The other day in the comments on The Rule of 150, we were talking about fostering relationships outside of the Christian-cloister. Alan Knox got it right with his question:
I am interesting in building relationships in the opposite direction. Iâ€™ve recognized for some time that I live in a â€œChristian bubbleâ€?, and I desire to build relationships with those outside of the Christian community. I can see how I was â€œknit inâ€? and Iâ€™m hoping the Spirit is able to do some â€œknitting outâ€?. My family is praying about opportunities to interact with our neighbors and community. One of the things that weâ€™ve determined is that any relationships cannot be built on false hobbies, likes, etc. Any suggestions?
This completely gets the point. It may have been a choir-loft conversation, but such are most helpful in learning what’s worked for others — or at least what others are trying. Ideas are good, and the more the merrier. I don’t have any particular inside track on this, as I am not nearly as good at it as are many others I know. I have a few avenues, but others have more experience and insight. Nonetheless, I responded at some length… enough so that I figured it might be good to elevate my comment to a post of its own so it doesn’t get lost in the fray.
Good question Alan — and one for which I don’t have the answer of course. Sonja (and others) might have some ideas to share from her efforts in this direction too… would be worth collecting. It occurs to me that Frost & Hirsch’s TTSOTC had some examples, as do other books, and this is the kind of thing that can really only be spread by example.
As a how-to / idea-list, I would suggest:
- Stop thinking that relationships outside the faith community need to result in “witnessing” opportunities;
- Cut back on church activities to make room… way back, if necessary;
- Don’t fabricate interests and hobbies (well-observed, Alan);
- Opt for non-christian versions of programs (Scouts & Guides vs. AWANA and Boys’ Brigade);
- Pay attention to what’s important to your community (from school board to land use applications);
- Use the library;
- Read bulletin boards;
- Sit for a while in the coffee shops;
- Attend events of interest;
- Join a business networking group;
- Find an interest-group (from book clubs to…??);
- Take a class;
- Enroll your kids in a class; and
- Review nos. 1 and 2 again (harder for some of us than you’d think).
The biggest single thing is to just get out and be with people, and see what “sticks” as an interest for you or your kids. If it doesn’t generate “friendships” right away, don’t sweat it — just keep on with it. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that some period of de/re-sensitization is needed to change how we relate to churchfolk vs. worldfolk. Our city publishes a “Leisure Guide” a few times a year announcing classes that can be taken for between $10 and $50 from 2-8 weeks, normally evenings at local schools. Our kids each did one last year (gymnastics & Hip-Hop dancing), and right now my wife is thinking about a Chinese cooking class (I selfishly hope she goes for it!). I suspect that every town or city has things like this, if you just know where to look.
Our family joined the local museum and hangs out there from time to time (the kids love it — go figure!) and they have special exhibits and programs on occasion. It was quite a few years ago that we had a personal breakthrough… we skipped church on Sunday morning, went out and bought a kite, and took it to the park as a family to fly it. We aren’t part of an institutional church anymore, but at the time, this was *huge* for us. I think over years of being involved in church activities, to some extent we can even forget what hobbies and activities used to interest us, even ignore the things we used to read and enjoy. (Not that some things don’t need to be left behind.)
The biggest thing, especially at first I think, is just to get out and be among people who aren’t absorbed with the same subcultural ideals. Let it grow from there. Last year one of our daughters joined Brownies; our friends took theirs to AWANA. I’m not trying to be down on those Christian programs, but the idea of outreach doesn’t always hold water like we wish it would, and that’s one of the things we’re shifting through this exercise. Our kids are in a Christian school, but we have friends whose kids specifically aren’t, just for this reason.
Would love for others to add their thoughts, experiences, and observations on this subject.
Sonja also responded, saying:
Here are some specific things Iâ€™ve done and noted.
Alan is correct. Friendships have to be just friendships. If you have a goal in mind, people can sniff that out. And (if you think about it) who wants to be on the receiving end of that sort of relationship. Thatâ€™s icky. â€œHere â€¦ Iâ€™ll be your friend, but there are strings attached. I want you to change your world view. Itâ€™s for your own good. Really. Youâ€™ll thank me for it.â€? Thatâ€™s a really arrogant, supercilious attitude to have in any relationship â€¦ and, pretty much, people can detect it if weâ€™re thinking it. (Yes, I realize Iâ€™ve overstated it somewhat)
Some things that Iâ€™ve done is discover what Iâ€™m/weâ€™re passionate about and get involved in that both on-line and IRL. Iâ€™ve been a member of a local quilting guild for about 8 years now and keep up my relationships there despite the pressure to stay in the bubble. My husband is into photography and has developed (pun intended) relationships through on-line communities and is branching out IRL through our daughterâ€™s hockey games. Our daughter joined a girlâ€™s hockey team this year and that has really blown the doors open. Weâ€™ve even blown off church (gasp) to go to her games.
