I love it when people come to Jesus. I especially love it when they move from understanding how much they matter to God, to seeing that other people really matter too. They matter to God. They matter as treasures God created. They matter to that person who's just discovered God's grace.
It's disappointing though, when followers of Christ begin to see their friends as walking targets, a bull's eye target to faith-wrestle to their knees, so they can be "saved." People can tell when the friendship is motivated by pure love that is curious, genuinely interested and invested. And, people can tell when the "friendship" is about completing a soul-saving objective. When that happens the Christ-follower listens less, asks fewer questions and presents more persuasive monologues around church and faith. That's disappointing to me. And frustrating for people who really matter to God, but think they only matter if they see it the way of the Christian friend.
Some time ago a letter in our local newspaper illustrated this very predicament. A writer, identified only as "Hell of a Friend", includes this in the letter:
"I've been friends with "Jenny" for 10 years. We met in our early 20s when we were both newly married...The problem is Jenny has found Jesus. She goes to church twice a week, listens to religious music and studies the Bible constantly. She hasn't joined a cult or anything; it's a mainstream religion. I'm glad she's happy in her faith...When "The Passion of the Christ" came out, she invited me because her church had told members to "bring an unsaved friend." I resented her thinking of me in those terms.
"But I'm more annoyed by her casual approaches to convert me. (When she invites me places, she says something like "I've got an extra ticket and thought you might want to come" or "We're studying Revelation and I thought you might be interested.")...
"I'm not interested, but I don't know how to tell her without hurting her feelings or making her think even more that I'm headed for hell. Plus, I wonder if she thinks of me as a friend anymore or just a soul that needs saving."
I wonder how easy it is for us - any of us who are following Jesus - to make this kind of mistake in our relationships? For instance, around GCC we're elevating the call to "be the Church where you are."
Our intent is that our people (including me) will genuinely invest in neighbors, work associates and friends out of a sincere, personal curiosity about that person's life. Period. And, it's those kinds of friendships that allow us to extend a personal invitation to join us on a journey that is marking our life. It is an invitation that addresses the shared journey between friends, the already voiced questions and concerns that make the invitation to journey a common sense next step between two people who really care about each other. That next step might be dinner, a sporting event, sitting silently in mourning a loss, or an invitation to a weekend worship service.
But there's no bull's eye on that friend's chest.
Really. Stop the target practice.