By Harmony Harkema
When you’re a Christian, it’s generally easy to surround yourself with other like-minded Christians. Church, your small group, your Christian writers’ group, your weekly moms’ Bible study, the other parents whose kids play on the church softball league–these are all great potential sources of friendship, encouragement, and accountability as you seek to follow Jesus. And let’s be clear: Christians need other Christians. We weren’t meant to journey alone. God intended us to scaffold each other.
Sometimes, though, it can be easy to let our Church community become our sole community. And this, I think, is where we can miss the boat.
When I was a new Christian, I was excited about making friends whose beliefs were the same as mine. I loved that we could talk–and agree–about Jesus. But I had other friends, too, non-Christians I loved a great deal. They sometimes questioned my faith, putting me on the spot and making me uncomfortable by challenging my beliefs. They sometimes tried to cajole me into “breaking the rules.” It wasn’t always easy to uphold the standards of Christ in their company, and sometimes I outright failed. But I still loved them, still wanted the best for them. I was always hopeful that someday they might come to know Jesus too.
Now, decades later, I work for a Christian company. I live in an area of the country that is overwhelmingly churched. My online communities are comprised almost exclusively of Christians.
It’s hard these days to think of anyone in my personal life who isn’t a believer.
And you know what? When you’re surrounded only by other Christians, it can be difficult to fulfill the Great Commission–to share Jesus with people who don’t know him. (See Matthew 28:19.)
I’m not talking about seeking out strangers in the grocery store and telling them about Jesus. Sure, that can happen, but it’s pretty well established that the best way to share Christ with someone is to first develop a relationship with them. Get to know them. Accept them for who they are. Extend a hand in friendship. Serve them. Show them unconditional love and grace.
How do you find non-Christians? Seek out other people with common interests. Join a secular writing group instead of a faith-based one. Try a knitting circle, a book club, a local sports league. Take a class at your local craft store. The options are endless; the key is meeting new people outside the church. Ask them to tell you their stories. Listen well. Let Jesus show himself through you. Eventually, over time, you won’t be able to help letting bits and pieces of your faith slip into the conversation. From there, God can do so much more than you might imagine.
Does this mean you should ditch your Christian friends? Not at all. A well-balanced Christian who wants to live out the gospel should seek to have one foot in each camp. Jesus did this, keeping his disciples close and yet reaching out to the lost. The apostle Paul exemplified this, traveling the Mediterranean and speaking to the unchurched while relying on the encouragement of the Christians with whom he’d formed relationships based on shared faith, like Timothy and Junia.
Let’s be like Jesus, friends. Let’s be like Paul. Let’s make sure we’re not so insulated we forget how much God wants to grow his family through us.
Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. A former English teacher turned editor, she has spent the past seven years in the publishing industry. A novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working mom life, Harmony also has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers. Harmony lives in Memphis with her car-loving husband and two small daughters. She blogs at harmonyharkema.com.
Photograph © Aaron Burden, used with permission