The other things Iâ€™m interested in are re-establishing old friendships that fell away. This is somewhat more difficult, because the ties have been strained and issues have to be overcome. But some of those friendships are really worth it and time spent with those people feels like a long cold drink of water. I have old (non-Christian) friends because I didnâ€™t come to Christ until I was 29, so I have that old community to draw upon.
All of that said, however, I sometimes feel as though Iâ€™m walking a tightrope and the balance is really difficult to maintain. But that is something Iâ€™m working throughâ€¦
Hope nobody minds my re-publishing their comments ;^) But it’s worth noting, probably as a ‘cardinal rule’ something repeated in each of the three quotes above. Friendship must be for its own sake, with no ulterior motive. I think that’s how Jesus did it, and it’s why he didn’t seem flustered if someone got healed and went away before he could finish passing out the tracts. Tomorrow I’ll finish this thought more controversially in a followup post.
Still, I’m very interested in anyone else’s experiences in this or similar attempts to build bridges. Really, it’s the story of missional.
I certainly don’t mind you posting my comment. I’m looking forwards to the comments you receive here.
The list above is really good as are the clipped comments.
My addition would be to become “visible”. Open up the shades on your house, leave the porch light on, have picnics in the backyard, wash your car or your windows, read on the front stoop, shovel your sidewalk (and maybe a couple neighbors), pick up trash, plant flowers, walk your dog. Spend time at home and listen for the rhythms of the lives around you. The semi-public place of the front yard (as opposed to the back deck) is a great way to quietly increase proximity to neighbors. We take a lot of walks after dinner. Not for exercise–just around the block. Make a smoothie or a latte and stroll.
Just being around has opened up a lot of doors for us. Taking care of pets, watering plants for people on vacation. We’ve been invited to church meetings (non-Christian), holiday parties, attended funerals, weddings, visited new babies, cried over miscarriages.
Oh yeah. One more suggestion: remind yourself how to listen. The point of talking with someone isn’t to prepare for what you’ll say. The point is to listen to what they say. Interacting with their story rather than presenting yours. The greatest love is to know someone’s story and tell it back to them.
Ohh, one more: Sl-o-o-o-o-w d-o-o-o-wn. This isn’t a sprint. It is a way of life. If nothing “happens” the first 6 months, the first year, compare it to the 80+ years you’ll be on the planet.
CAVEAT: All of this is very dependent on your context. I live in an older neighborhood with lots of houses close together. Lots of people choose to live there because they love the community rhythms that already exist there. But I had to spend some time there before I figured that out. Your results may vary.
Ok, one more but that is it. (Can you tell I’m a little pumped up about this?)
Take advantage of public institutions. Go to the library was already listed but also–go to public parks, public pools, send your kids to public schools (and volunteer/attend activities). Attend public forums for your local government.
Shop locally and regularly. Hire the “little guy”.
A big key (for me): resist the urge “to start something”. There’s already plenty going on.
Well, that’s the first step, isn’t it – getting out of the house. I wanted to include a quote from an e-mail that I got from my dad this week:
“I was the good samaritan today and did the sidewalks (after 2 feet of snow) for about 6 neighbors and the drive of one other, so the old man (himself) is resting comfortably (not likely, he has arthritis). Many places are closed today, as is the library, so I cannot do taxes either (volunteer work).”
He wouldn’t know what I meant if I used the word missional. To him, this is just how he lives. Maybe I can still learn a few things from my dad.
OK, it’s been too long since I’ve been here… I’ve got reading to catch up on. This looks great!
I got the CD yesterday! I’ve barely been able to listen but the first two tracks are AWESOME! I’ll be posting about soon I hope.
Just wanted to add my thanks for for using my comments above … that’s always an honor. ;-)
I love the quote from Grace’s dad … and it makes me wonder about the seasonal nature of our lives. I’d guess that PapaGrace is retired now and has more free time on his hands. While those of us in the middle of life have children to cart hither, thither and yon, etc. I’m just wondering if some of the tension that some of us are feeling has to do with the general nature of balancing the many things we all have in our lives and the attempt we are making to live holistic, missional lives and less to do with the church itself.
We’ve got some great comments going here… excellent thoughts to further the idea; I love learning from one another as we go.
Oddly enough, yesterday while I was composing today’s post, I got a phone call from someone in a town about 40 minutes away — a conservative guy who knows nothing about this blog — who wanted to refer a couple of native guys to a church in the north part of Winnipeg. The only churches he really knew, he told me, would not have the time for the kind of guys these were, and they would not be attentive to their needs. He wondered if the church I attended would be good for them. I made a referral to a church in the area that I thought would be good for them, a place where I know the leaders and could confidently say I don’t believe these guys will be dropped. I don’t know how well they’d fit into our “thing” (and we’re in the wrong part of town for them), but I thought it interesting how easily-recognized — axiomatic, even — it is that the churches we’re most familiar with are not suited to the needs of the people who need the church.
