A: At the beginning, it's important to point out that often when people ask this question or raise this criticism against the evangelism methods that Fourth Year Ministries (and other, like-minded organizations) endorse and teach, there is an underlying belief that thinks we are against relationships. We are not against relationships. We are, however, for evangelism and much of what is taught and presented as "relationship evangelism" is not really "evangelism" at all! It is relationship. It is "life-on-life." But it's not evangelism.
Secondly, I must state clearly that I am not persuaded even a little by the amount of people who like relationship evangelism. To be swayed by the numbers of people who hold to a particular view or belief system is a mistake. I've heard commercials for products claiming, "50 million people can't be wrong!"
Yes. Yes, they can be.
Therefore, for our purposes we are not interested in the amount of people who hold to a particular view, but are instead only swayed by what we see in the Bible. God is our Master and King, and we are His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:6-21). We get our marching orders from Him, meaning the content and methodology we employ in His service ought to be taken from His revelation of what He expects. We are not interested in any man-made models - despite the supposed "fruit" that is found - because we are called to walk by faith, not by sight.
By sight, Stephen's message recorded in Acts 7:1-54 was a disaster. However, what everyone else missed, Stephen saw:
But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. (Acts 7:55-57, NASB)
As the blood-thirsty mob murdered him in a rage, Stephen saw His Lord and Savior standing (!!) from His throne to receive him!
Jesus was pleased with His servant's faithfulness, even though the crowd was not.
As we walk by faith, not by sight, we must ask ourselves the same question the Apostle Paul asked:
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
It is a product of our study of the Scriptures that we have come to the conclusion that the gospel message is clear (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Galatians 1:1-5; Romans 3:21-26), that our task is to preach the gospel in purity and faithfulness (1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:5) as stewards of God's truth (Jude 1:3; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 9:17), knowing that the gospel itself if the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18) and that no one can believe unless they hear, and they will not hear unless someone tells them (Romans 10:14-15)!
Since we hold these things to be true, our ministry and teaching would never be against relationship evangelism. On the contrary, we are very much for the Christian actually sharing the gospel with every single person with whom the Lord has given them a relationship! If you have a relationship with someone, by all means you should explicitly use that relationship to glorify God by opening your mouth and proclaiming to them the whole message of the good news you've been entrusted.
This, of course, is where the majority of disagreement is held. For whatever reason, many in the professing church have believed that something other than the faithful proclamation and explanation of the gospel is what God is now using to bring about salvation.
It is our opinion that such liberty with the Word of God is not ours to take. We are not editors of the message. We are heralds. It's not our message to change, and we cannot improve upon God's ordained methods!
Yet, most training materials, books, and conversations that I've had with others that recommend some form of "relationship evangelism" have really advocated for "relationship" without "evangelism" by inserting some other means or method for bringing someone to Christ without proclaiming the gospel.
My understanding of these models is that often well-meaning Christians have mistakenly believed that there is a better way to advance the kingdom of God and make disciples than what the prophets, apostles, and Jesus Himself advocated and practiced.
The reason people ask a question like the one above, is because we would never teach that "having relationships" with non-believers is itself "evangelism." Instead, we teach that Christians must employ the tools God has given us in actually proclaiming the entire counsel of God to those who are still in their sins if they would hope to come to repentance and saving faith in the Savior. We should do this out of love for neighbor and love for God, in response to His great love with which He loved us in Christ, in every relationship we have and also making the most of other opportunities as well!
The Scriptures indicate that the gospel is divisive (Luke 12:49-53), and telling our unsaved friends, family members and loved ones the truth that they are living in rebellion against God and His law, are currently under His wrath, that He commands them to repent and trust in Him alone for salvation, and confess that God would be right to send them to Hell forever and ever for their crimes against Him is going to cause some relationship problems. For those who remain unconverted, they will likely be offended because this news is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23; Galatians 5:11; 1 Peter 2:6-8). I believe it is out of a genuine desire to keep loved ones in their lives that well-meaning Christians cling to relationship "evangelism" strategies that are less likely to cause division and result in rejection.
