Do you befriend non-Christians? To some, this may seem like an odd question. Why am I even asking?
For others, it is actually quite penetrating. If you have been following Jesus for awhile, then you might be intimately aware of what I am probing you to consider.
There is a common pattern that emerges when considering the lives of people who have followed Jesus for many years. The number of genuine relationships they have with people who are non-Christians is quite small. Just so we are clear, I am writing this to myself as much as I am to anyone who is reading. As I have grown older, taken on more responsibilities and worked in a Christian context, it has become more difficult. At one point, I was living on campus at a Christian university, I was working at the same Christian university and I was attending class at a Christian seminary. I worked with Christians, I studied with Christians, I lived with Christians, I ate with Christians and I spent nearly every waking hour with Christians. Last summer, I took my first call as a pastor and so I continue to work in a context where I am constantly surrounded by other Christians. Lest I sound like I don't enjoy spending time with other Christians, that is not what I am saying. I am not complaining that I spent all my time and continue to spend my time with primarily Christians. I love the people I have spent time with over the past four to five years. I have developed real and deep and genuine relationships.
The reason I am asking the question, do you befriend non-Christians?, is because we are called to share the good news of Jesus with the world. How are we supposed to do that when we don't have friendships with anyone who doesn't already follow Jesus? Therefore, I have been challenged to consider how I can cultivate relationships with people who do not already follow Jesus. I challenge you to do the same.
But first, you may consider reading this post about what I believe it means to "follow Jesus." I use the phrase "follow Jesus" fairly often, and it may help bring some definition to what I mean.
Intentional in Relationships
If we are going to develop friendships with non-Christians then we must be intentional. The natural path of your life will be to drift toward relationships with people who look like you, enjoy the same things as you, dress the same way as you, and believe the same things you do. The friendships you have with people who share your faith are extremely important, and are not to be minimized. However, the reality is that unless you are intentional, you will probably not develop new friendships with non-Christians.
Ask yourself how you can create new rhythms in your life so that you can develop new friendships with non-Christians. You can also consider the current ways you spend your time. For example, are your kids involved in activities? When you go to those activities, do you engage with the other parents to develop genuine relationships, or do simply want to avoid the other parents? What about work? Are you actively trying to learn about your co-workers so you can love and care for them? Many of you already have natural ways to connect with non-Christians, while others will need to create new opportunities. However it works for you, be intentional to develop relationships with people who are not already following Jesus.
Develop genuine friendships
As you begin to develop these friendships, do not see them as simply a target to convert? That is not what we are after. Jesus calls us to truly love our neighbor. This means developing genuine friendships. The type of friendships that involve investment, caring, and sacrifice. If you are going to try to intentionally develop friendships with non-Christians, do not see them as a task to be conquered. They are a person to be loved. As you learn about who they are, what they cherish, what their hopes are and what they fear, you can be a true friend. As a friend, you also get the privilege of sharing the good news of Jesus. This may mean that they eventually follow Jesus too, or it may mean that they never do, but either way, we are called to love them just the same.
Relational Sphere of Influence
When I think about the relationships I have, I find the term Relational Sphere of Influence (RSI) helpful. I define my RSI as the people I have a relationship with as a result of my natural rhythms of life, including my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, fellow parents, hair stylist, convenience store clerk, etc. These include both Christians and non-Christians. If you were to try to sit down and write out a list of everyone who is in your RSI, you might be surprised at how many people's names you scribble onto a sheet of paper. The depth of your relationship to each will vary, because we are naturally closer to our spouse than we are to our next door neighbor. Once you have written down the names, ask yourself how many of them are already following Jesus. How might you be more intentional to develop genuine relationships with non-Christians, so that you might have the opportunity to love them well and share the good news of Jesus with them.
Non-Christian friends won't make you unclean
I think that we can sometimes fear that if we spend too much time with non-Christians, they will make us "unclean." I do not believe we need to have this fear. In fact, I believe that Jesus made it abundantly clear that it is not the case. If you want to read more about this, check out my previous post about what makes us clean/unclean. We do not need to fear that becoming too close with non-Christians will somehow ruin our own faith or undercut what God is doing in our lives. We do not need to fear these friendships.
In fact, you may come to cherish and grow with your non-Christians friends more than you think. One of the favorite people I have known is a friend from the years I spent in Fargo. I developed a friendship with a co-worker who was not a Christian. We spent time playing games together, watching MMA fights and talking about faith. He actually initiated some conversations surrounding faith, because he wanted to explore it more. The questions he was asking helped me to consider things differently and forced me to answer questions I may have otherwise avoided. It didn't cause me to question my faith, but in many ways I grew more confident in the reasons I follow Jesus. Unfortunately, he and I don't interact much anymore, because we have both moved away from Fargo. If we both lived in the same city, I am sure we would find ways to hang out, but our lives just don't intersect much. I still pray for him, and I still hope that one day he will follow Jesus, but regardless, I will always consider him a friend.
Take a step
What does this mean for each of us? What is the next step that we should take?
For each of us, it may look different. Some of us simply need to intentionally invest in the relationships we already have. Others may need to restructure our lives to create space for building new relationships with non-Christians. I challenge each of us to take some time today to pray and consider how we can develop genuine relationships with people who do not already follow Jesus.