As Christians, we’re supposed to share our faith; we’re supposed to be evangelizers. The problem is, it is so hard to be a Christian evangelizer and not feel uncomfortable about how we will be received.
Despite working in evangelizing ministry at many different levels and settings, I’ve always found the idea of “evangelization” makes my stomach turn a little bit. I’m always a little skeptical about evangelization because it often feels like proselytziation, like the goal is to convert someone or to brainwash them into believing what you believe against their will.
That’s why I loved the way Bert Ghezzi described evangelization on a webinar I moderated with him. Bert talked about seven habits that define our Catholic identity. The sixth habit was “sharing your faith.”
What he said about evangelization really struck me. He said that most of us have false notions about what evangelization really is or should be. Evangelization is not passing out pamphlets on the street corner or going door to door with convincing arguments.
He used a term that I really appreciated: “Friendship Evangelization.”
It might sound corny at first, but it is an approach that I know works. (In fact, it works especially well for people who don’t even realize they are doing it.)
What is Friendship Evangelization?
Essentially, he described friendship evangelization as a two-step process in which you:
- Make friends and form relationships with someone.
- When the opportunity comes, share your faith with them.
I asked Bert to elaborate a little bit on this, because in my experience that transition from #1 to #2 is tough. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have more difficulty sharing my faith with friends than sharing it with people I only know semi-professionally.
I loved his answer. Why? Because it completely alleviates that fear of being seen as proselytizing or infringing on privacy of others or forcing our faith on others.
Essentially, Bert said to to be prayerful and patient.
How to Do Friendship Evangelization
First, pray for them.
Then, the second part of “friendship evangelization” just naturally happens. Once you start to get to know someone, they start to share with you some of their challenges in life. They share with you some intimate and personal parts of their life or they ask you personal questions about your life.
For example, Bert told the story of working at a secular company some time ago. When they were downsizing, the other employees turned to Bert for prayers because they knew by the way he lived his life that he was a dedicated Catholic.
“You look for what people say to you. You look at their heart and you try to connect with their hearts concerns and gently be speaking to them about these concerns.”
Although Bert didn’t mention this, if you’re familiar with the evangelizing work of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) it is hard not to see similarities in the approach!
Expanding Our Understanding of Evangelization
The reason we feel so uncomfortable doing evangelization, I think, is that we have a limited definition and understanding of what evangelization truly is.
If evangelization is only teaching, then yes we should feel uncomfortable sharing our faith with our friends.
If evangelization is only verbally proclaiming the Gospel, sharing the saving work of Jesus Christ, then we’re a bit closer but not totally there. If the person with whom we are sharing this Gospel message doesn’t connect that message with something important in their lives then they won’t listen to our words as a gift, but as something other far fetched and too difficult to relate to.
But, if evangelization includes also the healing work of meeting a person in the parts of their lives where they expereince the greatest suffering and the greatest joy and as Bert said “gently speaking” about those concerns with that person, then the opportunities to do evangelization multiply exponentially. In other words, making friends with no strings attached is a key to evangelization.
“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.”
There were three parts to the evangelizing mission of Jesus Christ. We cannot forget the healing work that he did and try to emulate it. It is work that we can do within the intimate relationships we form with our friends. Friendship evangelization is a ministry of healing and it is essential to the mission of the Church.