The booklet's premise is simple: "The bottom line is you can grow your church by being friendlier (pg. 3)". As I peruse the booklet I see a writer who does not see friendship as a gift of God that is an end unto itself. Rather, friendship is a means to an end....something that is useful to the business of "growing YOUR church".
Again, am I weird or do the underpinings of such a philosophy demean the great command to "love your neighbors as yourself". The goal of this little pamphlet reveals the secret techniques to love (befriend) your neighbor, in order to get something from your neighbor (their church attendence).
Hmmmm.....brings up a few questions in my mind. First, is loving another as a means to an end acceptable so long as the end is a good one (growing your church)? Love them for the purpose of getting them to come to YOUR church? Although, splattered with good intentions, the problem with this is that friendliness, in the end, is conditional, and that is simply not Biblical because we are called to offer unconditional love.
It is necessary for us to think about our underlying motives that drive our love. For Jesus, the underlying motives of his heart were always sourced in the world of His Father. Smiling, physical touch, eye contact and practicing presence (all methods of friendliness in the booklet) were not strategies for achieving some hidden goal of numeric success! For goodness sakes, how ridiculous! No, these attributes emerged out of a heart that was full of the Father's pleasure. Loving others is its own end.
You see the common graces of life, like smiling, cannot be reduced to a scientific mechanism to increase Sunday morning attendance. No, smiling is the the natural result of a heart whose heart is filled with joy and desires to connect with another human heart. In the same vein, there should be no other motive for eye contact other than the joy and grace of locking eyes with one who is made in the image of God. Christians should never reduce such sacred pleasures to mechanistic practices to get what we want.
Of course, the ramifications of conditional friendliness are obvious. What happens if I befriend you and you refuse to come to my church? Or, if spend time with you and get to know you and you choose to another church? The booklet doesn't say, but the implications are obvious: move one to someone else.
I remember having a co-worker in college who had a second job selling Amway. Let's call him John. I used to get a kick out of watching "real-John" transform himself into "Amway-John" at a moments notice. He would spot his unsuspecting victim, shine those pearly whites, compliment often and engage his entire being in the conversation. And, just when he experienced true engagement with the other, he'd launch into the latest products and talk pyramid schemes. His approach was flawless, yet his friendliness was insincere. Why? Anyone with half a brain knows why. . .his friendliness was sourced in sales, not sincerity. God forbid our friendliness as Christians are motivated by securing seats instead of simply loving the other! Perhaps someone will argue that duping someone into Church attendence is better that duping them into a pyramid scheme. Well, I'd argue that its fundamentally worse.
As believers God changes our hearts. He reorients our entire lives. Because of Jesus everything we thought and believed has been radically transformed and remade. And, one of the quintessential things that change is our motives for loving others. Paul says, "We regard no one from a wordly point of view any longer" (2 Corinthians 5:16). It's normal for wordly people to use friendliness and love for ulterior motives. The world loves to get something. But, far be it for Christians to do such an unspeakable thing! The apostle John drives this principle home by pointing out that our reason for loving has radically been altered. He writes, "we love because He first loved us." The motive for loving friendship in the kingdom? To be a loving friend. . .plain and simple. God loves because its in His nature to do so. We love because we have the divine nature inside of us. There is no hidden motive.
Please consider this point: If friendship with Jesus Christ is not enough to transform you into a friendly person , then you may fundamentally misunderstand Jesus Christ.
Church, let us not objectify friendliness into a science of well calculated smiles, gestures and proper introductions in order to fill pews, or get what we want out of others. No, let's not swim in the shallow end any longer. Love must be sincere.
Instead, let's sink our teeth into the One who befriended us when we were enemies to Him. Let's remember how he showed true friendship to us, not in carefully calculated smiles, but in carrying a cross in our place, embracing our burdens and taking blows on our behalf. Now, that's true friendship.
And, let's never forget that His motive for our friendship was not to get something from us (good greif, what do we even have to offer the living God?) No, his friendliness emerged out of the goodness of His character. God is love. He gave, not to get. He gave simply to give. And, it should always be true of us too.
When asked why we are different. . .why we are friendly. . .why we give above and beyond. . .why we sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we need not point to some pragmatic method, a strategy for growth or a calculated science for "winning others over". No, the reply need be nothing more than one word: Jesus.