Several years back I heard a statistic that bothered me. I can’t quote it from memory but the point was about two years after their conversion, most Christians don’t have non-Christian friends anymore. As a pastor this broke my heart for I knew that the reason wasn’t new converts were in the regular habit of bringing all their non-Christian friends to a relationship with Jesus.
Recently I have realized there is good reason for this statistic. It is difficult for a Christian and a non-Christian to be friends. Why? We have too many degrees of separation. Most non-Christians do not want to be told that they are wretched black hearted sinners in need of a savior. Most people who have not surrendered their lives to Jesus don’t like being told He is the only way to life. Our position seems narrow minded and intolerant. If there is one thing people outside camp Jesus can’t tolerate, it’s what we believe.
Here is where the relationship gets complicated. A Christian honestly believes that without Jesus people go to hell. As such the most unloving, cruel, hateful, intolerant thing they can do is keep their mouth shut. They tell people about Jesus because they care, they want to see the people they know and love surrender to Jesus. Granted, not all have pure motives, but that is not really our or anyone else on this earth’s place to judge. Point is the Christian point of view demands that we tell anyone who will listen as often as they will listen all about Jesus.
Then we have the non-Christian. If there is anything that bakes their noodle faster than being told they will go to hell without Jesus I haven’t found it. You might as well be insulting their mother, brother, spouse, favorite cousin, and grandparents all at once. From their point of view, every time we talk about Jesus we are ramming it down their throat and trying to force our beliefs on them. They dont interpret what Christians are doing as loving, they interpret it as judging.
That’s what makes it so hard, we speak two different languages. Christians believe themselves to be acting in love when they share their faith. Non-Christians often perceive that as hostile judgment.
There are three things that happen when a Christian and a non-Christian try to be friends:
1. The non-Christian becomes a Christian. This is the goal Christians have and the reason they should be maintaining and developing new friendships with non-Christians. The message of the gospel was carried on the shoulders of relationships. If you dont known any non-Christians who are you telling about Jesus? Make friends first, build a relationship, then share your faith.
2. The Christian lives like they are not a Christian. Proverbs says bad company corrupts good character. You have to pick your friends wisely because some will bring you down. For the same reason an alcoholic shouldnt hang out a a bar, sometimes you have to distance yourself from non-Christian friends (at least for a time).
3. The friendship ends and sometimes its messy. Two people who have fundamentally different core values can struggle to get along. Many friendships will end when one party is a Christian and the other is not. I’ve seen it tear apart best friends, marriages, and families. Jesus said it, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Ways to bridge the gap
1. Respect. A little respect goes a long way, on both sides. For Christians you need to respect the fact that the other person doesn’t see things the way you do. If you talk to them like they are idiots because they dont agree, you are going to offend not aid. For non-Christians, understand the reason we talk about Jesus and try to get you to accept Him is not because we think we are better than you, but because we believe He is life. If you knew a website that would give every person who visited it $10 million would you keep it to yourself? Or would you tell everyone you cared about to go there, even push them a bit to try and get them to go?
2. Speak the same language. This one is just for the Christians. Speak English, or whatever language that is spoken in your area, stop speaking Christianese with all these Bible words no one else knows. It doesnt make you sound good and it doesnt help. You also need to realize that while the Bible is the Word of God, non-Christians do not recognize its authority. If they did, they’d be Christians. Wildly quoting verses from the Bible to answer questions are not typically going to convince them. When people are hung up and looking for reasons they often dont want Bible quotes, they want someone to talk to them. I’m not saying dont use the Bible. Im not saying dont quote it. Im saying you need to understand the person you are talking to is not just going to accept it because you quote it. You need to talk to them not just preach at them.
3. Grace. This is essential for all relationships to work out. Both sides need to be gracious towards the other. For the non-Christian that means being patient and understanding with the fact that the Christian is probably going to talk about Jesus and invite you to church 1000 times or so. Don’t be offended, they do this because they love you and care about you. For the Christian this means, speaking the truth in love. Most of us get one or the other. Some are good a truth and come across like the Hulk for Jesus. Others get love and while they rarely offend, they rarely actually say what Jesus would have them say.
4. Avoid intellectual debates and pointless arguments. Christians, this is something we all need to understand. Just because someone asks a remotely theological question does not mean they are inviting you to enter into a verbose monologue in their general direction. Pick your battles. Debates rarely lead people to Jesus. Love often does. You need to talk with them about Jesus, but that doesnt mean you have to go trolling through their facebook page to start a debate/fight to try and prove them wrong.
Christians should have non-Christian friends. The thing to remember is your job is not to prove Jesus to them but to show Jesus to them.