Hospitality and developing genuine relationships are at the heart of our ministry approach, but it wasn’t always that way for me. With my conservative evangelical background and living in the South, I used to take trips with a student group to knock on doors and hand out gospel tracts. We’d show up for five days in a place, then go back to our own town and never see those people again. It was transactional: here’s my message, will you accept it, yes or no? Despite the fact that this was very different from the way my own faith grew, the idea of building relationship first before inviting a person to consider Jesus was completely against the grain for me.
In the beginning, I would tell myself, “OK, I’m a missionary. I’m gonna go on the mission field and I’m gonna do stuff for Jesus.” But I’ve had a complete change in my thinking, a mentality shift from “I need to go and do something,” to “I just need to create space in my life for others.”
These days I teach the same lesson to others who come from the church to join our hospitality ministry. “Don’t talk about Jesus,” I tell them. “Don’t come to my house and talk about Jesus until you know my friends. Once you know them, and care about who they are, then you can say something about that need.” It’s a radically different perspective on sharing the gospel. We pray. We form relationships. And Jesus shows up.
If you have a similar background to mine, these things I’m going to suggest to you about friendship evangelism may go against the grain for you too. But I hope you’ll consider it an invitation—an invitation away from transactions or quick fixes, and into being a 24–7 Jesus person, who both loves people well and is ready to genuinely share Jesus with them.
1. Don’t add to your calendar; take Jesus with you.
As I talk about “being a Jesus person 24–7” the response I often get is something like, “Great, Keith. You do this for a living. It’s what you think about all the time. It’s what you do. I’ve got my kid who plays football, my other kid who’s doing the band thing. I have this meeting, that meeting, work, and I’m trying to stick with exercise. How in the world am I supposed to have time to go and do stuff for Jesus?” My gentle rebuke is, “You’re asking the wrong question. The right question is how are you taking Jesus with you everywhere you go? You’re already there. What does it look like to reframe your thinking about what you’re already doing?”
Making space for others and for Jesus isn’t about adding things to your calendar. I don’t want to force people to do anything. I do invite them to consider what it looks like for Jesus to transform their lives—how they’re living and interacting—everywhere they go. You don’t need to be a missionary to be a missionary. Making space is a mental thing. It’s about how you go about your day, and what you’re open to in the middle of it. It’s not a calendar thing most of the time.
2. Have genuine and caring conversations with a prophetic flavor.
I’m never looking to start a particular kind of conversation. I’ve been trained in how to try to start spiritual conversations, and whenever I do that, I feel fake. I feel like I’m only starting the conversation for the purpose of transforming the person, and the dynamics behind that are very unsettling to my spirit. The kinds of conversations Jesus started were very genuine. He very much cared about the people. There was also a prophetic edge to his conversations. With the woman at the well, Jesus prophetically knew she had five husbands. Her transformation came because he was present with her, he cared for her, and he showed he knew her heart. Now that’s Jesus. My interactions aren’t always like that, but that’s my model. I’ve started praying for that same prophetic edge. I ask myself where Jesus is showing up in my conversations, and that’s a good thing. But there are times when it takes two years of “nothing” conversations before I feel like Jesus gives me the green light to speak more boldly, because of where that person is at.
3. Focus on friendship, not evangelism.
If people want to genuinely share their life with others, they need to be more interested in the other person than they are in what-they-think-they-need-to-say to lead that person to Jesus. In my experience, if I just listen to the person, I’m listening to where their heartbeat is, and generally, the scriptures will have some kind of story that will remind me of what they’re going through. So sometimes I’ll say things like, “You know, there’s this ancient proverb that says…” For me, just listening—taking away this idea of lead-ins and trying to figure out what I’m supposed to say—is so much more powerful. And that’s just transformed my conversations. Because the truth is, after I’ve listened long enough to what somebody has to say, they’ll ask me about my life. And then I’m just honest. Then I’m a real friend. Because real friends talk about things that really matter to them.
Without doing it on purpose, sometimes our evangelism processes, programs, or the way we teach people to share their faith are really front-loaded with us telling people things we think they want to know that they don’t really want to know. Rather than telling them how we think they should know Jesus, and how we have this answer for them that they really need, we need to listen more than we speak. Now do I want my friends to know Jesus? Yes I do! Terribly. But I don’t come with this preconceived notion that, “Hmmm. I have a solution for you if you’re just willing to give me ten minutes of your time.” And I feel like sometimes that’s what our evangelism is like.
4. Above all, listen to the Holy Spirit.
There’s a place for the kind of evangelism where you just walk across the room and tell people about Jesus. Even if you, like me, feel compelled to build genuine friendships with people that grow toward spiritual places, God may sometimes move you out of your comfort zone. At least, he has for me. And we’ve got to be obedient to what God is asking us to do. There was one time about two years ago when this random guy moved into our neighborhood and just showed up on our porch one day. Within the first five minutes I was laying out the whole gospel story. Boom! It completely countered everything that I knew and practiced on a daily basis. But the Lord was like, “Tell him now.” And I was like, OK. “Hey, can I tell you about Jesus?” It was awkward and uncomfortable, but that’s what obedience is sometimes. I’m trying to listen to what the Spirit is telling me to do, on behalf of what God wants to do. And that’s always the priority.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Peeler and his wife Megan just moved to Bozeman, MT, with their three kids. They have been with CRM since 2010 and serve to create movements of committed followers of Jesus with the Accelerate Team.