When Viewpoints Differ
About the Guest
Author Scott Sauls encourages believers to pursue those who are different from us. Sauls reminds us that Jesus befriended prodigals and Pharisees, sinners and outcasts. Believers are most like Him when we follow His lead into unknown territory, loving people who are not like us.
Scott SaulsScott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines, Befriend, From Weakness to Strength, Irresistible Faith, and A Gentle Answer. Scott also served at New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a lead and preaching pastor and planted two churches in the Midwest. His work has been featured in publications including Christianity Today, Relevant, Qideas, Propel Women, He Reads Truth, Leadership Magazine, The Gospel Coaliti...more
Author Scott Sauls encourages believers to pursue those who are different from us. Sauls reminds us that Jesus befriended prodigals and Pharisees, sinners and outcasts.
When Viewpoints Differ
Bob: Many in the media today are referring to our country as a divided nation. The reality is most of us do not have friends who don’t look, or act, or think like us. Pastor Scott Sauls says this is where the church needs to take action.
Scott: We have been intentional; and we have taught our congregation to be as intentional as possible in forming relationships, you know, with people from different perspectives. We’ve taken a lot of steps, in the last couple of years especially, to form relationships, cross-racially and cross-economically, with other sort of church communities. You know, we’ve had those communities into our doors and we’ve been into their communities as well. We’ve got sort of this reciprocal thing going that is starting to develop slowly into partnerships. We’re trying to be really intentional along those lines as well.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
What can we do, as individuals or as families, to help promote unity—and not division—in our country? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, you stop and think about the people over your lifetime that you have been closest to—the people who have been your best friends—
Bob: —typically, those are folks with whom you have a lot of commonality, a lot of shared experiences, and a lot of shared beliefs. We are drawn, in relationship, to people who are like us. That may be just pure narcissism on our part: “I like you because you remind me of me”; you know?
Dennis: Yes; exactly! Well, it occurs in the middle of running a race together / I’m not talking about necessarily a physical race—
Dennis: —or being in a bunker together around a common experience, where you’re fighting against a common enemy.
But you’re right, Bob: “I like you because you like me / we like each other. So, let’s be friends together.” [Laughter]
We have the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church. Scott Sauls joins us on FamilyLife Today. Scott—welcome back to the broadcast.
Scott: Thank you for having me.
Dennis: He has written a book called Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear.
Bob: And the interesting thing here is, Scott—you are advocating in this book that we don’t do what comes normally and naturally to us. But we go the other direction—we pursue friendships with people who are different than us—
Bob: —as a way of growing personally?—as a way of representing the gospel? What is it?
Dennis: Do you know what I think, Bob? I think it’s that Scott is a disrupter.
Dennis: In his other book, Jesus Outside the Lines, he was kind of poking and prodding and kind of forcing you to think your way through on a few issues. We live in an age where we need some biblical thinkers to prod us, and poke us, and disrupt some of our familiar relationships that we have.
Bob: So have other people described you as a disrupter, or is this new?
Scott: I’ve never specifically been called that until now. [Laughter] But I think I’ve had people react to me, sometimes, as if I were a disrupter.
Bob: You’re a provocateur; right?
Scott: Well, I—I hope—I hope so, to a degree, because I think Christ and the Apostles provoked in certain instances—but, hopefully, not in an irritating, alienating kind of way.
Dennis: No; no! I didn’t mean that at all, Scott.
Scott: I know you didn’t; but you know, you never can tell with some congregants and such. But you hope that, as you provoke and as you challenge, people also sense that you love them.
I think, to your question, Bob—I think it’s both/and. You know, C.S. Lewis, when he talked about friendship—he said, “A lot of friendships /most friendships form when one person looks at another and says: ‘Oh! You too?’” I think that’s what the two of you are talking about. I certainly wouldn’t want to delegitimize friendships with people that we have a lot in common with.
Scott: I mean, I think most friendships are going to form around that.
I think the book really advocates, especially, for also prioritizing moving outside of our own tribes and way of thinking, recognizing that there’s a whole lot that we can learn and a whole lot that we can contribute to the maturing and growing of one another as we relate across different experiences and even different perspectives.
Bob: And can I just say—that sounds noble and exhausting. [Laughter]
Bob: You know, part of me—I read this and I think to myself: “You’re right! Now, how do I find the space in my life?” How have you found—you’re a pastor!—
Bob: —you have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of God—
Bob: —to find margin in your life to go befriend somebody who is not a part of that group—
Bob: —I’m thinking: “Is this just theoretical for you, or have you done this?”
