“Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother” (Matthew 10:2)
Among the items of note in the list of the twelve apostles Jesus called in Matthew 10 is a pair of words: “his brother … his brother …”. Surely it is no accident that there are two pairs of brothers here. That tells us something important about the way the gospel spreads, and the way we should approach evangelistic ministry.
The Book of John gives us some more insight on the call of these apostles. John 1:41 tells us that after Andrew heard Jesus, “He found first his own brother …” and shared the news about Jesus with him. This shows us that from the beginning, Christianity has been spreading through relationships, as adherents shared Christ with their own siblings and others with whom they had existing relationships.
This runs contrary to the way that many of God’s people today approach evangelism. We often visualize sharing the gospel “cold” with someone on the street whom we have never met. Much of our training focuses on such encounters. And we should indeed be prepared for such opportunities when God brings them to us. But in light of the relational nature that Christianity has had from the beginning, perhaps we should change our focus: from primarily looking for opportunities with strangers, to prioritize sharing Christ with those in our existing networks and relationships.
There are a number of benefits inherent to such an approach. First, you are already speaking with these people; you already have something in common with them, so you don’t need to “build a bridge” to them — it is already there! And if you lead someone to Christ with whom you have an existing relationship, you are a built-in discipler, who can help to integrate them into the Christian community and ensure their long-term discipleship.
Of course, there is also a “negative”, in a sense, to this approach: the people who know you … well, they KNOW you! You can’t pull the “wool” of a phony Christianity that you adhere to in word only, over their eyes. If you are going to share with people you know, it has to be very real to you. And there is also no “unloading” the gospel in a 5-minute presentation to someone you have no intention of investing your life in. When you share with people in your spheres of influence, you are committed to live it out, and to walk with them in costly discipleship. Both of these “negatives” go a long way towards fostering genuine Christianity in us.
It is true that a witness can be shared with anyone, anywhere. But make no mistake: from the beginning, the gospel has been shared effectively through networks of existing relationships. Who in your family and your other circles of relationships could you be praying for, sharing your faith in Christ with, and bringing with you into the faith community of your church? God may lead you now and then to share a word of witness with a stranger, but from the beginning, evangelism has been a lot about relationships. How can God use YOUR relationships to lead someone to faith in Christ?