There is a strange recent fashion in Christian thinking about evangelism. In person and in print, I’ve come across the idea that it is insincere to make friends with the express purpose of trying to convert them. Christians, we’re told, should never do this.
It’s clear in the current Western climate that evangelism needs mostly to take place in the context of friendships, as non-Christians are reluctant to wander into churches, or scared of the ambiguity inherent in meetings entitled ‘Harvest of Souls’. However, with this advocacy of ‘friendship evangelism’ has come the warning that we should not befriend people as a means to an end.
No doubt, there is some truth in that. No one likes the conservatively-attired guy with the glassy smile, standing starched in the corner with his non-alcoholic beverage, watching your lips for any half-hatched segue into his stiff and awkward ‘gospel presentation’. Worse still is the Christian friend who kidnaps every conversation for Christ. “Did you watch the sports game? Ah, yes, that player certainly saved your skins in the dying seconds, didn’t he? … And speaking of being saved…”
But, honestly, is the salvation of strangers such a nefarious motive for making friends? I’ve got tonnes of friends. My FaceBook page has hundreds of them, some of whom I don’t even know. Why would I want to make new friends when I have scores of relationships that I’m currently neglecting? Why especially would I want to make friends with non-Christians of all people? Non-Christians are frequently a crass, cankerous species, often bemused by our morals and hostile to our way of thinking. If wanting to introduce them to their long-lost Father is a bad motive, what is supposed to motivate me?
In fact, friendships are hardly ever motivated purely by the merits of the prospective friend. I have friends because I would like someone to talk to, or to watch the game with. I have friends because I can see my own jokes coming. So, if there are already all sorts of prior motives to friendships, why on earth would you want to rob Christians of the one motive that is has a shot at being other-person-centered? You could hardly be a Christian friend without wanting your friends to know Jesus.
Unless your desire to see people saved is going to drive you to become a chronic social misfit, you should most certainly not be discouraged from befriending people because you want them to be saved. If anything, it will be a good motivation to stick with such friends when it would be easier to bunker in with your like-minded church buddies.