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"Mom, Why is Pastor Chris a Princess?"

Being Friendly Without Being Friends

Community01I can safely say that not every congregation I have visited over the years has been "friendly."  But what has always puzzled me over the years is how common it is for some congregations to be friendly without being "friends."  Whats up with that?  Is it a symptom of an overly privatized culture?  Is it a lack of social skills, or a fear of opening up to strangers? Or... is it because, as leaders in the church, we have taken a backseat approach to how followers of Jesus should relate to one another?  I confess; I've probably been much more guilty of this over the years than I care to admit.

The witness of 1 Peter 1:22, however, has always inspired me:

"Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love [phileo], love [agape] one another deeply from the heart." (NRSV, emphasis mine)

If you're like me, you occasionally hear people touting an attitude that sounds something like this: "Well...even though I can't stand that person, I guess I love 'em in the Lord."  But Peter urges something very different.  Not only should we love one another with unconditional love (like God's love for us - agape), we should also love one another with "brotherly love", like friends (phileo).

In today's post-Christian world, it will take more than "friendliness" to reverse the negative stereotypes associated with "Christians."  We need to be a friend to the people we meet.  And for scores of Christians, this means that if they cannot learn to be a friend to other believers within their own congregations, what chance do they have for being a true friend to the neighbors, co-workers, and others they meet?

But back to faith communities for a moment.  What are we telling the world by our being friendly toward each other, but without really wanting to be friends?  And then, what message is all of this conveying to our Creator?  And can we really continue our practice in light of Jesus' own words:  "I do not call you servants any longer...but I have called you friends" (John 15:15)?

Now, I'm sure that some cleaver person will jump in and point out that what constitutes a "friend" to one person may be quite different from another person's definition.  Granted. but I'm not interested in playing semantic games.  I'm much more interested in the outcome.  Can people find some of the most amazing friends within the church or not?  If not, I fear that we do violence to qualitative fellowship Christ intended his body to enjoy and extend to others.

Am I crazy?  Or do you also consider it important for followers of Jesus to not only be friendly, but friends as well?


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Hey Chris,

I think you're on to something here. And I'd even take it a step further.

Jesus said we should leave our families behind and, if we did, He'd give us a new family.

Learning to be friendly toward, and actually be friends with, my relatives can sometimes be the most difficult thing of all...

...but if I persevere and allow Jesus to work in me the changes He wants to foment, then I will not only have wonderful friendships, I'll be in a wonderful family.

Friendships speak (to me anyway) of at least a measure of transience. But with family no matter what I do, I am still a part of it. I still have a place and I still matter.

I think I have a lot of changing and growing up to do in this area.

~ Keith

Good thoughts here, Keith. I agree with you on our probably needing to take all of this further. Family is a powerful metaphor. Although, sadly, for many people is has been tainted or even ruined. But even in those cases, the people of God have an incredible opportunity (responsibility?) to redemptively help people into a totally new reality within God's own family. What do you think?

"Am I crazy? Or do you also consider it important for followers of Jesus to not only be friendly, but friends as well?"

No. Yes.

On the other hand, for many years virtually all my friends were from my the church - and that's not healthy, either.

I think we need to be in some honest, transparent friendships with other Christians, preferably that we worship with. I think we also need to be in relationship and have real friendships with people in our community, and not to isolate ourselves in a "christian ghetto". Either one without the other brings imbalances...

I totally agree with you. We are called to live that love. Not only to love christians, but rest of the world also. So, this truth is supposed to start in the church, but be spread through the world.


on a different tack, but...

how does our drive for "fellowship" affect our friendships. many of us come from, are in, will be in communities where fellowship means that every interaction and every act of friendship is weighted down with expectations. it is not enough to merely enjoy someone's company - we must fellowship, so that all of our relationships have the forced effect of becoming a church function.

perhaps we should be willing to give up our modern idea of fellowship and accept the friendship of those we care about enough to worship with.

Hi again Chris,

I've been following Jesus for coming up on 18 years and it was just in this past year that I finally softened enough to allow a "Sister" to become a sister. I and my new little sister both blogged about it (here and here).

I have first-hand experience with this and therefore heartily agree with you many people have been hurt by their families and therefore I agree with you our redemptive co-laboring with our Big Brother Jesus (Rom 8:29) is actually twofold:

1) He calls us His friends, and invites others into friendship with Him through interactions with us.

2) He calls us His children, and invites others to be adopted into the family through interactions with us.

I think there is a "sweet spot" when one of my own blood-relation sisters and I can sit down and chat as real friends. We experience both dynamics at the same time; we're both siblings and friends.

I think perhaps this is the real deal of what He is inviting others into through interactions with us: real family relationship that is also real friendship.

~ Keith

hmm. I think a large part of the answer can be found in the lyrics to Casting Crowns song: "Stained Glass Masquerade"

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they'll soon discover
That I don't belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything's okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I'll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain on our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who's been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who's traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay


But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain on our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small"

Also, I don't look to 'church' for 'friends' but for Family.




I agree that for many people transparency and vulnerability are two major issues that keep us from becoming friends at the level of agape.

However, deep, intimate friendships besides social skills and effort and other things require time. Because time is a limited commodity (especially when factoring in family relationships), we each have a limited number of relational slots. Some people can have larger numbers of close friends while others (like myself) can only invest deeply in a smaller number (it takes me more time to move through the superficial levels--partly because of my need to trust and partly because I don't want people to feel that they have to be reckless in what they may reveal).

With that said, one Christian (older) told me that he had all the friends that he needed (and they were all Christians in his Sunday school class). After I got over the shock of his bluntness, I looked at his situation differently. Yes, I think he was wrong. And yes, I think he has been "shucking" his mission but he was also saying that he was "all full."

Some may see this as a cop out but it is only a cop out if we refuse to be intentional about adding to our inner circle of friends (Jesus had twelve close friends and three of those were treated special and then one of those was given the recognition of the one whom he loved).

I just saw Because of Winn-Dixie again and I thought, "Who was really the pastor? Who was the friendthat was loving like Jesus?" Probably not "the preacher" as much as... well if you haven't seen, I won't ruin it.

In Christ,
Mark Eberly

Thanks for sharing. Your post has helped to bring one more piece of the 'balance' we need and the 'tension' we must maintain when delving into this topic.
We simply cannot pursue deep friendships with tons of people (thank you for reminding us about Jesus). I totally agree. But don't you grieve for those who choose not to pursue any such friendships?

Quite frankly, at this point, having recently moved to a new town, I would be thrilled just to have the church body be friendly!

I cannot express my hurt over being ignored week after week by congregations of the churches we have visited.

Something's very wrong.

Sunny, thanks for being so honest and sharing about your hurt with us. My heart breaks for you, and I guess I'm feeling some shame over how the body of Christ isn't representing Him so well. My prayer is that somehow,you'll encounter a community of faith that will end up redeeming the hurt you've experienced. You're in my prayers.


I used to work for a guy who was a lapsee Presbyterian. This was when I was 18.

He noted that back in pennsylvania, where he was from, if he went to a new church he would have invites for about a month of sundays worth of chicken dinners.

When he moved to our town in California he stood outside the church steps and people just smiled at him as they passed him by. No one even shook his hand. After that he just said *phooey* and never went back to church. Any church.

I think, especialy in California, Hospitality is a neglected expression of friendliness.

So, all of you, if you visit a church do you get interest from people to actually know you?

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