Life, it seems, is |a funny circuitous old thing and this has been brought home to me as, oddly, I have had a 'repeat conversation' with someone along the same lines as one I had some twenty-five years ago - and, being brutally honest, it was all a bit surreal and just a little unsettling!
The conversation at the tail-end of the last century was taken up by the fact that the person on the other side of the conversation didn't have any non-Christian friends; they'd been to a conference and had been challenged as to how many 'unsaved' people they counted as friends. "Well, errr,you see, well, I don't actually have any," was the reply, "All my friends are Christians you see!"
This response brought gasps of shock and derision accompanied by tutting, head shaking and general acts of disapproval from those around the room. The speaker, a real 'soul winner' who is still going strong (and using the same jokes and stories they'd lifted from others then) today asked how they thought their ministry, "Could ever be valid when they lived in a Christian ghetto!"
Lunch saved the poor soul from further accusation (although not from the withering gazes of many of the obviously 'much more Christian' delegates around them) and, me being me, I decided to befriend them - something that proved a little difficult because they'd been on the wrong end of the many zealous soul-winners and were just a little wary (mind you, that might just have been because it was me) - and soon had them laughing (much to the disgust of some around us).
The bloke started telling me of the work they were engaged in and how when he started he was the only Christian in his group of friends. Then, one by one, they got saved and now, with a dozen or so in the fellowship he was helping to pastor, there were none left. The fellowship now numbered around sixty people and they were looking for inspiration as to how they might disciple those who came and spread the net further.
Seeing one of the assembled delegates looking at my new best friend with what can only charitably be called sneering contempt I decided to emulate the Mars Hill model as best I could and moved off to engage with them; and immediately it was obvious that I had picked a winner. My companion was part of the leadership team of a church plant from one of the names in 'being Church' and those standing with them were all on first name terms with many of the great and good in the Ghetto that can sometimes be called 'Church'.
We chatted about how many new believers they'd seen during the first few months ("None, but we're hopeful!")
We chatted about how many friends they'd seen come to faith ("None, but a prophet is always without honour in their own land aren't they?)
The conversations continued and it soon became obvious that this little team were not only a team, but they were all friends too. In fact it soon became obvious that this little group were in fact the ONLY friends they really had (well them and the some of the others involved in the 'plant') every one else they referred to as friends were in fact acquaintances of the most cursory kind - but that's how friendships start so well done them (and I mean that in the best sense).
The bell rang and in true Pavlovian sense we rushed back in to be further enlightened as to how we might best build Church and then, sufficiently enabled we were asked what was the most exciting or enabling thing we'd learnt during the day. There were a few people who stood up and said nothing much about nothing much and then it sort of trailed off and one of the people on the team, knowing me, looked straight at me and said, "No one with anything more to add?"
And that's where it all went a bit downhill for some I guess as I stood up and told how I'd learnt how it was more apparently acceptable to have loads of non-Christian friends rather than loads of friends who had become Christian! I went on to point out that a bloke who'd been quite sorely treated over having no non-Christian friends needed in fact to be applauded for having introduced them to a new way of life. Not only that but the 'successful' among us were apparently not seeing the very growth that we had come to learn about (and to be honest I wondered whether the 'experts' really knew about it themselves - after all they were generally people who came, spoke, 'saw that hand', prayed and moved on!).
So the conversation I've just had with someone who has seen neighbours, friends and others come to faith through relationship (anyone else remember 'Friendship Evangelism' and Leonard Albert - a great chap?) and yet feels 'got at' because they've no non-Christian friends left!
Now that demands a pat on the back, a free meal and a reminder that it's about 'one telling another' and lives on the premise that unless we make real relationships with people and tell them then how will they know and where is authenticity in the Church.
A great conversation that left me praising God for people who bring growth and one that rekindled the passion for the lost in a more direct and dirty manner - a real wake-up call that made me hearken back to a time when I was an evangelist first and foremost and not a peddler of ersatz cobblers and shuffler of meaningless paperwork - anyone out there fancy having a new friend (or two)?