Scott: Well, we have done it. I think the first thing that I did—the first cross-cultural relationship that I committed myself to was my marriage. [Laughter] I don’t think you can get more cross-cultural than male and female—even the genetic structures are different. [Laughter] And then we had children, from another generation—so we had it built into our own home.
But, you know, we have been intentional. We have taught our congregation to be as intentional as possible. We’ve taken a lot of steps, in the last couple of years especially, to form relationships, cross-racially and cross-economically, with other sort of church communities. You know, we’ve had those communities into our doors and we’ve been into their communities as well.
We’ve got sort of this reciprocal thing going that is starting to develop slowly into partnerships. So we’re trying to be really intentional along those lines as well.
Bob: So give me—just on a one-to-one level—give me an example from your life—not your wife / not your kids—
Bob: —but somebody where you pursued a friendship where it would not have happened normally or naturally; but you said, “I need this, and I think it will be good for me and for the kingdom.”
Dennis: And, Bob, before he answers that,—
Dennis: —I just want to read through the chapters; because this is going to give our listeners an idea of who Scott is telling us to move toward; and then I can’t wait to hear how he answers your question. But one is:
“Befriending Prodigals and Pharisees”
“Befriending the Shamed and Ashamed”
“Befriending Ones You Cannot Control”
“Dysfunctional Family Members”
“Those Grieving and Dying”
“Befriending the Poor and Empty-Handed”
“Befriending the Other Race”
“The Rich and the Powerful”
“Bullies and Perpetrators.”
I mean, on and on it goes. You’re calling us to move across some demilitarized zones here—that are moving into enemy territory, Scott—it feels dangerous.
Dennis: But I want to hear how you answer Bob’s question.
Scott: I would say, probably, the most impactful real-time friendships would be with a couple of African American pastors, who are in different communities of Nashville—you know, ministering and serving. A member of our church—a guy named Marten Fadelle—who heads up an organization in Nashville called “Jobs for Life” works very closely, in tandem, with these pastors to help young men get on a meaningful, dignified vocational track. Marten has introduced me to a number of people in Nashville’s African American community.
Nashville is actually very segregated—not by law but just by choice—where people sort of hive off in their own sort of tribes and communities. Even, geographically, there’s not a lot of cross-pollinating. So this has been—and had to be—a really intentional thing. It’s been incredibly life-giving. You know, I’ll go into, you know, Ronnie’s environment; and he’ll come into mine. I’ll learn so much from him—just about the way that he prays that’s, you know, borne out of his story. He’ll drive me around—he’s a bi-vocational pastor—and so he also works for the city, particularly in the sort of zoning department.
He has educated me on the impact of things like gentrification on his community—where, you know, like real estate developers—like a lot of people who would be members of the church that I pastor—you know, he says real estate developers, at their worst—and he didn’t identify anybody at my church that would do this—
—but he said: “They’ll come into these communities that have lived, for years, in the same neighborhoods; and they’ll low-ball them,”—you know—“They’ll give them a low-ball offer on their house. The people will accept the offer, not knowing that they’re getting low-balled, and sort of exploit the ignorance about real estate values in poorer communities. A whole community, before you know it, is displaced.” African Americans have dispersed, and his church is now a commuter church because of that.
He helps me understand society from a different perspective; because Nashville, right now—my city—if you ask one community about Nashville, they’ll say: “Oh, it’s on the rise! Nashville’s going places! It’s the ‘it’ city. You know, New York and L.A. are calling Nashville the third coast.” But then, if you ask people in the minority community and people in more economically-strapped communities to describe Nashville, it’s the opposite: “It’s getting harder and worse. We’re not going to be able to live there much longer, because we’re getting priced and taxed out.”
What that relationship has helped me to do is to really think, “Okay, what’s my responsibility?” I’ve got influence with almost 3,000 people in the church that I pastor, many of whom can do something about these dynamics with things like affordable housing and other important things to keep communities from getting displaced. That relationship itself has been a really significant, important partnership that’s likely to develop in a lot more things doing—you know, that we’ll do together to serve both of our communities.
Bob: How are you different because of that relationship?
Scott: I think that I’m more trained to see the world as being much bigger than the tribe that I’m part of—that there are other perspectives besides my own—and that just because things might be going well in my community doesn’t mean that things are going well in the community five/ten miles away from where I am. I have a responsibility for that.
Scott: So that’s one of the many ways, but I just love him too—he’s just a dear friend.
I mean, he’s referred to me as his pastor, and I’ve referred to him as mine. We’ve got just a really neat relationship.
Dennis: I’m glad you used that illustration; because we live in a country, right now, obviously, that has racial strife/division.
Dennis: We’re in need of healing, and people wonder what they can do. Well, you can go near the other race that you’re not a part of and seek to understand.
