A continuation of thought…
I had not planned to continue talking about friendships, but coincidence brings us back to the subject.
After posting yesterday, I ended up engaging in a conversation about ministry friendships within a networking group of leaders that is nationwide. I didn’t start the conversation, but it was nothing I had not heard before. Let’s face it church, we are broken in terms of relationships within the church. We really need to lean in and listen to what is being said by leaders in the church, and figure out how to fix it.
The comments can be categorized into 4 points.
- I was advised by an older, seasoned, leader not to make friends in the church.
- My greatest hurt has been caused by people in the church I considered friends.
- These friendships have been unequally yoked, where I was more invested in the relationship and they were more interested in position/information.
- I have struggled to make lasting, deep, friendships in the church.
The first point reflects the experiences of women who were given this advice as they entered into ministry leadership. Leaders who had already walked this hard road forewarned these leaders that real friendships would be hard to come by, and it was easier to make friends outside of the church in which they serve (these friends can include ministry leaders in other churches).
The second point reflected the experiences of people, like me, where the relationships we expected to be the most honest, faithful, and trusting… were far from. Causing these leaders to guard their hearts more in the future, and keep a safe distance. Friendships in the church were far more superficial. People who expressed this second point, were most likely to give the advice in the first point… avoid friendships in the church you serve.
The third point revealed what many feared were friendships built for the wrong reasons. The persons were not as concerned about a real relationship, but rather positioning to the Pastor or ministry leader. Or, they were really interested in being part of the “in the know” crowd and so it was important to them to foster a good relationship with the Pastor, his wife, and other ministry leaders. These were manipulative relationships. Again, those who experienced this may be part of the seasoned leaders advising against close relationships in the church.
The fourth were those who were hurt by rejection. Even though they were leaders in the church, they just couldn’t seem to break in the cliques of the church. They felt like outsiders in their own church home. These women would happily take the risk to foster relationships in the church, but unfortunately the church members are the ones holding their arms extended to create distance.
Church. What is going on?
How is it that a place where we should feel like a family, we feel outcast? How is it that it has come to be that our leaders are AFRAID of making friendships in the church because they know the sting of rejection and hurt? Why is this happening. I have been pondering it ever since.
Then, to my surprise, I awoke today to find the conversation among the leaders had not stopped while I slept. A surge of women shared how we must not give up, we must be willing to take the risk of being hurt, and try to build community in our own churches. These leaders spoke truth, about the enemy trying to isolate us and break up the community in our churches. They spoke of division, reconciliation, forgiveness, not having a spirit of fear, etc. All the right things.
So, I pondered a bit more. Here are my conclusions…
- We own one of the chips in this broken vessel. It is entirely possible that because we are in church with other Christians, leading with other Christians, we were expecting more of them. We expected they would treat friendship differently than the world, we forgot that they too are imperfect sinners. But, since we elevated our expectations of them… perhaps we trusted too much, too quickly. When the hurt came, it hurt more deeply because we were not cautious from the start. We must use discernment in selection whom we trust, and with what we trust them with.
- We must have friends outside of the church too. Let’s face it, if there is turmoil in the church, the last thing I need to do is bring that up during Wednesday night small group. I don’t need to air the church’s dirty laundry to the other members. But, I may need one or two ministry leading friends whom I can trust to pray for our church/ministry with me. It is good to have friends IN and OUT of the church in which we serve.
- The church body is also accountable for some of the chips in this broken vessel. Relationships are two way streets, both equally committed. Church members and other leaders need to check their motives in these friendships. They need to own up and accept responsibility when they mess up. They, too, need to do a better job at being a friend. More open. More receptive. More honest. We must all be the kind of friend that we want to have.
- Lazy discipleship is part of the problem. The church has gotten lazy about discipleship. We count on warm bodies willing to press play on the DVD player to lead our small groups and Bible studies. We don’t disciple our leaders, who in turn do not disciple those whom they lead. We have not taught people how Christian friendships and relationships should differ, because we are not truly discipling them.
So what do we do? How do we restore the type of community that we should have among our family of believers?
BUILD COMMUNITY: We need real community. Not Sunday fellowship, and Wednesday small group. A full, robust, church calendar gives ample opportunities for us to meet new faces, connect with people who have similar interests, and get to enjoy one another personally. Through connecting to one another personally, we can find our “tribe” of friends.
DISCIPLE PEOPLE: We need to really invest in the spiritual growth of those under our charge. We can not expect them to behave a certain way in relationships if we have not made the effort to show them the way. Mentoring partners, discipleship partners, is huge in helping to develop others to a spiritual maturity that includes what Biblical friendship and relationships look like. Perhaps they do not know how because they have not been pointed to those areas of the scriptures.
BE WISE AND GENTLE: Even sheep can bite, even the best sheep can take a nip occasionally. There are wolves among the sheep, so we must be wise to discern who to bring into our inner circle. But, that doesn’t mean to ostracize ourselves from others. When we are wise and gentle to those around us, we can sense when even the best of people will need boundaries (sometimes just temporarily).
BE WILLING: We can’t share our desire for close friends in the church while we run away from them. Some of us, those who are wounded, may need to step into those waters a bit more cautiously. But be willing to take those steps.
BE PATIENT: For those who have been trying to make friends, recognize that you may be dealing with a person who is gun shy from prior hurt. Be patient, move the relationship along slowly. For those who have been hurt, be patient with yourself. Not all healing takes place instantly. For some it is a process, that serves a purpose often greater than we realize at the moment.
I think we can find good, healthy, strong, and deep friendships within the church that we serve. But, clearly there is some brokenness we need to tend to.