One of our kids has been invited to a party by someone they don’t really regard as a friend. There’s no hostility between them, or indeed anything remotely untoward. It’s just that they don’t really play together. And the enthusiasm for friendship is a little one sided. And so the invitation to come to a party involving only a handful of others wasn’t welcomed with the enthusiasm that you might expect. Our child decided that they didn’t want to go. We could have taken the path of least resistance (which is often the most attractive route in parenting … but is usually the most disastrous). But we didn’t. Not this time. I felt uncomfortable for the individual who’d sent the invitation. They’d only invited a few people to the party. And one of our kids was one of them. That’s not nothing. They clearly regarded our kid as someone whose company they enjoyed and whose friendship they coveted, even if it wasn’t reciprocated. And so we braced ourselves for a confrontation. But it went surprisingly well, largely because of the example I gave.
I talked about our friendship with God, or rather, God’s friendship with us. Think about it for a moment. What has God got to gain from offering us His friendship? How does He benefit? As far as He’s concerned, we’re a bunch of losers (until He makes something of us). We’re really different. We don’t have a whole lot in common and what we do we’ve trashed (His image). We’re the geeky nerds that no one really likes. It’s not convenient for Him to seek us out and befriend us. And yet, that’s what He’s done. He’s shown us compassionate love. He’s approached us and offered us friendship. He’s taken us into the inner circle of his friendship group. We get to share His life. And it makes Him happy (as well as us) to do it. What an undeserved privilege!
Is that not a model for offering friendship to those we wouldn’t naturally choose as our friends? Are we, who’ve experienced the kindness of God, to show similar kindness to others. Our child thought so.
And it got me thinking about my own friendship patterns, and especially those at church. In fact, it got me thinking about how we treat the newcomers that God brings to us at CCB. I think that this has got something to teach us about the ministry of ‘welcoming’ at church.
One of the joys in an inner London suburb is that though people leave when they get to a certain stage of life, they also keep arriving in similar numbers. And everyone who joins our church needs to be integrated into the church family for them to flourish. They need to find Christian friendships in order to grow and mature. Of course not everyone who arrives needs to be, can expect to be and perhaps most importantly wants to be my new best friend. But the danger is that once we’re settled with our own group of friends we lose the impetus to provide friendship to others. We’re sorted and we’re not looking to extend our inner circle of friendships. But if all newcomers meet is an apparent wall of closed cliques, why would they stay? There’s sometimes little appetite to offer genuine friendship to newcomers where the volume of arrivals is high. But what a privilege to be those who can treat others the way that God in Christ has treated us.
I think I got more from the conversation with my kid. They’re now keen to go, which is good. But I’ve benefited from thinking about our own life in ministry at CCB. It’s a win win!