“Silver bullet”— Any straightforward solution perceived to have extreme effectiveness; a phrase that typically appears with an expectation that a particular practice will cure a major prevailing problem.[i]
Based on my 30+ years in studying the process of evangelism and church growth, I can confidently say there is a “silver bullet” for fulfilling Christ’s command to go and make disciples. Here it is:
The most effective evangelism—by far—occurs through meaningful
relationships between Christians and non-Christians.
Did you know that over twice as many non-Christians come to Christ through relationships with Christian friends or relatives than all other reasons combined?
Many times in his ministry Jesus talked about and modeled this “disciple-making silver bullet.” To the demon-possessed man (Mark 5:19) he said, “go home to your friends and tell them what wonderful things God has done for you…” When Zacchaeus believed, Christ told him that salvation had also come to his friends and family (Luke 19:9). After Jesus healed the son of a royal official we learn that the Centurion, and all of his family and friends, believed (Mark 2:14-15). Jesus was teaching about sharing God’s love with the people we already know. It is the way the Gospel travels!
In your next devotion time look up that word “household”. You will find it not only in the references above, but in many other verses, as well. In the original Greek, the word is oikos, and it has a fascinating meaning. Oikos referred to the people in a person’s social network. It included a person’s immediate family (father, brother, wife, etc.). It included a person’s extended family (cousin, brother-in-law, grandparent, nephew, etc.). Oikos referred to the servants that stayed in the living compound of the first century home. It referred to the servants’ families who also lived there. The word oikos referred to a person’s close friends, as well as their work associates. When the tremendous earthquake caused the Philippian jailer to desperately cry out: “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…you and your oikos” (Acts 16:31). Michael Green observes, “The early Christians knew that when the message of faith was heard and demonstrated by friends and family who were known and trusted…receptivity to the Gospel increased tremendously.”[ii]
A Problem with Shooting the Silver Bullet
But, there is one essential requirement for reaching friends and neighbors: we must be close enough to unbelievers for Christ to be observed and experienced through us. And there’s the rub. The problem is that the longer we are in the church, the more friends we have who are also in the church…and the fewer friends we have outside the church. Let me repeat this important problem-statement, because it is one of the major obstacles to the spread of the Christian Gospel today: Most Christians have very few close friends who are non-Christian. Without such relationships, it is impossible to be Christ-like.
One reason that 85+% of today’s churches are not growing is that the social networks of people in these churches are almost entirely within the church. Worse yet, churches frequently program to encourage this relational isolation. Church activities are geared toward existing members. “Successful” church events are when a high percentage of members attend. Small groups are formed primarily for church attenders. As a result, not only do church members have few non-Christian people with whom they associate…non-Christian people in the community have few or no close friends in the church!
So, how do we enter into a non-Christian’s world to be Christ-like (incarnational) if we don’t really know any non-Christians? The answer is easy. We need to become more like Jesus—we need friends who are “…tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt. 11:19) Or, if you prefer Eugene Peterson’s version, Jesus was spoken of as “…a friend of the riffraff.”
From Christ’s point of view, I think having no non-Christian friends is a serious problem. How can Christ’s missional task be accomplished if His people are not in the world? “My prayer,” said Jesus to His Father, “is not that you take them [Christ’s followers] out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). In fact, Christians are supposed to be in the world, just not of the world. Paul knew that he needed to connect with “the riffraff” before he could communicate with them:
“I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ. But I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” (I Cor. 9:19-23 The Message)
We are to be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). And salt does not season itself. So, let me encourage you, as seminarians who are spending time to be a better leader of Christ’s Church, to also spend time with the riffraff. It is those lost people, after all, for whom Christ came to “seek and to save” (Luke 19:10).