“It is a great advantage for us to be able to consult someone who knows us, so that we may learn to know ourselves.” Teresa of Avila, 16th Century
I need a friend...or two or three. I need a true friend that will fan into flame the gifts God has given me, forgive me when I screw up, listen when I vomit my emotional baggage, and will simply hang out to have some fun. Don’t we all cry out to God for this type of friend as we do ministry in our congregations, schools and ministry settings, saying, “I need a friend!”
And yet, where are these friends supposed to come from, especially in our ministry filled life-above-reproach fish bowl we swim around in. Before I entered into youth ministry, I was taught, “Don’t be friends with the people you serve in your church.” And then I entered into pastoral ministry and heard the same thing. And each time I walked away from that likeminded advice wondering where I was supposed to find good solid friends if not at my church where I live and move and have my being.
I did appreciate the heart behind the advice. The idea was that members of your church can’t know too much about your “stuff” if you are going to minister to them. The thought was that your members, parents or students would gossip about you if you shared life with them. And the reasoning was good but many of my friends and I were all left pondering, “I’m not sure where I’m going to find friends then.”
But if you just look at the biblical narrative of friendship, we see many “church workers” having close friends in the church.
▪ Moses had Joshua (Exodus 33:11)
▪ Naomi had Ruth (Ruth 1:16)
▪ David had Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1ff)
▪ Elizabeth had Mary (Luke 1)
▪ Priscilla had Aquila (Acts 18:24ff)
▪ Barnabas had Paul (Acts 9: 1-26)
▪ Paul had Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5)
Oh, and if that’s not enough, Jesus had twelve really good friends that he poured out his heart to, shared life with, and even saw one of them betray him and another deny him. This is life. This isn’t safe work but it’s worth it.
Over the last decade plus of ministry, I have found this to be true...finding friends whom you serve with and minister with are some of the best friends to share life with. I do believe that you can find good personal connections and friends in your congregation. And of course, outside your congregation as well, it just takes time to find good friends.
So maybe you have already tried to make friends and it failed. Maybe you want to try again or go deeper with more people in your church to build healthy and lasting friendships. Here are some next steps you might try:
For me, it took a few years before I really felt like I had friends at my church I could trust. But God provides in His perfect timing. It took my wife and I many years to move beyond the surface in the friendships we had in our congregation toward deeper connectivity.
Pause right now and ask God to provide a true friend in the coming season of life that you can trust as you grow together with Jesus.
Spend more time with someone you like that you have yet to consider as a close friend. The biggest fear that I hear often from church workers is that it’s hard to trust people at their church or school with their lives. Trust is built over time. Trust is built one conversation at a time. And as that truth is stewarded well by each party, more trust can be built.
For me, I made a conscious effort a few years back to get to know men in my congregation that I thought could be a good long term friends. It was a struggle to find someone I could trust though. But over about a two year period with a certain man of God, we began to trust each other. Now we meet weekly to ask each other three main questions for accountability: 1) How is your married life? 2) How is work stretching you? 3) How are your bouncing your eyes away from the things of this world and onto the things of God? And then we pray together over what was shared.
Pause right now and ask yourself who is someone you would like to get to know more. Text or call them to set up a time to chat over a beverage.
For me, I enjoy the friends on our team that can put work aside and just hang out, have a drink, watch a game, spend time as families, and just be present in each other’s life.
Pause right now and ask yourself who is someone on your team that you might have a fun time with outside of work. Set up a fun event in the near future to explore this friendship.
Be careful what you post on social media while you are with your church friends. People get jealous. People gossip. People want to be close to you. But let’s face it, not everyone can be that close to you. When you are out with your close friends from church, be careful to discern if what you are thinking of posting could potentially hurt other people’s feelings in your congregation. Especially since they are not there with you. I know this may sound silly but it is our job to not show favoritism over certain members of our congregation while still recognizing that it is completely acceptable to be closer to some members over others. Who we hang out with simply doesn’t need to be public knowledge, for everyone’s sake.
Pause right now and ask God what type of boundaries you should have in your social media use.
Jesus is with you as you make friends with others in your congregation! God’s got this!