A while back I was in a Christian gathering where the speaker was announcing a series of upcoming evangelistic meetings that would be perfect to bring our “non-Christian friends” to. The speaker enthusiastically assured us that if we brought our “un-saved friends” they would have the Gospel presented to them.
As the sales pitch continued (and yes, it felt like a pitch) every time I heard the term “un-saved friend” or “non-Christian friend” mentioned it was if those individuals were not so much people as a target market. I twitched nervously in my seat; the way he used those terms really bugged me but I wasn’t sure why.
And then it hit me;
I don’t have “non-Christian friends”…
…I just have friends!
Grandpa and Grandson Fishing
When I was young there was a TV commercial that I remember vividly. An old Grandpa and his grandson are enjoying an afternoon fishing together in a small boat. The boy is telling his grandpa about his school day.
Boy: And at lunchtime today Grandpa, I played outside with Jimmy.
Grandpa: And who is Jimmy?
Boy: Oh, Jimmy is my Jewish friend.
Grandpa: Well, sounds to me like Jimmy really isn’t your friend then.
Boy: (surprised) Grandpa, why do you say he’s not really my friend?
Grandpa: Because son, you think of Jimmy as your “Jewish friend”…and not your friend.”
Friendship Without Hooks
Listening to the speaker promoting the evangelistic meetings I began to wonder if he really had any friends that were “non- Christian”. Not casual acquaintances or neighbors he chatted with on occasion; not people he pro-actively engaged with to hopefully, one day, bring to church. No, an honest to goodness friend whom he loved and respected yet had a completely different belief system to the one he held.
Somehow I highly doubted it!
Me? I have a lot of friends that are not Christian. Heck, I have friends who don’t share my skin color, political affiliations, sexual orientation, and yes, perhaps even more tragically, my love for all things Doctor Who!
What I do have are:
* friends who are Muslim
* friends who are Democrats
* friends who are Black
* friends who are gay
* friends who are female
* friends who are atheist
* friends who are taller, better looking, and smarter that me
* and yes, even friends who are fans of the Chicago Cubs!
What unites them all is our friendship! We may see differently on any number of different areas but they know I have NO agenda in our relationship other than my sincere desire to enjoy their companionship and see them become all they were created to be. (or, in deference to my atheist friends, everything they were evolved to be )
How many times have I been in a church small group gathering where I had to hear about how we should pursue friendships with people so that one day, when they’re really going through a hard time, they’ll reach out to their Christian friend and ask about Jesus.
Really? Is that supposed to me my motivation for friendship?
Has Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22) been reduced to the level of a multi-level marketing pitch; “Hey, no pressure friend but if you come to our meeting on Tuesday night you will hear about the tools, self-esteem, and support network you’ve been seeking to capture success and live your dreams!”
As followers of Christ our relationships with others should have the purest of motivations; to love unconditionally? Why then do so many people in the church have such a “homogeneous” circle of friends?
Could it be because we’ve become more known for loving…conditionally! I find Christians are willing to meet with non-Christians provided certain conditions are met. Such encounters should be:
* on our own turf (we rather like the home field advantage)
* in audiences where we have the superior numbers
* with an agenda we have set
Jesus was always accused by religious people of being “friends” with “sinners’. Jesus never corrected them on it. He hung out with his friends on the streets, in the bars, and in their homes. He loved being on their turf, with more of “them”, and hearing what was on their hearts…
Because he was their friend.
But Aren’t We Supposed To “Make Disciples”?
Of course. I’m not suggesting we go invisible either. It’s just as incumbent on my friends to accept that my Christian faith goes part and parcel with our friendship. There is no one who has spent any real time with me who is unaware of my faith, my love for Jesus Christ, and my desire to see Earth become “as it is in Heaven.” I write a Christian themed blog, I speak at churches, I’m the chaplain at a school…
…believe me when I say, “there is no covert or “stealth” faith at work in my life. My “light is not under a bushel.”
It’s simply that my friends know my friendship comes without hooks. I’m not trying to build a relational bridge into someone’s life with the expectation of one day driving Jesus over! I enjoy building relational bridges with my friends so that we can eat, laugh, cry and enjoy the wonderful creation God has made together.
In doing so I am being a disciple of Christ by loving God and loving people. Some of my friends may know Jesus…some of them may not…
…but they are all my friends!