"I really want to be your friend " A slight flush crept up Evelynes cheeks
as she paused to set her coffee cup down. "Its just that Im not well, Im not
interested in your God."
The silence that followed was sudden and complete. Evelynes body language
made it clear that the subject was closed, and I had no idea what to say
"Would anyone care for dessert?" my wife, Jennifer, offered cautiously as
she rose to clear the dishes from the table.
Gradually, the silence gave way to the faint clank of dessert spoons and
murmured compliments to Jennifers culinary skill. Eventually, the comfortable,
familiar rhythms of friendly conversation resumed. But, for me, the rest of the
evening passed in a kind of haze. I couldnt shake the feeling that our
relationship with Evelyne had been dealt a blowperhaps a terminal one.
We had just moved to town and were handling some routine business at city
hall when we met Evelyne. The 20-something clerk treated us with crisp
professionalism. We exited the building that day not even knowing her name,
with no clue that we would ever see her again. But several repeat visits to
city hall became necessary, and Evelyne waited on us each time. Little by
little her professional demeanor morphed into something warmer.
At Christmas we went caroling with friends from church and made a point of
stopping at Evelynes place. She stood alone in her open doorway, listening
intently, tears coursing down her cheeks. As she bid us goodnight, she invited
us to come to dinner after the holidays.
One dinner led to another. We invited her to some church activities. She
even joined us for a family vacation! We talked about work, growing up, our
kids and her on-again-off-again romance. And we discussed our relationship to
Jesus Christ. Sometimes she listened politely. Sometimes she seemed genuinely
It was late when Evelyne left our home that night. After seeing her out, we
slumped wearily onto the sofa. "Well, that was pretty clear," I sighed. "Were
in, but Gods out."
In the days that followed that conversation, we mulled over various options.
What should we do?
Try to figure out what wed done wrong and correct it? Maybe wed rushed her
or taken the wrong approach.
Continue to pursue the friendship? Maybe she just needed timeand love. Maybe
shed come around later.
Chalk the whole thing up to experience and move on? Was Evelyne "rocky
ground" like Jesus talked about in the parable of the sower? Maybe our efforts
Our dilemma was based in part on the notion thatunlike family
relationshipsfriendships are optional, at least from a human perspective. And
since we had forged this relationship in the hope of introducing Evelyne to
Christsomething she apparently didnt wantperhaps we should just fade out of her
The question of what to do when your friend rejects your faith is answered
clearly when your friend writes you off, bolts for the door, exits the
relationship. But what if the decision is left up to you? What do you do when
your friend, like Evelyne, says no to your faith, but yes to your
A matter of influenceYouve probably known people like
Kristin and Allison, college roommates who did everything together. As time
passed, Kristins mannerisms, health habitseven her fashion sensebegan to
resemble Allisons. Allison never actually tried to change Kristin, yet the
reflection of her tastes and values in her friends life was undeniable.
Influence isnt necessarily a bad thing, of course. But just as you can exert
a positive influence on others, the potential exists for destructive habits and
ideas to rub off on you.
Its part of the risk of relationships.
In some cases, bowing out of a relationship may be the wisest course of
If your faith in Christ is strong, His influence in your life will be more
powerful than any other. But if the balance of influence tilts toward values
and habits that erode your spiritual life, you may need to consider withdrawing
from the relationship. Like a compass needle that no longer points north, you
cant point people to Christ if you lose your own bearings.
Thinking strategically?Brad was the top salesman in
our company and a likable guy. When he invited me to lunch so we could "get to
know each other better," I was all ears. I was new to the company, and I
figured I could use a friend. Our relationship began to grow.
And then it happened.
"Why dont you come to the house for dinner? " Brad asked unexpectedly. "Id
like to share a success opportunity with you."
Inside I cringed. I wasnt interested in home-based marketing. When I said as
much, Brad stopped making any time for me. Our friendship no longer fit into
his strategy for success.
Can you afford to spend time in a relationship that seems to be going
nowhere, spiritually speaking? What about missed opportunities that may result
from spending time with unresponsive people?
Christian leaders often emphasize the importance of thinking strategically,
and, clearly, strategy has its place. But the gospel is no mere product, and
people are not just sales opportunities. If a friend suspects that you see him
or her in terms of "evangelism potential" you risk losing credibility for
yourselfand for the Christ you want your friend to know.
No strategy for evangelism should excuse callous treatment of the
non-Christian friend God brings into your life.
Here are four principles to help you continue to represent Christ, even when
your friend says "no."
1. Be persistent, but not pushy.
Craig was thrilled when Gerard wanted to study the Bible with him. Weeks
went by, and although Gerard gave mental assent to the gospel, no visible
change was taking place in his life. Try as he might, Craig wasnt getting
through to his friend.
How long could this go on? Craigs frustration mounted. But in his zeal to
"see Gerard become a Christian" Craig wasnt the only one feeling frustrated.
