Sharing the gospel is kind of like following a diet—the best long-term results come from sustainable lifestyle changes, rather than bursts of intense effort. And the Gospel is best transmitted through relationship. That’s how Jesus did it—he communicated the Gospel to his friends and followers by intentionally sharing his everyday life with them. We are part of God’s kingdom today because of the friendships Jesus made.
In our individualized culture, it’s easy to spend our lives in self-constructed silos that separate us from all but a few friends and family. But we don’t have to live that way. God is already at work in every single person around us. We can join in with what he’s doing, and turn against the cultural current to create lives that look a whole lot more like Jesus: filled with intentional, authentic, deep friendships oriented around God’s love and kingdom. The trick, as always, is translating what Jesus did into our context. Here are a few tips:
Always include people.
Instead of solo entertainment—tv shows, computer games, browsing the internet—invite others to join you. Create a list of 8-12 people you can invite to do the normal kinds of things you already do, such as—
- Play golf
- Watch sports
- Go to a movie
- Go to the park
- Work on your car
Get to know the people in your neighborhood.
Though most Americans don’t know their neighbors these days, it makes a lot of sense to get to know yours. Your opportunities for relationship with them are built-in. Just lean over your fence, go out to your mailbox, or walk down the hall in your building.
And making the effort to know your neighbors is a way to serve your neighborhood (or country road or apartment building or wherever you live) by building a safer, friendlier community for everyone. Who doesn’t want that? Here are a few tips:
- You likely share many common activities and desires with your neighbors. Invite them to do these things with you:
- Creating a safe, healthy neighborhood
- Yard work, car maintenance, lawns, etc.
- Entertainment—many of you probably watch similar things on tv at similar times of day.
- Food—you probably need to eat at similar times as your neighbors do.
- Go outside: people are wary of going into a stranger’s house for the first time. So give your neighbors a chance to see and get to know you outside. If you’re going to eat, and it’s nice weather, eat on the porch. If you invite your neighbors over, invite them to a backyard barbecue first. Eventually they may feel ok coming to your home, but meeting outside gives them a safe space to get to know you first.
Be a real friend.
Real friendship is an investment. So, practice hospitality—invite people over for dinner. Notice their needs. When they are sick, bring over soup. When they want someone to talk to, listen.
Real friends are also a two-way street. You can’t stay aloof in a real friendship. You have to let the other person care for you, too. So practice reverse-hospitality—get invited over for dinner. If you are sick, let them bring you soup. If you need someone to talk to, tell them what’s on your mind.
Take the conversation deeper.
Make a habit of taking your conversations below the surface. Instead of just asking “what’s new?” try “what have you been thinking about lately?”, which takes the “what’s new” conversation a layer deeper. Or try, “What are you learning/what are you learning about yourself from…[fill in the blank].” Anything can go in that blank, from hobbies to parenthood to a career change to caring for an aging parent.
On the flip side, when someone asks you what’s new or how you’re doing, offer something a level deeper—like a question you are pondering, or something you’re hoping for. Something you’re learning. Sharing our thoughts might take some practice for some of us strong silent types, but the more we lead the way into deeper conversational waters, the more we make it safe for others to follow us.
Really, this post could have been called “Learn How to Have More Friends.” A life oriented for evangelism the way Jesus’ was is also a life oriented for friendship. Incidentally, it’s the kind of life that everyone longs for—to be connected in love to God, and through him to the people around us. That kind of life is what God’s kingdom is all about.
If you’re interested in diving more into this idea, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon write about it in The Art of Neighboring, and you can find resources and ideas for connecting with your neighbors here.