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Relational Evangelism?

Category Articles
Date September 25, 2012

If the world hated you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. John 15:18

At one time I taught logic at our Classical Christian School on St. Simons Island, GA to seventh graders, and the focal point of that first year curriculum was to demonstrate all the logical fallacies which people typically use in making arguments. One of these is the ‘straw man’ argument. You know how it goes – one puts up a false representation of some issue so he can easily tear it down. The straw man argument I now have in mind is the one that says, ‘Confrontational evangelism no longer works. It is too direct, too one-sided. People today want to dialogue about the gospel.’ First of all, by using the word ‘confrontational’ one conjures up all kinds of negative images of the evangelist harshly, insensitively, and rudely stuffing the gospel message down someone’s throat. If that is what is meant by confrontational evangelism, then of course I agree we should reject that methodology. We most certainly are to respect all people and deal with them gently, sensitively, and kindly. So I must reject the label of confrontational evangelism as defined in this way. However direct, one-on-one, personal evangelism does not necessarily fit the straw man argument so often conjured up to urge us toward relational evangelism. Once you have a person’s heart, as Jesus so wonderfully illustrated time and time again in John’s Gospel (his dealings with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are just two examples), you can tell him anything. One can do that almost immediately in any conversation by asking thought-provoking questions and by listening intently to the person’s answers. I suppose by relational evangelism people have in mind developing friendly relationships with people, dialoguing with them on gospel issues, and perhaps slowly, as time goes by, draw them to faith in Christ; but does this need to be a methodology? Should this not flow naturally from our love for our neighbour and from our being filled up with Jesus! Surely we ought to be like Peter and John who said to the Sanhedrin when told to stop preaching Jesus, ‘We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20).

Can we not agree that we need every conceivable and biblical means of evangelistic outreach? We need street preaching, gospel tract distribution, evangelistic preaching1 from the pulpits in our churches, evangelistic Bible study methodologies like Christianity Explored, discussion groups like Francis Schaeffer used at L’Abri and Open Forums as used by Search Ministries, dialogue with sceptics like what Randy Pope is doing,2 door-to-door and questionnaire evangelism like my friend Doug McNutt is doing so powerfully in Salt Lake City. I could go on and on. Here’s my problem with so-called relational evangelism. I wonder if it tends to be long on relationship but short on evangelism. I wonder if part of our problem is that we make evangelism far more complicated than necessary. I wonder if our failure to engage in ‘intentional’ evangelism (consciously, wilfully, expectantly, and daily ‘getting Jesus on the scoreboard’ in our conversations with people)3 is rooted in being ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). I wonder if we lack faith in the sufficiency of Christ to save people here and now in today’s secular and pluralistic world. Surely you have noticed how children are without guile! They have such simple faith, including their willingness to speak openly and unashamedly of their faith in Jesus. I have in mind some close friends of mine who are doing a remarkable job in rearing their children (all under the age of eleven) in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The father leads nightly family devotional times rich in Bible study, catechism, theology, prayer, and singing. Recently the children were at a secular summer camp and the oldest asked the counselor, ‘Do you go to church?’ When the counselor said, ‘No,’ the child asked, ‘Why not?’ To which the counselor forbid the child to bring up ‘religion’ any more that week. The family recently moved into a new neighbourhood and one of the next door neighbour children said ‘Oh God,’ in normal conversation to which the seven year old innocently said, ‘You are blaspheming God. You need to repent.’ I love it! No guile. Not a shred of self-righteousness in these statements. They simply have been taught the Word of God and are very in tune with the people around them and they do not fear rejection. They know their parents love them and are secure in that love; and more importantly, they know God loves them and they simply want to tell people about him. Their faith is simple, well-grounded, and they love Jesus. They cannot stop speaking of what they have seen and heard.

My friends, why can’t we be like these children? Why all these distinctions between relational and personal evangelism! We tend to think too much, to be far more concerned about what people think of us. We tend to fear rejection. Be clear on this – Jesus told his disciples, just prior to his death, that they would be hated by the world, that the world would reject them (John 15:18-20). Paul says those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Jesus said, ‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you’ (Luke 6:26). He also said, ‘Blessed are you when men persecute you, revile you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:11-12). If you are a true follower of Jesus, if you are doing what you should be doing, then you will be rejected. You will be considered a fool. Get over it! Embrace it! Rejoice in it! Glory in it! Draw deeply from the well of your daily, personal time with Jesus. Drink of Jesus and then go out into the world and get Jesus on the scoreboard in your conversations. Even if you cannot ‘throw a long touchdown pass’, even if you have to settle for a ‘three point field goal’, do it. Speak of Jesus in your ordinary conversations and see what God will do with it.


  1. See my devotional from March 29, 2012 – Going to the Streets
  2. Life on Life
  3. I picked this term up from Jerry Leachman who tells me of encouraging a well-known news commentator whom he led to Christ to begin to mention Jesus in his news commentary. The news commentator has done so numerous times and thus has taken a lot of criticism from secularists.

Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.

If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at

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