Some of my friends are becoming Christians and I am helping! I want to tell you how so that you can choose to practice those ways and teach others to do the same.
But first, two stories.
I arrived at the Subway restaurant a little nervous about my lunch meeting with Ted. He had been coming to my church for several weeks, and now he wanted to talk. We had met at the gym. I had been praying for him. He had invited himself to church and now I was about to get some feedback.
As we unwrapped our food, Ted said, “When you said you couldn’t meet until Friday, I was disappointed. I’ve been waiting all week. Last Sunday, when you invited people to pray to receive Jesus, I didn’t pray with you then. But I did pray to receive Jesus that evening. I felt so free. I feel like I have been walking with my feet a foot off the ground all week!”
My friend had requested a meeting to tell me that he had become a Christian. What a great lunch. The baptism later was even better.
On another occasion, I was teaching the newcomer’s class at our church. The attendees were asked to write down three people they sensed God wanted them to be praying for. As I pondered my prayer list, I realized that one of the friends from my prior list was now sitting next to me in this class. We had gotten to know each other as neighbors. One day Don asked about church. Now here he was in this class. Not long after, Don was baptized as part of our annual summer lake baptism. How cool is that?
I follow a few practices that I learned from others that God seems pleased to use as he draws people to faith.
One practice is to look for places where I can have recurring contact with non-church-going people. That is why I said “agreed” when offered the opportunity to be a volunteer chaplain for a local fitness center. I worked out there for seven years and met lots of people. I’d go four or five times per week and would see people on their good and bad days. They would see me on mine as well. I have also been a member of a running club for 10 years. This club runs together three times per week. Good conversations happen over a run and I have met wonderful people. Neither of these are manipulation things. I am completely committed to these friends, whether or not they have any interest in religion. However, I do pray for some of them, and God sometimes moves in them in ways that I can see. It is a powerful experience to have prayed for a friend only to have that friend bring up a spiritual conversation later.
This leads me to another practice. I maintain a prayer list of persons I sense God wants me to be praying for. My goal is to pray for my list four times per week. Periodically I add people to the list and drop others. My question for God is, “Who do you want me to be praying for now?” God is the one who is interested in these people. God leads me to pray as I ask for whom he wants me to pray.
A third practice is that I am prepared to give a brief explanation of how I became a Christian. I don’t say this very often, but at just the right time, I am ready to give a crisp defense of why I am enthusiastic about Jesus.
Lastly, I am prepared to give a brief explanation of what it means to be a Christian and how to become one. I seldom do this. But again, at just the right time, I am able to clearly describe how to become a Christian.
Of all these practices, the prayer list is the most important, and the easiest. I often feel that my words have been inadequate, but I never regret the prayers I prayed.
What if everybody in your church was praying for three friends who need Jesus? A church of 200, would be praying for 600 friends. A church of 1,000 would pray for 3,000 friends. Out of those hundreds of prayed-for friends, some would make spiritual steps forward. Out of those moving forward, some would step into your church and into a relationship with Christ.
Our church’s goal is to start a movement of friends praying for friends resulting in friends coming to faith. We train everyone who comes to our newcomers/membership class to do three things that will help their friends to take a step toward Jesus:
- To formulate a “Pray for 3” list and pray for it regularly.
- To sketch out and practice their story of how they came to be a Christian.
- To begin to learn to tell someone what it means to be a Christian and how to become one.
We recommend a few prayers to pray for friends. We invite members to answer simple questions about their spiritual life: What was my life like before I became a Christian? How did I make the decision to follow Jesus? What has it been like to live the Christian life? We introduce members to a one-verse version of “The Bridge Illustration” authored by Randy Raysbrook. (You can find it on the Navigators.org website.)
Recently a new member at our church was telling me about the small group he had just joined. “Everybody in my group is one of your running friends,” he said. The cool thing is that what he says is partly true, but it is not really about me. There are runners in that group that I did not invite or pray for. Running friends are praying for and inviting other running friends.
I should add one more thing. My friends Ted and Don have both had some hard times in their lives of faith. Neither of them is attending church regularly as I write this. The lesson? Keep praying beyond your friend’s baptism. For a time, I removed Don from my list. He’s back on now. Which means your list may get a little oversized. It is worth it. When you and your church pray for your friends, you are changing the world.
Jon Huizenga is the founding pastor of River Rock Church in Rockford, Mich. Prior to coming to Rockford, he planted a church in Jacksonville, Fla. He and his wife Sam have four children and one grandchild.