Today I met with two very good friends. The meeting had a point. Both of these men are committed to helping us practically in our mission to extend the kingdom in the way we feel God is calling us to do. We are not on the same leadership team, or even part of the same church. Our link is simply the personal relationship our friendship in Christ has given us. That friendship led these men to place their creative resources at our disposal, for which we are extremely grateful. In fact, God has given us friends all over the place, each of whom has helped us in various ways, and without whom we could do little or nothing.
Church often works on the basis of organization. We do a job assigned to us within an organizational framework, and access resources that are provided to us by that framework. Without the organization, however, we are lost. I don’t think that’s right. I think church should operate on the basis of friendship, not function. Function isn’t wrong, but it should flow out of friendship.
I am not saying the church should be a disorganized free-for-all. Organization is necessary in church for the same reason the body cannot function without a skeleton.
My problem comes when the structure becomes an end in itself. Biblically, structure is only there to serve the development of relationship. To use Paul’s language, the body builds itself up as each joint works properly. And it’s the body of Christ, not the institutional church, that is designed by God to extend the kingdom.
As Jesus prepared to leave this world, he told his disciples that they had become his friends. He seemed to be implying this was the highest form of relationship they could have with him. And if we are all friends of Jesus, we are friends of each other. Being friends is thus the highest form of relationship we can have with each other as Christians.
Something is wrong in church when we value the holding of titles and the performance of religious duties more than the cultivation of friendship. The kingdom only moves ahead when people operate genuinely as friends of Jesus and of each other.
Too often we devalue friendship. Far from being the highest category of Christian relationship, it is relegated to a merely social function. We think church leadership is accomplished best by putting together a team of professionals, each of whom has a job description to fulfil. Whether they are even friends at all is irrelevant. I wish I had a hundred dollars for every time pastors have told me they were taught in Bible college never to become friends of people in their congregation. Make friends only with other pastors, they are told, but relate to the local congregation as religious professionals.
John Maxwell, one of the top experts on leadership, says his research shows over 70% of pastors have no real friends at all. No wonder only one person out of twenty who starts ministry actually retires from it. And if church members follow the example of their pastor, where does that leave us?
The world is looking for friendship. Real friendship. The Bible says a friend sticks closer than a brother. And is far more reliable.
I was relying on friends today in Canada. As I was last week in England, and will be next week in the United States.
Let’s give friendship another chance. We might be surprised at the benefits - and the results.