Eventually, Gerard called off the study.
If youve ever tried to gather information about a product only to have a
salesperson try to rush you into a purchase decision, you can understand why
Gerard backed away. Saying no may simply be a way to buy some time to think it
Allow your friend some space without withdrawing your friendship.
2. Model the message.
"Christianity is not a religion," Rose emphasized. "Its a relationship with
God through Jesus Christ."
But Sandy didnt have much positive experience with relationships. Her family
ties were pretty strained, and she had few real friends. In spite of Roses
assurances that she mattered to God, Sandy longed to feel like she mattered to
someone "with skin on."
Just as youd be skeptical of investment advice if you discovered your
stockbroker kept his funds under a mattress, your friend may be watching to see
if your faith really makes a difference in your life. The "no" you hear may
mean that the jury is still out. Dont give up too soon.
3. Dont fixate on formulas and depend on them alone. Tell your story
of how God has changed your life.
Frank used the Four Spiritual Laws gospel tract whenever possible. He
carried several copies in his briefcase. "Christianity is simple," he said. "No
sense getting complicated about it."
But Marsha objected. "You cant explain God in a tract," she insisted. "It
insults a persons intelligence." She loved debating the existence of God and
the origins of the universe.
The fact is, people are not one-size- fits-all. Perhaps your friends
negative response is a rejection of your method rather than your message. Just
listen for a whileto God and your friend then consider a different method.
4. Find support in the community of believers. And remember to
personalize whatever way you use by telling how God has transformed your
Nancy wanted desperately for Meg to find new life in Christ, but it seemed
that Meg had built a wall. Nothing Nancy said or did seemed to penetrate
The day she introduced Meg to Karen, however, the wall began to crumble.
Something about Karen really seemed to intrigue Meg. She opened up to her in
ways she never had with Nancy.
When my friend Tom started talking to me about Jesus, I figured aliens must
have taken control of his mind. Whatever had happened to him, I hoped it would
pass quickly, and Tom would return to the party lifestyle we shared.
But it didnt pass, and I had to admit that the changes taking place in his
life were for the better. Id recently made some positive changes of my own,
however, and unlike Tom, I hadnt needed to get religion to do it. Still, we had
been close for a long time, and I couldnt just walk away. His Christianity
worried me, though. I felt as if I had lost a bar buddy.
My experience with Christians had been kind of weird. Once, a girl I knew in
high school introduced me to some of her Christian friends. Before I knew what
was happening they were "laying hands" on me, praying for me to "get saved" on
the spot. I got out of there as fast as I could, but they started phoning
meeven sending me Bibles. Now here was my buddy, Tom, all enthusiastic for me
to become a Christian, too.
The trouble was, Tom tended to lead with his heart, while I had always been
more deliberatefact-oriented. I had a hundred questions he couldnt answer. And
the answers he gave werent satisfying.
One night Tom took me to a church event. In the car on the way home I tried
to get him to clarify some of what I hadnt understood.
After several frustrating attempts to explain, Tom blurted, "How can you
expect to get it, Dave? Youre not a Christian!"
I winced. The last thing I needed from Tom was a holier-than-thou
"If thats what being a Christian does to you," I told my wife later, "I dont
want any part of it." And I wasnt kidding.
Things might have turned out a lot differently if Tom had given up on meor
if he hadnt introduced me to his friend, Bill. I knew from the start that Bill
was a Christian, but I liked the fact that he didnt push his Christianity on
me. He certainly wasnt afraid to talk about his faith, but he seemed
comfortable just hanging out with me.
Somehow, Bill understood my need to question things. He was patient, and
because he was pretty knowledgeable, I found his answers thought-provoking and
But Bill did more than offer answers. In the aftermath of my dads death his
probing questions helped me to see things more clearly than ever before.
Finally, I stepped over the line to faith in Christ. Naturally, I told Tom
It hadnt taken Tom long to make a decision for Christ. But it took me six
years. Thats just one example of how different we wereand still are.
In spite of those differences, Tom never threw in the towel. Ill be
eternally grateful for that.
The one who plants and the one who waters work as a team (1 Corinthians 3:8,
NLT). Introduce your friend to other Christians. Someone else may connect with
her in a way you cant. It doesnt mean youve failed. Its just a reminder that
youre part of a team a community. What a way to introduce your friend to life
Not everyone will say no as forth-rightly and as finally as Evelyne did. But
when it happens to you, however subtly, dont give in too easily to the
temptation to walk away. Consider first what your friend may really be trying
to say. Remember that even a firm "no" doesnt always mean "never." In fact, few
people embrace the gospel when they first hear it.
For most, the route to faith is a process, a journey. And thats what friends
David E. Horton is an editor, freelance writer and the author of three
books including the Boys Life Adventure Bible Storybook (see Resource Review,
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC