by Joy Crichton
When we returned home after 10 years as missionaries to South Africa, my husband and I longed to reach our neighbors for Christ. Daily we drove by the 40 houses in our neighborhood and knew what we needed to do first: We needed to make friends. We’d been teenagers in the 80s and remembered the Procter & Gamble commercial for shampoo that illustrated the most effective form of “evangelism.” It started with one woman sporting lush hair, the result of using a certain brand of shampoo. She tells a friend and the screen splits into two pictures, then they tell a friend and the screen splits into four, and so on. As the women each continue converting one friend to this wondrous shampoo the screen becomes a mosaic of women all using the shampoo.
This method of telling friends to multiply the impact of the gospel can be implemented naturally no matter where you find yourself—at work, at home, or in a faraway land. But there is one rule: your friendship must be a genuine offer from the heart. Often our fast paced world keeps us from taking the time to hone our friend-making skills. If friendship is to be an effective bridge for sharing the gospel, we need to take a closer look at Scripture’s definition of true friendship.
Establishing friendships became our summer focus and we took our example from the crown prince of Israel, Jonathan. Apart from Christ, there’s no greater example in Scripture of true friendship than Jonathan’s friendship with David. David’s victory over Goliath landed him a home in the palace and a place at the king’s table. Everything looked good for David—that is until the king’s jealousy turned against his greatest warrior. Fortunately David wasn’t friendless in this hostile environment.
The Paradigm of Friendship
David found a friend in Jonathan who sought his best interests. Jonathan saw in his friend David a soul living in a kingdom and ruled by a king who would destroy his life. That wasn’t all he saw. Jonathan regarded David as the future king and made a covenant to bring him into the kingdom.
It required great sacrifice on Jonathan’s part. Scripture records that, for love’s sake, Jonathan took off his royal robe and gave it to David along with his sword, bow, and belt. They weren’t sharing clothes like two college roommates; Jonathan was symbolically acknowledging David’s future in the kingdom as king in his place. Though typically the crown prince exterminated any rivals for the throne, Jonathan modeled a pattern of love that won David’s heart.
Like genuine faith, genuine friendship is marked by good works and mercy. It’s peaceable, pure, and gentle, displaying grace in the home, the workplace, and the neighborhood. Actions in these arenas speak louder than words. In fact, as Peter reminds believing wives with unbelieving husbands (1 Peter 3:1, 2), their greatest witness may be without words. This new pattern of living according to our new life in Christ becomes an ornament of grace that draws those we love to Christ.
Such unique friendships do not happen without our thoughtful participation and the sacrifice of our most precious commodity in America—time. After 10 years abroad my husband and I hardly knew our neighbors, though each day when I ran for exercise they waved as they passed in their cars or while walking with their dogs. It took me a few weeks before I realized I had to slow down, join them on their walks, and stand in the road and chat. My husband and I began to take evening walks, which resulted in long conversations on street corners with our neighbors. We’ve become nosy neighbors—in a good way—taking note of pregnant moms or homes where there is sickness or death. The night our neighbors brought their new baby home from the hospital we took them a meal. It surprised us how overwhelmed they were with this small act of caring. It was a new pattern of friendship that hinted about our lives in Christ.
The Plan of Friendship
Once true friendship begins to blossom, like Jonathan of Israel, we can’t help but notice our new friends’ peril. When Jonathan witnessed Saul’s jealousy and murderous intent toward David he came up with a plan to save David’s life. It took more than love and kindness. It took planning.
Our friendship will also need a good plan. Once we developed relationships with our neighbors we moved our friendship to the next level and invited them to our place for coffee and pie. They came at sunset, each with cake or cookies in hand. Late into the night we sat around the fire pit while the kids played volleyball and tag. Though they asked about our church, because that is our work, we didn’t force them to listen to a rehearsed gospel presentation. We let the gospel speak naturally in conversations about politics and family. At Christmas and Easter we’ll do it again in the form of an open house.
When friendships grow we can’t help but share our greatest joy in life, Jesus Christ—but we share him honestly, inviting our neighbors to our home for four consecutive weeks to discuss Christ. The invitations they receive in their mailboxes come from us, their friends, whom they’ve already realized are different. We invite them to hear from the book of Mark who Christ is, why he came, and what that means to us. They come because they want to hear about Christ. It is friendship with a plan, not an agenda.
The Prayer of Friendship
Part of the plan includes hours of intercessory prayer for our friends, just as Jonathan interceded for his friend David. It is the vital element to reaching our world for Christ. When we embark on this great assignment, if we do it without prayer, we do it on our own. My husband and I pray for opportunities and for awareness of need. With our kids we pray for our neighbor’s children, their jobs, their marriages, and their sicknesses, begging for grace in the lives of our neighbors. Most of all, we ask “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, New King James Version). My prayer helps me remember my part is to share the gospel and God’s part is to make the gospel effective in the heart. My part is to model Christ and God’s part is to apply Christ. Prayer tempers my urgency with patience and keeps my patience from becoming complacency. It is the vital part of my friendship.
The Product of Friendship
In the end, Jonathan’s greatest contribution to David’s life was to warn him of danger. And that is our greatest contribution to our friends as well. We come warning them that they are in danger of God’s judgment because of their sin. And when they see this danger they, like David, ask us their burning questions: “What have I done so evil that your Father wants to kill me?” and “What can I do about it?” Those are the two most important questions our friends will ever ask. The good news is, we have the answers.
One evening after Christmas my neighbor Sharon dropped by without warning. For a few minutes we caught up, chatting about the busyness of the holidays, her aging parents, my kids who were home from college, and her job. As our conversation progressed she asked me, “Joy, how can I know I have a relationship with God?” and I had the privilege of sharing the glorious gospel of Christ with her at her request. Sharon had a burning question about eternity and she knew her nosy neighbor—her friend—knew the answer. It is the goal of a friendship offered honestly, without an agenda but with a prize.
Joy Crichton is a freelance writer in Johnston, Rhode Island.
Will You Be a Nosy Neighbor?
• What friendships have made the biggest impact on your relationship with Christ? How can you be that type of intentional, genuine friend to others?
• How can you be more observant of your neighbors to become aware of their needs? Will you pray for opportunities to make a difference to the people who live around you?
• If you’re looking for ideas to impact your community, you may want to read this book:
Beyond Your Backyard
by Tom Ellsworth
Find out more information: