When Bill and I were at Sojourn, at one point we literally were setting aside 17 nights a month for ministry with other Sojourners. This included coaching meetings, community group leader training, counseling other couples, our own community group, and accountability. While most of those times were simply fulfilling the role our pastors had called us to as coaches, I was challenged one Sunday as one of our pastors said, “Most of your day should be spent with unbelievers. Your time with believers should be the exception.” One passage among many he pointed to was the passage stating we are to be “in the world but not of the world.” So often believers misinterpret this to say we should have no part of the world, but that would be disregarding the first part of that verse–“in the world.” Though yes, we are to live lives that reflect Christ and that stay away from sinful behavior by God’s grace, we are called to go and make disciples.
In Acts, though there were some situations of people coming to Christ after one “sermon” given by a man they had no relationship with, most of the time apostles would go and spend a year or more with people, really getting to know them and ministering to them in the gospel. That is to say, though God can most definitely use things like tracts to bring someone to Himself, the pattern in Scripture seems to be one of truly forming friendships with those who don’t know Him, sacrificing our own preferences for the sake of the kingdom (we are to become all things for all people). I was convicted by this to see how much of my drive to spend so much time with believers was because it was easy. Almost always when I leave those meetings I feel built up, encouraged. Sometimes when I leave times with unbelievers, I feel sad, unconfident, and often sinfully fear what they might think of me.
We have been extremely blessed to have many friendships with unbelievers–neighbors, co-workers, etc, and after that sermon we were convicted to shift our schedule so we could make room for more time with our unbelieving friends. I want to clarify here that our reasons for drawing closer to these friends was not to manipulate them into feeling loved so they would believe in Jesus. I think this is often the motive behind some of these friendships. Instead, the motivation is simply to love them as they are and to be challenged ourselves by them. Through this love, yes, we pray, sometimes while weeping and begging, that God saves them and that all of our actions and words glorify Him, but we love them because we have been loved, not to get them to do what we want. That’s not true love, even if it is veiled with concern for their souls.
Through these relationships, we have developed an extremely deep love for our friends who don’t share our love for Jesus. Yes, it’s harder to find common ground sometimes since we don’t have Christ as our bond, but we seriously love our time with them, and in case you’re wondering, yes, they know we love Jesus. Almost every conversation goes there at some point, but it’s not forced. By God’s grace those doors are naturally opened. One time it was through a TV program one friend watched and wanted to discuss, one time it was a friend who asked Bill if he believed in demons, one time it was through a phrase I used that my friend asked me about. God wants us to talk about Him, and He will provide ways for us to do that if we are prayerfully looking for them.
One note about the pastor’s quote I mentioned earlier. Spending more time with non-believers than believers is not a scriptural mandate, and we don’t have to literally keep a log of how many hours we spend with believers vs. non-believers. God has given everyone roles and giftings. For example, the average full-time staff pastor will have a difficult time doing this. His job calls him to be with believers almost exclusively (often 60-80 hours/week), and most of the rest of his time is spent filling his role as husband and father. Many times (like in my situation) stay at home moms automatically spend most of their days with unbelievers because their children don’t yet profess Christ. All that is to say this isn’t going to look the same for everyone.