Sometimes verses are brought forth to argue against the above paragraph which state the Christian is not to be offensive to the non-Christian. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:32 and 2 Corinthians 6:3 are used out of their context to say we should wait until a person is ready for the good news and receptive, but these passages do not mean that we should not preach the gospel -- instead, they are teaching that we should bend over backwards to make sure that nothing in our life is offensive to others since we don't want anything to distract from our ability to hold the gospel high! In your conduct and speech you should not be offensive, yet the message we bring is offensive to some (and the power of God to others). This is not contradictory, but complementary. For example, our compassion for people should lead to us expressing these hard truths with compassion and grace (being non-offensive in our delivery of offensive truth) instead of being hateful and prideful in our approach and pointing fingers or raising our voices (which is being offensive in our delivery of offensive truth).
See the difference?
Our major objections to "relationship evangelism" models that have no priority of proclaiming the gospel in faithfulness as quickly as possible into the relationship can be listed as follows.
First, we are not God, therefore we have no idea what the future holds. The sober reality is that our "plan" to share the gospel in three months (or even just tomorrow!) may never be possible for many different reasons. Can you guarantee that you will be alive tomorrow? Can you guarantee that anyone else will be alive tomorrow?
Some object to this, thinking it is morbid. But truly think for a moment: can you guarantee that you'll have the time you are banking on? Do accidents never happen? Do people always have ample notice that their death is near? While these types of scenarios may be rare in your experience, peoples lives are cut short all the time.
If you're not persuaded by this line of reasoning, and for whatever reason believe that you can guarantee that you and the people you know will live long lives beyond today, then take into account Jesus' own counsel:
And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30)
Can you guarantee that Jesus won't come back before you have the opportunity to share the truth with those you know who aren't in Christ and, therefore, are in horrible danger of the judgment of God?
Do you believe that what the Scriptures declare are true? If so, we cannot know when Christ will return, and therefore you cannot know if those you have relationship with will have an opportunity "tomorrow"! I urge you to really consider the truth of passages like Psalm 2:1-12; Nahum 1:1-9; Malachi 4:1; Hebrews 10:30-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12; 2 Peter 3:3-12; and Revelation 6:14-17 and consider the fate of your loved ones who have not repented and sought refuge in Jesus from the wrath that is to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). John 3:36 is clear.
Sometimes, I believe "relationship evangelism" strategies appeal to us because deep down we love ourselves more than we love others. Since we love ourselves, we are not willing to lose our relationships because we value what we get out of them. We may use language that deflects from this reality and says we are trying to protect others from harsh truth, but how can we say we love someone when we aren't willing to warn them of their terrible danger?
Many people whom I care about believe me to be a fool. Many people whom I care about have rejected me along with their rejection of Christ. Many people I care about hate my guts.
But I still love them.
And I care enough about them to tell them the truth, even if they hate me for it. If they must perish, their blood will not be on my hands (Ezekiel 3:16-21; 33:1-20). I want them to be saved more than I want them to like me.
And it really hurts that so many of my relationships have been broken.
But at the same time, the only thing I know for sure about the future is that the whole world is steadily marching toward the Day of Christ Jesus, where Jesus will justly judge the world in righteousness. I tremble at the fate of all those who are not redeemed and am compelled to speak the truth in love to all who will listen and even to those who will not.
Secondly, the claims of "relationship evangelism" are not accurate. Building a deeper relationship with someone does not make it easier to share the gospel with them, but it actually makes it harder. The reason for this is simple and two-fold. First, the deeper our relationship with someone the less we want to risk losing it. Secondly, we undermine the reality of what we are sharing by virtue of maintaining a relationship for so long without telling them sooner!
Consider this: If I am drinking poison, which will kill me, and I don't realize it and you see me doing it, I expect you would tell me. Like, right away. If you don't tell me, but instead begin a relationship with me where we talk about everything other than the poison I'm drinking ... by the time we get around to it, I will doubt your own conviction that what I was doing is dangerous simply by virtue of the fact that it took you so long to get to it! Do you not care that I was in terrible danger? Do you not care that I was perishing? Do you not care that the longer I endured in that state, the worse I was making things for myself?
Relationship evangelism does the very thing that it seeks to avoid, it causes stumbling by undermining its own message if and when the Christian finally gets around to faithfully sharing the truth!
