Scott Sauls: What it means to befriend others

by Church Resource Team on November 30, 2016

World Vision VP Steve Haas sat down with Scott Sauls, author of Befriend, and Senior Pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN to talk about what it means to sustain relationships and why that matters in our world.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Steve Haas, World Vision: I’m sitting with Scott Sauls. For the past 4 years, he’s been the senior minister at the prevailing Christ Presbyterian Church, in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s the author of a great book Befriend, and if you just even look in the front of the book, you’re going to find the leading leadership voices from throughout Christendom that are singing this book’s praises. And so, Scott, we’re delighted that you’re with us on the line.

Scott Sauls: Thanks for having me with you, Steve.

Steve: Well, now it’d be easy to guess if we were just looking at the front of this book, again, so many people are saying this is a critical topic, especially now: how do we sustain friendships? And from your large relational network, why did you write this particular book?

Scott: I think it was really just a product of the things we’ve been preaching at our church here in Nashville, for the last 4 or 5 years. We’re facing a real transformation in our city, swiftly moving away from being a Bible Belt town to a sort of cosmopolitan, cultural making city. And so, I’ve got really two generations with two very different sensibilities, really four, if I’m being honest, that I’m trying to pastor all at the same time. So, reconciliation and embracing diversity and celebrating diversity and learning from one another’s differences has become a really significant theme, just in our lives as a church and also in our city. And I think it’s an important message for the cultural moment that we’re in right now, after one of the most divisive election seasons in modern history and all of the fragmentation that people are feeling relationally, as well as the loneliness. It’s been precipitated by relating through screen – in some cases, more than we relate face-to-face. It’s just a moving message that has come to the surface in our world and it’s turned into two books and this book, which is my second one, is more the personal anecdotal application of these realities in 21 bite size chapters.

Steve: You said you had a conversation with Rich Stearns, President of World Vision, and there was something about the refugee crisis that caught you off-guard a bit, what was that?

Scott: Well, it’s a combination of Rich, as well as our friendship with Ann Voskamp, who has done a lot in terms of raising the awareness of the work you’re doing and others are doing, particularly around the Syrian refugee crisis but certainly not exclusively Syrian refugees. We just find ourselves in conversations and in friendships with people who are advocates and investing their lives in these justice initiatives and particularly surrounding the Middle East. That, combined with the fact that Christ is a Middle Easterner and was a refugee, so there’s a theological implication to all this as well. That if Christ would love us all the way to the ends of the earth, where we are now, from the Middle East, then it stands to reason that if there are vulnerable men and women and children in Christ’s part of the world, we probably ought to become part of that, in whatever way we can.

Steve: Now, you said that Nashville is a gateway city, in a sense, because of the large influx of refugees, I think you said something to the tune of about a thousand refugees. There was a quote you had in your book that said “God builds his kingdom as we let go, not as we hold on.” How has that been evidenced in your own church?

Scott: Well, in our church, letting go has, I think for many people, included letting go of the political rhetoric that is coming off the campaigns of candidates they support or don’t support, and just remembering and living out of the reality that we serve an even greater King- an even greater Kingdom- and a more lasting King and a more lasting kingdom in Jesus and the Kingdom of God. And in letting go of partisan loyalties and those sorts of things, in submission to the values of the Kingdom of God, it’s compelled our people and our church to put a lot of effort and energy into refugee relief as well as job resourcing and career development paths that our church is involved in.

We’ve got several missional communities that are focused specifically on Muslim refugees here locally, as well as the immigrant population in general. We’re involved in supporting several organizations, including World Vision, financially and we’re just here to do our part. We feel it’s our responsibility. We’re a church that has resources and as John said “Those who have the world’s goods and behold their brother in need but do nothing about it, how can the love of God abide in them?”.

So there’s a conviction element to that that compels us. I’m proud of my team, they’ve caught the vision and I’m able to just sit back and watch and see them live out and invest in the things that we’ve preached – and that I’ve preached and written about. So, it’s very gratifying to see our people participating in these efforts.

Steve: Well, there was a great part of, I think it’s chapter 18, you invoked Matthew 25 as though it was meant for us:

“From the vantage point of Jesus of Nazareth, we are the ends of the earth. And yet we are just as important to him as his first twelve disciples. When we were hungry, he fed us. When we were thirsty, he gave us something to drink. When we were without a home, he went and prepared a place for us. When we were withering on the vine and separated from the Vine, he grafted us in. When we were living quiet lives of affluent desperation, he welcomed us to his table for the poor in spirit. When we were dying, he died in our place so we would live. He became a refugee so we could lose our refugee status and flourish in our forever home.”

Wow! How do we maintain that perspective today?

Scott: That’s the million-dollar question, the week after the presidential election, where everybody is really raw, trying to figure out what side they should be on – if they should be on any side. I think it’s a really confusing and tense environment right now. I think, just for us, I mean, I can’t tell you what everybody else should do, but for us, it’s really just a matter of returning to those realities every single solitary day.

Ultimately we’re who we are because of whose we are, we are enjoying that protected, rescued status from Jesus and really in every way that He has loved us. What other reason, what other motivation do we need to pour our own lives out to whatever degree that we have opportunity to be open-handed with our resources? To be open-hearted? Whatever you think about the open and closed borders conversations, to have no borders around our hearts, to think of the other side of the world as well as our part of the world and realize that God’s Kingdom is a global Kingdom and God is not a nationalist; he’s a pan-national God – every nation, tribe and tongue. And so, we need to orient ourselves and align ourselves to that vision, or else we might find ourselves really frustrated when we get to heaven and realize that we’re actually the ethnic minority when we get there – you know, you and me as Caucasian guys. So, I’m kind of getting into a rabbit trail, but I think it really boils down to returning to the Gospel every single day, otherwise we’re going to become cynical about the world, we’re going to become cynical about other people, we’re going to start throwing digital grenades at other people, faulting people who voted differently than we did, faulting people who don’t think like us, instead of obeying what the scriptures say, to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

We might actually discover if we are quick to listen and slow to speak that we’ve got it really wrong, in terms of the way that we’re judging other people, including those on the other side of the world who are so vulnerable. 16 million – is that count now from Syria alone? Something like that?

Steve: 15-16 million.

Scott: 15- 16. I mean, that’s just staggering. And if the church isn’t going to respond to that who else?

Steve: Great call. I’m talking with Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian church in Nashville, Tennessee. An affirmed Jesus follower, he, by his own admission, a follower of a Middle Eastern refugee. Scott, great to have you on the line and again, a great book, Befriend. I hope anyone listening to this picks it up. Well worth reading, especially at this time in our history.  Again, Scott, thanks for being with us.

Scott: Thanks, Steve. Thankful for you guys!
Download a free chapter of Befriend now! This timely chapter courageously engages us to go heart-first into our world, drawing closer to Jesus as we do.



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