Friendships take time… and the needy ones where you’re giving more than receiving take more time.
Glad you’re enjoying the CD, Bryan!
I suppose I will be the opposing voice in this “conversation.” There are a few things in this list that disturbs me and I will probably be labeled as some denominational so-and-so, but life is too short and I don’t care.
The biggest problem to me is in the first step. Why shouldn’t relationships outside of the church be seen as “witnessing” opportunities? Going through the drive-through window at Wendy’s is not an opportunity other than being nice to them because the car in front of me might have given them a hard time. What is the reason for missions? The reason there are missions opportunities is because there is a lack or void of worship of God. Every missionary, every ministry opportunity is because there is no worship of God. When we leave our church parking lot there is a sign that says “You are now entering your mission field.” If we are to not look at “outside” relationships as a possible witnessing opportunity, then why bother with Christianity at all? Jesus said the healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick. If all I do with the sick is care for them, read to them, make them feel comfortable, then what have I done? They are still sick and will never be spiritually well.
Points 3-13 are just about living life. We are involved with many activities outside of church. Other than giving some “monks” some ideas of what to do, I don’t see the point.
Oh, one more thing that I forgot from earlier — I wanted to say that I really liked Bob’s image of the “rhythm of life” or of the neighbourhood. Different neighbourhoods have different rhythms, and it would be important to pay attention to ones’ own neighbourhood rhythm. If all the neighbours are mowing the lawn on Sunday mornings at 10:00, perhaps that’s the best time to cut your grass… participate in the rhythm and be in it, which fosters the ability to actually make friendships.
Thank you for this post and comments! They are especially relevant to where my husband and I are as we are learning how to be friends with people outside the Christian community. Our life used to consist entirely (I’m not exaggerating) of church activities, meetings, fellowshipping, and other Christian-related events. For several years we had NO friendships that weren’t with other believers (mostly from our church). It’s sad now that I look back on it. God is gently challenging and changing our paradigm of what living a Christian life is. I remember the first Sunday morning that my husband and I didn’t go to church. We were embarrassingly surprised at how many people in our city weren’t at church either. Despite the large number of churches in our city, the city didn’t empty from 8-12 every Sunday, and that shocked us. The harvest suddenly seemed so large, but where were all of the laborers? Since we were so involved in church activities, we had (or took?) very little opportunity to meet the rest of the city. We’re trying to change how we live now, but, to be honest, we feel like fish out of water. The practical ideas of how to do this are really appreciated. Looking back, one thing we noticed is that when people outside the Christian community knew that we were involved with our church, they would quit swearing and say all kinds of things that they figured we would want to hear. How real of a friendship can you develop based on behavioral modification? Now we prefer to let our actions speak first (following Saint Francis of Assisi, as Brother Maynard mentioned), though, it is honestly unchartered territory. This is a great post, and I’ll continue to read and process.
volunteer in an organization that is non-religious and something you can be enthusiastic about. for me, that would be Write Around Portland (www.writearound.org)
the best suggestion for those of us who have been caught up in church-centered living is to simply no longer live church-centered lives. (yeah, bro maynard for making that one clear)
some people will not to read this. they live outside of the churched zone. but many of us have found ourselves having little to no meaningful contact with anyone who is of a different faith or of no faith at all. thank god there are many, many people who are feeling crappy about this and are making decisions to change that. whoo-hoo.
good blogging here bm. i need to stop by more often…and is it just me, or is it kind of weird for me to abbreviate your name and refer to you as BM. :-)
My suggestion is not so much an action as an attitude: start with the premise that *my* life can be enriched by this person. So often in the past, when I’ve been in evangelism mode, I’ve started with the presupposition that I have something other people need. Now I’m learning to suppose that they have something I need, thoughts and ideas that I can learn from. It changes the tone of my conversations when I am genuinely curious about their lives and experiences, when I assume they have something valuable to contribute to a relationship.
Missional is about incarnation whereas traditional evangelism says “build a relationship so you can make the presentation.” Incarnation means the relationship is the presentation.
A few ideas:
homebrewing. I have inroads with atheists through this. They are showing me how to make ale from scratch!!
Great observation. Those with the ho-hum response toward this whole area tend to see “Lifestyle Evangelism” and “Friendship Evangelism” as the same thing, but they’re not. As soon as you add “-Evangelism”, it can subvert the genuine-ness whatever term you put in front of it.