Friday, January 19, 2018

Becoming a Contagious Christian: The Ministry of Friendship

It’s January, and we’re thinking about how we can be more missional in our faith this year!  So we’re starting by sharing some thoughts inspired by the book Becoming a Contagious Christian
If you remember from last week’s article, the book has a formula, based in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:13-16 that His followers should be salt and light:

HP (High Potency) + CP (Close Proximity) + CC (Clear Communication) = MI (Maximum Impact)

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So last week we began with “High Potency,” the idea that we must first be salt.  If we want to make a
difference in the world for Christ, we must first be different in ourselves, with a genuine love, faith, and commitment that others can see in us.  That starting point makes sense to me.  I told you my favorite mental image of evangelism is “overflow,” the idea that I first have a strong faith and passion in myself, which naturally overflows onto those around me.  So before I have anything to share with others, I must make sure that I am truly living a genuine and committed life (not perfect, but genuine and committed) for Christ.

Once I have committed myself to truly being salt, I can then think about the next step of being missional in my faith…

Close Proximity, Just Like Jesus

Salt makes no difference unless we take it out of the salt shaker and let it make contact!  In the same way, we must have genuine (there’s that word again) contact with the world to make a difference.  How do we do that?
Well, let’s first notice that Jesus is once again the example for us.  He leaves heaven to come to earth, to be physically present with those He wants to draw closer to God.  And in His time here, we often see Him simply spending time with people.  Some examples:

·         The woman at the well is surprised that Jesus talks to her and shows kindness to her.  That’s the first thing she noticed about Him.  (John 4:7-9)
·         He goes to wedding feasts with family and friends (John 2:1-11). 
·         He eats in Levi’s home with a great crowd of tax collectors, showing friendship to people the Pharisees considered beneath them (Luke 5:29-32).
·         He regularly eats with people in homes (Luke 7:36-39, Luke 14:1-24). 
·         Jesus was with people so much that some criticized Him for “eating and drinking” as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

In fact, that last statement is a good summary: Jesus was a friend to people.  Now to be clear: Jesus wasn’t just a friend – He had a message people needed to hear, and He was eager to share it (more on that next week).  So it wasn’t that Jesus was “just a nice guy.”  But He started by extending friendship to anyone He came across.

And do you know what Jesus’ friendships often led to?  Opportunities to help people draw closer to God.  Look at Luke 15:1: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.”  People who were far from God – tax collectors and sinners – wanted to listen to Jesus!  Why?  Not because He told them what they wanted to hear, but because of what the Pharisees said in the next verse: “this man receives sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus had the ability to “receive” people as friends, to “eat with them” as friends, and that ability to extend friendship led to open doors for them to hear the gospel.

First Things First

That makes sense doesn’t it?  You’ve heard the saying a thousand times: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

If I don’t know you and you just come up and tell me what I need to do with my life, I’m probably going to reject you out of hand, because I’m not going to trust you.  But if I know you, and I know that you genuinely care about me by how you’ve treated me over a period of time, I’m willing to listen to whatever you have to say.  I may disagree with it, but I will listen, because we have some level of friendship. 

So what a great goal for us this year: like Jesus, I will practice what we might call “The Ministry of
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Friendship.”  I will show kindness to whomever I meet.  I will be the person to bring cookies to the family that moves in across the street.  I will be the person to say hi and genuinely ask how things are going in someone’s life.  I will be the person to invite someone I know to go get coffee so we can get to know each other better.  I will be the person to have others into my home for dinner.  I will be the person to text, Facebook message, or call to check up on people.  I will be the person who is not in too big a hurry to talk. 

Those are great goals!  And just like Jesus’ life, if I am truly salt, extending friendship will lead to opportunities for faith encouragement.

Concerns About The Ministry of Friendship?

 You may have some questions about the ministry of friendship idea.  So let’s make sure we keep things straight in our minds, understanding what we are doing and what we aren’t doing:

1)      Are we saying we should only make friends with people so we can later encourage them to become Christians?  No – true friendship is always more genuine than that.  If someone eventually becomes a Christian through our friendship, praise God.  But there were many “tax collectors and sinners” Jesus knew who never became His followers, and yet He showed friendship to them anyway.  The Ministry of Friendship must have the right motives.  We show friendship because it’s part of loving our neighbor.  It’s part of living like Jesus did.  It’s a way to encourage people, because as a genuine Christian you can’t help but be a positive encouragement in others’ lives.  It’s letting God use my life to be a blessing to others, whether that means faith encouragement or life encouragement or both.

2)      Should I really be spending a lot of time with people who don’t live for God?  Well, if you are not yet a mature Christian, and your salt isn’t strong enough to withstand influence from others, then yes you need to be wise about how much time you spend with unbelievers (1 Cor. 15:33, 2 Cor. 6:14).  That’s another reason truly being salt is the first step in becoming more missional.  But when you are mature enough to stand strong in your faith even around people who don’t live for God, you want to be in contact with the world so they can see Christ in you. 

3)      Would spending time with “sinners” give the impression I approve of the sin in their lifestyles?  Jesus never approved of sin, and yet He still offered some level of friendship to those who were openly living as “sinners.”  So to Jesus, friendship didn’t mean approval of everything in their life.  (In fact, I imagine none of our friendships imply that we approve of everything in each other’s lives!)  And when the time was right to discuss sinful issues, Jesus was clear in telling people the truth.  So they knew where Jesus stood, but they knew Jesus was telling them the truth as a friend, not just as a critic.  Extending friendship to people doesn’t mean you approve of everything in their life. 

4)      Do I really have time for more friendships?  You’re right, we only have so much time in each day.  But extending friendship doesn’t mean you have to be best friends.  Studies (and common sense) show we can really only have a handful of deep, close relationships.  But we can have lots of “friends,” people we keep regular communication with in life.  We don’t have to extend “best friendship,” but we can be friends with people, keeping up with them and getting together every now and then.

5)      Does the Ministry of Friendship mean we avoid talking to people about the gospel, instead just focusing on being friends with them?  Of course not – you don’t have to choose between friendship or sharing the gospel.  The faith conversations will eventually come, like they do in all friendships, and we need to keep our ears open for them.  You will have opportunities to invite your friends to church or to let them know you’re praying for them or to talk about their faith background.  We will say more about that next week.  For now, let’s simply say this: faith encouragement opportunities always mean more when they come in the context of genuine friendship. 

The First Thing Christians Should Offer: Friendship

Jesus said we are supposed to be the “salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13), and salt can only make a difference if it makes contact.  We live in a culture where most of us are distrustful of those we don’t know.  In that type of culture, the best way to share the gospel is often through relationships and example first, and allowing the spoken words of the gospel to be shared when the right time comes.

So let’s start extending friendship to the people God has put in our lives.  That’s what Jesus did, and it made a positive difference in the people He met, whether they decided to follow Him or not.  When salt makes contact, it can’t help but make a difference.

Let’s be a blessing to other people’s lives this year.  Let’s offer them genuine friendship.  At the very least, we will be living like Jesus.  And with the working of God, those seeds of friendship could eventually become something much bigger.

Next week we will have our third and final article in this series on thoughts from Becoming a Contagious Christian…

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