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“If we never become Christians, will you still be our friends?”

I was shocked by the question. Even a little angry. Did the last year of our friendship mean nothing?

My wife, Lindsay, and I had met Joe and Amy at our church. We were leading a group for skeptics designed to answer tough questions. It was my favorite hour of the week (secretly, because their questions have always been mine). When I walked in, the two of them were huddled on a black leather couch we retired from the church lobby to one of the back rooms. It was a couch for three, but they were sitting so close you could’ve fit three next to them.

They were nervous. They had recently left their Mormon community to search for what they called “the Red-Letter Jesus,” but when we met them, something clicked. We loved them, like instant chemistry. We loved their gentleness and courage. We loved how they parented. They were two beautiful humans and so we became friends.

We started hanging at their house, scheduling double dates, drinking black coffee, laughing, eating, pranking, story-telling, and occasionally talking Jesus. We wanted them to meet “the Red-Letter Jesus” so badly. But then one night, driving home from dinner in our Nissan, they asked the question.

“If we never become Christians, will you still be our friends?”

We had just pulled into our neighborhood. It was pitch-dark, almost midnight, no cars on the road. The conversation was light. We were bantering back and forth with witty one-liners, seeing who could get the biggest laugh from our audience of four. We never needed the radio playing with them because the car was always full of conversation. Well, until they asked the question.

We sat in awkward silence for 15 seconds. It felt like 15 minutes. We had been friends for about a year. Thinking back, we would have called them our best friends. Even though they weren’t Christians, even though they were still searching, we had become close.

The question was harsh, but it was raw and real. So harsh, raw, and real it put our relationship with them at risk just by asking it. I’m sure they knew the risks beforehand. You could tell they planned this moment. The banter had stopped, there was a calculated pause, a gulp for courage, and then they dropped that question.

Understand, they were courageous. They had walked away from the faith of their family and there were consequences for that. But the truth was more important than the consequences then, and so the truth was more important than the consequences now.

“If we never become Christians, will you still be our friends?”

I was stunned. Speechless. Can you imagine? A preacher, speechless! But Lindsay finally spoke, and her words were inspired: “Of course we will. We love you. And we want you to know Jesus like we do because he is the best thing to ever happen to us. But no matter what you believe, we will love you.”

I believe this was a turning point for them . . . and us. Eventually Amy decided to be baptized. Lindsay and I had the honor of doing it. If there was one moment that could sum up why we chose ministry, it’s captured in the photo of us hugging Amy, dripping wet, in the warm baptistery water. It was stuck on our fridge for months.

Amy is now studying for ministry. She’s one of the best preachers I’ve heard. Joe is coming along. He still has a few things to work out, but we love him. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is us.

“If we never become Christians, will you still be our friends?”

Yes, Amy. You are not a project, you are a person. Yes, Joe. If you die religious or irreligious, we will be there at your bedside and mourn your loss because you will have been someone we loved. We now know that we must choose love. It is the singular characteristic that allows people to see the “Red-Letter Jesus” in us.

About the Writer

Tyler McKenzie serves as lead pastor at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

  1. Ron Kastens
    Ron Kastens on

    Thanks for sharing this story Tyler. It’s the question so many (every?) not-yet-followers of Jesus have but I feel it seldom gets asked this directly. If the honest answer from Christ-followers is “No,” then they are not really people, they are merely projects. Not-yet-followers of Jesus can often sense this; even if the question is never asked or never answered honestly. May God give us hearts to love without strings. Thanks for the work you’re doing in a very special place.

  2. Anne Hughes
    Anne Hughes on

    Many of us may spend most of our time in and around people who are already believers and observing Christians, and those are likely to be our “friends.” We need to find ways to make friends with those who are still searching, who have yet to approach the church. I think that is often difficult.

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