Dennis: And begin to relate to them and to ask questions. I can safely say that my, now 35-year, relationship with Crawford Loritts, who is African American—
Scott: Yes; his son, Bryan, is a good friend of mine.
Dennis: Yes; a good friend of mine as well. Anyway, whatever understanding I have—which, I have to say, the more I get into the issue of race and our differences, the more respect I have for how little I truly understand.
Dennis: But if more followers of Christ broke away from the safety of their tribe—
Dennis: —and went near someone else that was a safe person for them, but who could take them under their wing and coach them—
Dennis: —there really are some great relationships and some terrific lessons to be learned in the presence of these folks.
Scott: Absolutely; absolutely. I mean, a great example of that is Ronnie and another pastor named Thomas Hunter—another African American leader in the Nashville community—invited me to do the Martin Luther King march with them this past year. You know, as we did the march—and, you know, there were Black Lives Matter protestors and things / just this whole movement—that I need to understand, “What’s behind this?” They were just explaining things to me, along the way, and introducing me to their friends, and just being so generous with helping me with my own ignorance and need to learn those things so I can understand a community that’s in my city better—
—and share a better life together with them—rather than just going our separate ways.
Dennis: Scott, I’m glad we started with this; because this is a real issue today for every human being in our country—
Dennis: —for every husband/wife, mom and dad, for every young person—they need to go near a person, who is different from them—and learn and ask questions, especially when it comes to this racial issue—but there are other issues and other differences that we have, as we do life, where we need to pay attention as well.
Bob: And sometimes there are people, about whom we think: “That’s the last person I want to try to move toward or have any kind of a relationship with, because we just don’t have anything in common. There’s nothing drawing me to that person.”
You tell a story about—was this your personal experience?—where you were leading a prayer meeting?—or were you in a prayer meeting? How did this happen?
Scott: Yes; so we were, early on, planting our first church in Kansas City. We had a prayer meeting at somebody’s house. There were, I don’t know, maybe 15 people or so. And, by invitation, I think from somebody in our little group there, a married couple came in. He was completely drunk, and she just looked completely defeated—it was kind of written all over her face. So, kind of as the pastor in the mix, I’m just thinking, “What do I do about this?” I said, “Well, we’re here to pray, so let’s all pray.” We started praying.
Eventually, the man who’d had a lot to drink—and we’d come to find out, later, he was also taking prescription medications that he’d become addicted to—in any event —
Dennis: It just wasn’t a good prayer [from the man], in other words.
Scott: It wasn’t good. He contributed to the prayer; and he prayed for, you know, 12-15 minutes or so. It was very odd things, like:
“You know, Lord, I think the Klingons are coming. Protect us from the Klingons.”
Scott: “Will You rain Jolly Ranchers down from heaven?” [Laughter] You know, stuff like that and just very bizarre things. You know, I’m kind of opening one of my eyes, just to see what’s going on. As I do that, everybody’s looking at me, while this guy’s praying—like, “What’s Scott going to do?”
It ended up—after the prayer time was over—I didn’t have to do anything; because people approached him and said, “You know, we don’t have Jolly Ranchers; but we have cookies. Do you like cookies?” He was like, “Yeah, I love cookies!” He ate like a whole plateful of cookies—and then, like three or four people, while he was being taken over here—three or four people approached his wife and said, “Hey, you know, what can we do?”
The short story is that because of that—largely because of that group, he ended up in a rehab facility in Phoenix, Arizona. People from that little group would—there were occasions where they would fly out. I flew out for a couple of days just to visit him / to be with him.
Short story is that, within the next three years, he became an elder in the church—that guy did. To this day, he’s probably still, I think, probably one of the top-three strongest church leaders that I’ve ever worked alongside; because whenever there was a messy, broken situation, he would automatically be the person that we would call upon. He would just masterfully shepherd hard situations like ones that he’d been in himself.
Dennis: What you’re reminding us of is 1 Corinthians 13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these three is love.”
Dennis: It’s powerful.
Scott: It’s very powerful.
Dennis: And that’s a part of going toward someone and befriending someone who’s not like you or doesn’t think like you.
Bob: But I’ve got to go back to where I started here, because I’m thinking: “If I’m at that prayer meeting, and I know there’s a messy guy here—to move toward and to befriend him—that is going to cost me time.
Bob: “It’s going to cost me energy. I mean, I’m living with a pretty thin margin as it is today.” I think that’s why my reaction to those situations is, “Get me away from here,”—not because I’m uncomfortable moving toward a messy situation—but because of what I know it’s going to cost me in terms of time.
Scott: We’re not uncomfortable moving toward those situations; we’re uncomfortable with the prospect of staying in them.
