Proponents of friendship/lifestyle evangelism regularly point to the biblical stories of the friends who brought the lame man to Jesus (Mark 2:3), or to Philip or the Samaritan woman inviting friends, family members, and neighbors to meet Jesus (John 1:45; 4:29). These stories are paraded frequently as examples of why friendship evangelism is so important and so effective. And no one would argue that living a caring, holy, compassionate, other-oriented lifestyle is not important. Of course it is. However, upon closer inspection in most of these stories, the people inviting or taking others to encounter Jesus had first witnessed, experienced, or at least heard of some miraculous activity associated with Jesus. The reason people excitedly brought friends and family to encounter Jesus was because they were first personally impacted by the profound wisdom (words) and power (works) of Jesus (Matt. 4:24; 7:29; 9:8, 33–36; 12:15; 13:54; 15:30).
If Jesus had not shared supernatural insights about her past, would the Samaritan woman have hurried off and invited the entire town to come meet Him? I think not. If Jesus had not previously healed others, would the four men in Luke 5:17–18 have brought their paralyzed friend to Him? If the heavens had not opened, revealing the voice of God and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove during His baptism, and if the fishermen had not miraculously caught a netful of fish in response to Jesus’ instruction, would Andrew have run to get his brother Peter to meet Jesus (John 1:40–41)? Would the community have excitedly talked about Jesus over and over again if He had not raised a ruler’s daughter from the dead (Matt. 9:25–26)?
This is not to minimize the words and message of Jesus, nor to downplay His lifestyle or character. My great fear in writing this is that some will go beyond what I am saying, thinking I am minimizing the person, character, and message of Jesus. The Bible does record that people were clearly impressed and compelled by both who He was and what He said (Matt. 13:53–54). It would be no exaggeration to conclude that if we could have sat at the feet of Jesus to physically hear what and how powerfully He spoke, we would be spellbound (Luke 4:20; 19:48; 24:19). Those who heard Jesus teach were “amazed” at His wisdom, graciousness, boldness, insightfulness, and authority (Matt. 7:28–29; Luke 4:22, 32).
It is true that some people were first attracted to Jesus because they wanted to hear what He had to say. They found Jesus’ message to be persuasive, all on its own (John 8:30), totally apart from the convincing effect of the miracles. But on close analysis of the Scriptures, we discover it was usually the miracles that first attracted the crowds (Matt. 4:24; 8:16; 14:14, 35; 15:30, et al.). Once people came to see Jesus in action, they most often stayed, enthralled by both the power of His life and the wisdom and relevance of His message (Matt. 7:28). But don’t miss the obvious: the reason the vast majority of people came to hear and see Jesus was because they were intrigued by the stories of His incredible power over nature and disease.
The story of Jesus healing the two blind men truly encapsulates this. As a direct result of Jesus’ healing ministry to them, the Bible says, “they went out and spread the news about him all over that region” (Matt. 9:31). Similarly, when Jesus raised the young boy back to life, Luke wrote, “This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country” (Luke 7:17). Time after time, people shared passionately and frequently about Jesus to their neighbors, family, coworkers, and friends, because they had first had a miraculous encounter with Jesus. I wonder if the majority of people in Jesus’ day would have been enthusiastic about inviting their family to come meet Jesus had there not been any miracles. We can’t say for sure one way or the other, but what we can say is that the Bible is clear that Jesus’ miraculous ministries were a significant reason why huge crowds came to see and hear Him, and why they invited others to come and experience for themselves this miracle worker.
Yet today, when churches either minimize or discourage the supernatural manifestations of God and the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we strangely expect those in our congregations to be excited about inviting their family and friends to church to meet Jesus. The lack of emphasis on the miraculous is like tying one of our hands behind our back. By doing so, the church is robbed of its natural ally in evangelism. Yet somehow we have concluded that friendly, godly, but dispassionate Christians will somehow magically and enthusiastically draw the unsaved into a relationship with Christ.
I believe friendship/lifestyle evangelism is not overly effective because our contemporary churches are often missing the most important reasons why the first-century Christians so passionately and effectively evangelized. The impetus and excitement that compelled New Testament believers to share their faith, the power that propelled the early church forward, and the force that persuaded nonbelievers to believe are all but absent from our churches.
Let me hasten to say here that my entire life I have attended and served in Wesleyan (Methodist) churches and institutions. I do not consider myself a charismatic. Those who know me would be hard-pressed to call me an emotionally driven individual. I like structure and creeds and predictability. I believe I am about as orthodox and conservative as they come. But I am convinced the church has become anemic in its evangelistic efforts because of our fearful de-emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Are you interested in learning more about the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of evangelism? Stephen D. Elliott makes the case for the central role of supernatural signs and wonders in the church’s proclamation in By Signs and Wonders: How the Holy Spirit Grows His Church. Get your free copy to sow with your purchase—learn more here.