsic worth before you allow him to do CPR? Of course not. Those on the verge of demise see the efforts of a rescuer as a sufficient expression of love and compassion. The lost are on the verge of death, a breath away from eternal destruction. Efforts to drag them from the impending inferno are the ultimate expression of compassion even if they don’t recognize it as such.

Don’t let the blind confusion of the unsaved dictate what you can and cannot do in witnessing. Let reality dictate your witness. Those who are rescued will thank you. We must evangelize. We must evangelize as often as we can make opportunity. Evangelism must not be delayed until the unsaved have seen the power of answered prayer or felt the freedom to share a deep personal pain. The kinder, gentler evangelism that seeks to emphasize the importance of the relationship and the value of the person is not all wrong but it needs to be tempered with Biblical urgency. Death and eternal destruction are real. People are not just making bad choices that are going to have unpleasant consequences. Every person is dangling over the mouth of hell and someone needs to strap on a safety harness, leap out of the helicopter and drag him to safety.

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