How to Build Unlikely Friendships
Imagine this: A heterosexual, Bible-believing, Christian couple sits down together one night over a bottle of wine with two married, progressive, lesbian women. Their purpose: hear each other’s thoughts and beliefs about the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the abortion issue in our world.
Why does this feel so far-fetched in our culture today? Why are conversations like these so rare, even in our churches?
It took a few years of investing in friendship with our neighbors before my husband and I started to have some of these hard, important conversations with them. But friendships like this are critical. In a world where friendships are increasingly ordered around political ideologies, we are encouraged to look for friends in echo chambers.
Are we missing out on something by not investing elsewhere as well?
The Danger of an Echo Chamber
For Christians, all relationships start with the truth that God made every human being in his image. The person with radically different beliefs who resides in a radically different camp has been created by God and therefore possesses unmatched dignity and worth. This means we must not think of them in our minds as “less than” or see them as the sum of their opinions and beliefs even when we disagree with them.
God is committed to their well-being, so we must be as well.
On top of this, Christians are to be ambassadors of King Jesus, reflecting him by being lights to the world and salt to the earth and loving the stranger through radical acts of hospitality. And as image-bearers ourselves, we reflect the likeness of God in our relationships and conversations with the outsider (Luke 10:25-37).
None of that can’t happen in an echo chamber.
Sidelined by Fears
If you’re like me, your fears sideline you… fears that people will think we’re weird, or outdated, or killjoys. They won’t want to have anything to do with us. Or maybe we fear our kids will be negatively influenced. Or we fear that we don’t really understand the language of our culture, and we won’t know what to say or how to say it.
But Jesus calls us to step out of our fears and follow him – right into friendships and conversations that might, on the surface, seem terrifying.
How to Make Friends with Those Who Are Different Than You
Here are five steps you can take to resist the fear, get off the sideline, and build an unlikely friendship.
1. Ask: "Who has God placed around me already?"
Often, you won’t need to look much further than your everyday life to identify lots of people around you who believe much differently than you do. Your workplace, your neighbors, your kids’ school, and their friends’ parents.
2. Wave. Say hello. Introduce yourself. And keep following up.
This sounds so basic! But sometimes that first step out of your comfort zone can be the hardest. Remind them of your name. Make it a point to make small talk with them when you see them. Be curious about their life. Ask questions – how did a work event go? How are their kids liking school?
3. Look for ways to serve and care for them.
When something goes wrong (and it eventually will), be the one to help them out. Buy a meal. Write a note.
When our neighbor’s mom died, we had only known them a few months, so we wrote them a note and sent a plant to their house. People remember those small acts.
4. Be hospitable.
Hospitality—which is all over the Bible—is actually all about providing a space to connect, relate, and talk. It gives permission for hard conversations to happen. And it’s easier than you think!
First, let’s not forget the most socially acceptable times to be hospitable: holidays. Have a holiday bourbon tasting or make cookies and bring them to your neighbors. At certain times of the year, this doesn’t seem as intrusive or weird to those who feel more distant.
Offer to help a new acquaintance with a project. Have more food than you were planning for dinner? Invite them over, even if it’s last minute. Maybe you do a morning coffee run for your office – your treat. They’ll have to talk to you as you hand them their coffee, right? A few days later, ask a few people in the office to grab lunch. It often just takes one person being the initiator until it becomes reciprocal. This is how relationships grow!
These little acts of hospitality build up over time to give you social capital, allowing you to earn your friends’ trust so you can talk about things that matter.
5. Dialogue (not debate).
These types of friendships can’t be rushed. But, once the relationship is there, how do you navigate a conversation with someone who is different than you? In debates, the focus is often on winning rather than caring for the person you’re talking with. But dialogue has space for both parties to talk and share.
So, when you’re having a dialogue, look for areas of agreement (we always have things in common). Acknowledge what they said before adding something thoughtful in response. But make sure you keep the art of listening in the forefront in your mind, allowing respect and kindness seep out of your words.
Unlikely Friendships Make a Difference
For Christians, our general lack of visible, engaging, genuine hospitality is speaking louder than words right now. And that lack neglects the souls that are all around us. How will we know where those who are different from us are coming from if we don’t get close enough to have deep, loyal, personal, even awkward conversations? Conversations that may even take a lifetime?
The world is watching. Will we tear down bridges and sequester ourselves in the comfort of our own bubble? Or will we cross the bridge and offer the world a sweet taste of authentic Christianity?
Our differences are not unbridgeable. If they were, we would be a hopeless and heartless people, condemned to divisive tribalism. But instead, we worship Jesus, who rose from the grave to tear down dividing walls and bridge the unbridgeable. That’s the whole point. And that makes all the difference in the world.
When we choose the truth of the Bible over our tribes, we are able to put differences aside and seek out unlikely friendships. Read about how to put truth over tribe in this book by Crossing pastors Keith Simon and Patrick Miller.