Of course, experience can be pointed to of people "coming to Jesus" through "relationship evangelism" and this cannot be disputed. God has used and will use all sorts of disobedience in the lives of His people for the praise and glory of His name. However, we cannot use our experiences to dictate our practice and advocate disobedience to God simply because it has "worked" before!
We are open to being shown our error through the Scriptures, if we are in error. We are open to someone loving us enough to open their Bible and sit down with us to show us where we are mistaken in believing that the gospel doesn't need our help, it just needs our faithfulness. And if we won't be faithful, God will raise up another generation who will be. Sadly, most are not willing to offer a biblical case. Instead, the case for "relationship evangelism" (without boldly speaking the truth) is advocated through experience and "proof-texts" ripped from their context and abused. These examples are too numerous to list here.
In summary, our ministry teaches that Christians should employ their relationships for the glory of God by being faithful to preach the truth of the gospel in those relationships (Acts 17:26-27; Ephesians 5:15-16). If this is all most Christians ever did, then there would be far less need for street preaching and witnessing. However, simply because we've been faithful in our relationships doesn't mean that we can't seek new relationships, even by meeting strangers with the purpose of sharing the gospel with them. We've found that those who are converted through this type of ministry often form deep and lasting relationships with those who have led them to Christ as they enter the Body of Christ! In this way, the relationship begins around the gospel and will endure throughout eternity!
A final aspect of this question must at least be mentioned, and it relates to a difference in a theology of discipleship. Many "relationship evangelism" models build their model on the idea that Christ commanded His followers to "make disciples" and therefore, building relationships with non-believers is a valid form of "discipleship" through exposing the outsider to what it means to follow Jesus, even if the gospel is never fully proclaimed in one conversation or discussion. Instead, over time the gospel is lived out in the relationship under the banner of "discipleship."
We believe this is a mistake. The risen Lord's commandment was this:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
If we read the activity of Jesus and the disciples throughout the Gospel of Matthew, they were preaching repentance and faith in the Messiah. For those who wanted to repent and follow God, they were baptized as an initiation into the faith. Read carefully: Jesus says Go, Baptize, Teach. Go and preach. To those who respond, initiate them into the faith through baptism. Then, teach those who have been initiated to obey everything He has commanded (which includes "going" and "preaching repentance and faith").
To skip the gospel and skip the initiation, and jump right to the "teaching" aspect of making disciples is a serious leap! In fact, this is precisely the error that we believe Jesus told His disciples to avoid when He said:
"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6)
The gospel is the only thing that non-believers need. You can dress up a goat like a sheep and pretend that you are making disciples, but you are not. Only the transformative power of God can raise the spiritually dead to life and transfer them from darkness to light (Ephesians 2:1-10). We believe the Scriptures teach that God does this powerful and miraculous work through the faithful proclamation of the gospel by God's people.
Sadly, not everyone who makes a profession of faith will endure until the end, but will fall away when the road gets hard (e.g. Matthew 13:18-23). This won't win me any friends, but I must speak according to what I believe the Word teaches, and I view virtually every "relationship evangelism" model as an attempt to tickle the ears of "disciples of Christ" who are unwilling to face persecution for their faith.
Don't want to find out if you're one of the seed that was sown on rocky soil (Matthew 13:20-21)? Relationship evangelism is the method for you! You'll never have to worry about your friends or family thinking you're stupid or foolish! Strangers don't even have to know that you're a Christian! No one will afflict you or persecute you because you'll only "share" when someone asks!
On the contrary, how did Paul know that Timothy was a genuine follower of Christ?
For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (Philippians 2:20-22)
Any model of evangelism that seeks to eliminate the difficult part or offers you a way to avoid persecution or rejection (2 Timothy 3:12!) is really no evangelism model at all.
I know it's a hard word, but the Church must hear what Jesus said:
"Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:32-39)
If we want to be genuine followers of Jesus, we must be willing to lose everything else (including our relationships) so that He will be glorified. In many cases, the Lord uses our faithful stewardship of the gospel in our relationships to bring those we most love into fellowship with the Savior. Other times, those we love most will despise us for telling them the truth. I wish this weren't the case, but it is.
Even so, let us be found faithful to Him who loved us and shed His blood for our salvation.