The emerging church calls upon Christians to build intimate relationships with the unsaved but not necessarily with the objective of leading them to Christ.
Mars Hill Church in Seattle operates a secular rock club called Paradox which has hosted hundreds of rock concerts. Senior pastor Mark Driscoll says the focus of this operation is simply to show hospitality. “So we welcomed kids into a safe place where we could build relationships of grace on Jesus’ behalf RATHER THAN PREACHING AT THE KIDS or doing goofy things like handing out tracts” (Confessions of a Reformission Rev., pp. 126, 127).
In They Like Jesus but Not the Church, Dan Kimball begins by relating a talk he gave to a group of pastors. He told them that he spends a considerable part of his time as a pastor developing relationships with unbelievers. He said that he gets invited to [rock & roll drinking] clubs to hang out and see bands, and “how this also is a way to hang out with and build trust and credibility with those I’m befriending” (p. 12). He said, “I shared how incredibly refreshing it is to be friends with people outside of church circles” (p. 13).
When one of the pastors asked him if he had won them to Christ, he replied, “No, I’M JUST TRYING TO BE THEIR FRIENDS [sic] and get to know them” (p. 14).
Another pastor commented that the emerging generation of people are “pagans” and “they just need to hear solid preaching, which will cause them to repent of their ways,” but Kimball strongly disagrees.
Kimball says the term “missional” means that “we don’t ‘bring Jesus’ to people but that we realize Jesus is active in culture and we join him in what he is doing,” and, “we serve our communities, and that we build relationships with people in them, rather than seeing them as evangelistic targets” (They Like Jesus, p. 20).
Kimball quotes from many unsaved people that he has befriended, giving their opinions about Christ and the church, and he says: “I DIDN’T SET OUT TO PROSELYTIZE THEM; I SIMPLY MET THEM TO BEFRIEND THEM, enjoy their company, and ask their opinions. ... I see them as friends, not as evangelistic targets” (p. 61).
Kimball says he thinks Christians have done more harm than good by witnessing to unbelievers using “traditional” methods of confronting them with their sin and need for Christ (p. 38). He says that instead of street witnessing we should develop “relationships in which we dialogue and build trust with people” (p. 43).
We agree that believers should be friendly to the unsaved and should be ready to befriend them, but this friendship must be done very carefully in the context of holiness.
It is far better to invite the sinner to spend time with us than for us to spend time with them on their own turf (bars, rock concerts, and such).
And there should always be the objective of reaching the unsaved for Christ. Yes, we have an agenda, because we are commanded by our Master to preach the gospel to every person (Mark 16:15). That is the agenda Jesus has given us. For a believer, the most important way to be a friend to the unsaved is to confront him with the gospel. Assuming that hell is real and that salvation is only through faith in Christ, nothing is friendlier or more compassionate than this!
In his book Peril of Islam, Gene Gurganus, who was a missionary to Muslims for 17 years, gives a proper biblical philosophy of befriending unbelievers in the context of evangelism. The first of his nine suggestions for winning Muslims to Christ is the following:
“If we are going to evangelize Muslims, the first thing we have to do is to cultivate a friendship. Saying, ‘Hello. How are you?’ is not enough. We need to come along side and get to know him, know his problems, his frustrations, his ambitions, and his fears” (p. 61).
Gurganus is saying we should befriend the unsaved, but he is not saying what the emerging church is saying. Gurganus is saying that the objective is not merely to befriend the unsaved but to win them to Christ!
That is what we see in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He was a friend of sinners above all friends and He spent time with them, but He never sinned in any way with them; He was not a “party animal”; and He definitely had the objective of saving those He befriended. He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus did not come to earth just to make friends and help people in some vague sense!
Further, Christ preached very plainly to people; He was not afraid of offending them with direct truth. He demanded repentance (Luke 13:3-5) and warned often of hell, at least 14 times in the Gospels (i.e., Mark 9:43-48). Christ’s preaching was so plain and uncompromising that most of his own followers eventually turned away from Him because they were offended at His words (John 6:60-66).
God has made us ambassadors for Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21). The believer’s chief job in this present world is to urge sinners to be reconciled to Christ. This is not a peripheral part of our purpose in this present world; it is the very heart of it!
Further, our ministry to the unsaved must have a great sense of urgency to it. The Bible says that today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). It warns against banking on tomorrow (James 4:13-14). “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12). See Matthew 24:42, 44; 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:1-6.
Evangelist D. L. Moody had it right when he said, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”
This article is excerpted from the WHAT IS THE EMERGING CHURCH? This book is available from Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143 (toll free phone), www.wayoflife.org (online catalog), firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).
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