Scott: And that’s really—
Dennis: And what it means to stay in there.
Dennis: What it’s going to cost us, not just time-wise, but sacrificially: “What am I expected to do here?”
Scott: Yes. Well, here’s the beautiful thing about the New Testament and how it was originally written to us. You know, we live in the United States and in the West, which is predominantly individualistic—in the way that we think, even in the way that we relate to God, and the way that we relate to the poor, and the way that we relate to these kinds of situations. We think, in the way you just asked the question, “What am I to do?”
I’m always asking the same question: “What am I to do?”
Whereas—if we read the New Testament in its original language / in the Greek—this is where our Southern dialect in Nashville and Little Rock come into play. [Laughter] There are a whole lot of “y’all”s in there, and not a whole lot of “you” individuals in there. When Paul is writing these letters to the people of God, he addresses them as communities. We, as communities, are to follow Jesus into these broken situations.
So Bob, with little margin, you may be the one to stroke the check to help get him to Arizona. This person over here—who’s unemployed, or underemployed, or retired—may be the person to fly, and visit him, and shepherd him, and counsel him. In different ways, we are participating in what one another are doing by doing our part. You know, when Paul wrote to the churches, he didn’t say, “Each one of you—you need to be a mercy person, a preacher, a Bible scholar,”—all of this.
He says, “To some of you, God has given this gift; to others of you, this; and to others of you, this.” And he gives this image of a collective body working together, which I think is a beautiful way to sort of think that the Lord is taking the pressure off of me and putting the burden on us. But the burden isn’t really on us, as much as it is on Him.
Scott: I think that’s why a deep gospel theology and gospel understanding—that Christ has lifted the greatest burden off of us through forgiveness and the un-shaming of us—so that we can be naked before Him, without shame in every way—you know, again, because of the gospel and the cross. Because He has lifted burdens off of us, there is actually an energy that we can come in together—not as individuals, but together—to serve the needy among us.
Dennis: Scott, I think I just heard a listener exhale, and they got it; because they’re the one who typically thinks: “It’s all on me.
“I have to be the one that rescues the person,” or “I feel totally responsible for the person.”
What you’re saying is: “This is really for the community of faith to rally together and to use different gifts to come alongside people who need the love of Christ expressed through different personalities, different gifts, and in different ways.”
Dennis: I think this is a great way to train your children, whether they are younger or older, to be thinking about people in need—but not rush in and be the sole rescuer—but to perhaps organize or call other people to the table to be able to bring mercy, and grace, and help.
Bob: And I think the point is—you do what you can do. You bring your loaves and your fishes—and even if it’s not much—you offer it. God takes it and multiplies it. If we all do that, that’s how the body of Christ is designed to work together.
And that’s how we can be agents of change in somebody else’s life.
This is central to what you write about, Scott, in the book, Befriend. I hope our listeners will stop and think about how significant a subject this really is. I mean, this is an unusual topic to write a book about—being a good friend and the importance of friendship—your subtitle: Creating Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear. This is a part of the mandate of the church.
Bob: I hope our listeners will get a copy of the book, Befriend. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to request your copy. Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order by phone. The website, again—FamilyLifeToday.com—the number is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
The title of the book, again, is Befriend by Scott Sauls.
I have to tell you—I have had the experience—I know you’ve had this, too, Dennis—where we will be out somewhere and we’ll meet a radio listener—somebody who identifies himself or herself as a Legacy Partner, somebody who gives monthly and who prays regularly for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Bob: And, Scott, it’s almost like there’s a friendship already there because there is something that we hold in common—there’s something that’s deep and meaningful. We may come from very different backgrounds—we may come from very different family structures, or ethnicities, or parts of the country—but the commonality of wanting to come together to help strengthen marriages and families / to provide practical biblical help and hope for couples and for families—that knits us together, even if we’re just meeting for the first time.
I want to take just a minute here and say, “Thank you,” to those of you who are Legacy Partners. We really do appreciate your partnership with us, and we count you as friends. If you’re a regular FamilyLife Today listener, and you’re not a Legacy Partner, would you think about joining the team?—giving each month and praying for this ministry so that we can cover the costs of producing and syndicating this daily radio program.
If you’re able to make a donation today, either as a one-time gift or as your first Legacy Partner gift, we’d love to send you a resource that Barbara Rainey has created. It’s a heart-shaped chalkboard designed for your home. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
And if you write to us, and you’re interested in becoming a monthly Legacy Partner, please be sure to let us know.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about what to do and what not to do to be a good friend to someone who is facing a challenge—going through a struggle or a trial. We’ll talk more about that with Scott Sauls tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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