At the moment, I find forming friendships in church quite challenging. Moving to a new city, as well as health issues, is probably part of the reason. I also have trouble connecting deeply with people at church, even though I join small groups, volunteer for service, and participate in church events.
My old friends, however, are still like family to me. Most of them are former teaching colleagues, and a few I know from my former church. Our friendships span a period of 16 years. Though our bonds have been tested through many seasons—job changes, marriage, sickness and death—we remain dear friends. When it is time to rejoice, we dance; in times of sorrow, we hold to each other and cry. We have grown up together.
None of my friends attend my current church. Most of my friends aren’t even Christians: in fact, some of them are atheists. One of them has even embraced the goth lifestyle.
Does that make it okay then, that l am closer to them than people l know in church?
Who Did Jesus Befriend?
Some well-meaning Christians have suggested that I give up these friendships. While I certainly put time and effort into making friends at church, I definitely do not think it is necessary to give up my friends outside of church. After all, Jesus was diverse in his interactions with people as well. He not only spent time discipling the Twelve, but He associated Himself with children, tax collectors, lepers, as well as others considered socially inferior. He sought to draw them to the kingdom of God. Why then, should we limit ourselves to being involved only with people from church?
Just like Jesus tried to draw people from various backgrounds into His kingdom, so too, we can try to bring our friends into the church family. After all, the Great Commission commands that we share the gospel with our fellow man (Matthew 28:16-20).
For example, I invite my friends to church, and they enjoy themselves when they are there. l use discernment to determine the right moment to broach Christian-related subjects. It means stepping into unfamiliar territory for all of us and exploring deep-rooted issues, but l love how open-minded my friends are. More often than not, my friends talk about God of their own accord. I’ve also discovered that I can sometimes be a more effective ambassador for Christ through the way l live my life as a Christian, rather than through using my voice.
God Loved Us First
I cherish my friends. Our relationships have a realness to them—the kind of grit and spit that has survived the ugliness of hardship and seen the beauty in each other when we were at our weakest. We share a love which selflessly gives, genuinely wanting to contribute to the happiness of the other. We share a love that deepens through shared experiences and the revelation of life’s lessons. It is a love that does not leave anyone behind.
Our love for each other reminds me of God’s love for us—in His unconditional love, He gave up the life of His precious son Jesus to pay the bond price for our sins on the cross of Calvary (John 3:16). This is the love that breaks chains and sets people free.
I get to love my friends—though they are not all Christian—with the love that God has showered on me. I pray for them and hope that one day, they get to know God’s love for themselves as well.
Friendships in Church
While I am incredibly thankful for these friendships God has blessed me with, I am also aware of how important it is to have strong friendships within the church. The depth of my relationship with my closest friends encourages me to reach out and work to build meaningful relationships at church.
Instead of simply trying to get to know everybody, however, I am now focusing on getting to know a few specific people better. I try to keep in mind that we are all imperfect and ask God to help us understand each other.
There are a few women at church with whom I share a mutual sympathy, and we have a similar perspective on faith as well. We now stay in regular contact. We pray for each other and try to get to know each other over coffee. It’s taking time, but our efforts are bearing fruit, and we are opening up more to each other.
In a letter to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul lists his dearest friends: Jews, Gentiles, cellmates, a physician, and even a slave (Colossians 4:7-18). This extensive list encourages and inspires me to nurture Kingdom friendships with people from all walks of life, so that we might work together towards the glory of God, both within and outside the church.
Perhaps you have close friends outside of church as well? I thank God for the deep love you share with them. Do you pray for them? Have you ever considered inviting them to church or small group? May you keep loving them the way God loves you and me.