In the World But Not of the World: Thoughts on Making Non-Christian Friends

One of the major problems students have with PFA, the Christian organization I was active in at Princeton, is how it chooses leadership. Most argue that it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Some hate the male-female complementarian aspect. Others just think it’s bad.

I’ve been all of those people at some point in my time at Princeton but since I’ve graduated, I’ve come to think differently about these things. Mostly the popularity contest one.

Last night, I was at my friend’s apartment watching video games and youtube videos. I’m always torn about hanging out with these friends (and about calling them friends) because none of them are Christian and I don’t always like what they’re doing. However, things have been different recently.

When choosing leaders in PFA, it was never a popularity contest, at least not when our exec team chose people. The question was always, is this person fit to do this job? Now granted, I recognize that there was probably something akin to institutionalized racism/privilege in that the only people we considered had been basically groomed since freshman year to be leaders in that capacity but that’s actually not as bad as it sounds (and it’s definitely not as bad as institutionalized racism). Every person who led during their freshman year didn’t become an exec member and every exec member hadn’t led since their freshman year (I was a member of that latter group, as was the VP and the President my year).

Anyway, I’m not writing this post just to defend PFA’s leadership decisions as I don’t agree with them all. In fact, I didn’t completely agree with the final decision we made as an exec team (but that’s another post about submitting to authority). I’m writing this post because I want to talk about something that was considered when we chose leaders: circle of influence.

Now, we didn’t actually consider these things but I imagine some of the staff did.

I remember having a conversation with a sophomore on my last Ski Safari where she was recommending people for the exec team that upcoming year. Her recommendations were based on, I guess, what she thought she knew about the people in question, and about the positions. But being a leader isn’t just about perceived holiness (although that is important); it’s about potential and possibility (and a little bit about influence. You can be the greatest leader in the world with the best idea ever but if you can’t get people to follow you, if you can’t influence people to support your cause, you’re an ineffective leader).

When I found out who the President would be during my term as Treasurer, I was surprised and kind of disappointed. I figured he was chosen because he was the VP of Ivy and he was a star soccer player but I didn’t think he had much to offer in terms of spiritual leadership. He’s one of the PFA interns now and I can’t say he’s doing a great job (because I don’t know whether or not that’s true) but I can say that he grew up a lot during his time as President and that he turned down a career playing professional soccer to be an intern for Christian Union. That’s the kind of thing you can’t see just by looking at someone’s ‘holiness’.

But again, I digress, because this post is actually about being in the world but not of the world.

As I hung out with my non-Christian friends, I thought about how they weren’t Christian and how I wished they were. And then I realized how little experience I had being friends with people who didn’t believe what I believed. Not just hanging out with them, but actually getting to know them, and learning about their interests, not for the purpose of converting them, but just to know who they were.

I didn’t have much experience doing that and it made me uncomfortable.

Christianity isn’t about simply ‘going deeper’. Going deeper is important but it’s not everything. The church has always been focused on missions, even from its onset. The people you want leading are the people who are ready and willing to go to those mission fields. Everyone has a different calling but everyone is called to missions/evangelism. Side note on evangelism: It’s not always about what you say, it’s how you choose to live.

In college, I didn’t spend much time with non-Christians, so my post-graduate impulse has been to KEEP AWAY FROM NON-CHRISTIANS AT ALL COSTS. Needless to say, that’s not what Jesus did. That’s not how he lived. He was there, in the thick of things, influencing people. That’s one of the things I really appreciate about my leadership training in PFA. I got to see people influence people on the street, on sports teams, in performance groups, and everywhere else. I don’t think it’s unfair that those people became the leaders because they all taught me so much about what it means to be in the world but not of it.

When we look at the heroes of the Bible (other than Jesus) there’s this beautiful motif of brokenness and yet chosenness. I think about Peter who did so many things wrong even after Jesus was gone and still, “On this rock, I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” That’s AMAZING. That’s AWESOME. That’s BEAUTIFUL.

 It’s all about being willing to go outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t make sense to bring medicine to healthy people. The only way to be “in the world” is to actually be in it. Not to be influenced by it or enslaved to it but to be an active member in it. Praying for peeps is cool but being present in their lives, showing them what God looks like, caring for them, talking to them, laughing with/at them, and understanding them is just as important. When Jesus healed people, he would touch their disease. That’s powerful. Touching a disease, feeling it, knowing it, not so that you yourself become diseased but so that you can help cure it. But you have to be willing to reach out and touch.

I’m enjoying hanging out with my new friends and I wish I had been less judgmental and more willing sooner. I’ll just call it a lesson learned.



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