I haven’t known Sonny all that long, but he became a very fast friend both on and off line. He talked me through my first watching of Doctor Who and he is among the contributors for Not Afraid. He’s a funny, clever guy, and I’m so happy that he agreed to write for me (and you) today.
I recently ended a six-month “relationship” with a church in town where I had been serving as Interim Student Minister. Quite honestly, I was in the position about five months and two weeks longer than I expected they’d let me stay, seeing as how radically different I am from every person on staff. There was one point where I considered going for the position full-time, mainly because I fell in love with the teenagers I served. And while I never felt like I fit completely (theologically, spiritually, or personally) within the structure or demographic of the church, I thought that maybe I could make it work.
I’d tried this similar crazy idea with some people I dated before I got married. Don’t act like you never did.
However, two events happened which changed my mind. First, my three year old son’s health issues began to recur (meaning he was getting sick a lot) and I remembered my first, best ministry is as a husband and stay-at-home dad. Period. If these areas suffered, nothing else mattered. Second, God used the comments of some of the leaders in this church to cement my belief that my family and I just wouldn’t fit there. Not that I hedged my all on one off-the-cuff remark, nor was this is proverbial straw on the camel’s back. It was, however, not an isolated comment, and when weighed up against other similar ideas spoken, I knew it was best for me to peace out.
I gave full disclosure to the leaders about some of my relationships – friendships, really – with those I have outside the walls of this particular church. I wasn’t exactly trying to talk them out of considering me for the position, but I did want them to realize who it was that they we thinking about hiring. I told them that I was friends, close friends, with people who would not fit the mold of what they might expect someone with the business card “minister” emblazoned on it to have: people in the LGBT community; atheists; agnostics; people who were angry at God and the church; Christians who didn’t go to church; people who openly drank; people who regularly used non-family-friendly language; and so on. One person on the search committee, after considering my list of friends, said they didn’t see a problem with me being a friend to them, especially since Jesus was friends with prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners. They then followed their “questionably” judgmental comment with the idea that since I would be leading them to a close personal relationship with the Lord, I could spend as much time as necessary with them.
But see, that’s it: that’s just not my priority.
My relationship with my friends is not based on the idea that I am to show them the way to Jesus. Would I like for them to discover the same Love that I have? Absolutely. But my relationship with them is based on being a friend to them. My faith compels me that I am to be like Jesus to them, not necessarily show them to Jesus.
And yes: there is a marked difference.
What this person missed is the point so many Christians miss: what we consider to be traditional evangelism isn’t the key to everything. In Matthew 28:19, when Jesus commanded the Apostles to go out into the world, it was to make disciples, not converts. Discipleship is a lengthy, messy, involved beast. It is a life-deep commitment to the person, not the process. In this way, discipleship closely resembles friendship, and I daresay that many Christians would probably classify some of the individuals they have discipled and been discipled under as friends. Close friends. Mainly because they have trudged through so much together and have deeply bonded as a result.
Were I to let the condition of my friends’ souls be the focus of my time with them, my priority would be with an agenda I have and not with them as a person, thus in a very real sense betraying our friendship and relationship. And if I am a truthful and honest to my friends, they learn – through word and deed – what my priorities are. What matters to me. And if my actions show them Christ in a way that is more genuine or that seems more real than going with every head bowed and every eye closed, then the Spirit speaks to them in a language they understand.
Jesus did hang out with and have relationships with such persons of “ill repute” as some of those I have made friends with. And no, He did not gloss over or ignore matters of faith or eternity with them. What He did, and what I try to do, is to let the other person lead the discussion and ask the questions. In doing so, I do not come across as rushing in to our times together, theological guns a-blazing, trying to force them down the Roman Road. It’s their choice, which ultimately can lead them to an ownership of a personal faith and into a collective family.
To separate myself from them, or to separate them from me, stands in stark contrast from the Gospel I’ve read and the person of Jesus I know. To set myself apart from them, for whatever reason, makes modeling my life to them pretty difficult. Besides, the last time I read the Bible, Jesus met in person with every one of these people, albeit outside of the church.
Which, sadly, is where many people believe they should remain.
How do you handle your friendships with those both inside and outside of your faith? If you are a Christian, do you find yourself at times focusing on “witnessing” to friends who believe differently?
Sonny Lemmons (yes, that is his real name) is embracing his dream and has begun introducing himself as a writer. This explains why he’s not invited to a lot of parties. He and his wife Ashley have one manic ball of energy (Malakai, age 3). Three years ago, Sonny left behind a 13-year career in Higher Education Administration to be a stay-at-home dad. He views this as his best career move yet. Sonny can usually be found Tweeting (@sonnylemmons), blogging (www.lookthrough.net), drinking coffee, or doing laundry and cooking, all while his son is blissfully napping.