Church Leaders, Talk About Your Friends
As church leaders, and especially those who preach and teach, we have incredible influence. Probably more than we realise. Every time we get to speak to a group of people, every part of what we are saying has the potential to influence. That’s something we shouldn’t take lightly. It’s a reason why we should be self-critical about what we say, taking time to reflect on the words we say in public, especially the things we find we default to saying in a corporate setting.
There are lots of examples of where this is important, but here’s one that has stuck out to me recently. Generally speaking, I hear many church leaders talking a lot about their spouse and children and little, if at all, about their friends. What’s the influence of this? It runs the risk of sending the message that marriage and nuclear family are important – perhaps even part of being a good Christian – while friendships are not. That’s something that many churches have implied for many decades anyway, so it’s a conclusion people can easily jump to if they’re hearing lots about marriage and kids and little about friendship.
And this is a problem because it actually gets things mixed up. In the Bible, marriage is optional for New Testament believers. There’s nothing wrong with it – in fact, it’s a good gift from God – but it’s not the only good way of living. Scripture goes as far as to say that marriage isn’t even the best way of living. If you read 1 Corinthians 7, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that singleness is better than marriage. That’s clearly Paul’s view, and he has some pretty convincing reasons to back it up.
By contrast, the New Testament presents friendship as vital to the Christian life. In John 15, Jesus reveals the astounding truth that he has brought us into friendship with himself and he also calls us to pursue and live out deep friendship with one another. In fact, Jesus seems to present friendship with one another as a marker of Christian faithfulness. He tells us that doing what he commands is the proof that we are his friends (John 15:14). Well, the only command given in this section of John is the command to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15:12). And in this passage, Jesus defines friendship as a relationship of love (John 15:13). It seems, then, that living out deep, meaningful, intimate Christian friendships is a marker of our being friends with Jesus. Friendship is key for all Christians.
That’s why church leaders should talk about their friends. If friendship is so important, we should be exemplifying that in the way we live our lives and conveying it in the words we say. If you’re married, next time you default to talking about your spouse or your children to give a sermon illustration, why not stop and think about whether you could talk about a friend instead. If everyone knows you as a devoted husband and father, think about how they can also know you as a faithful friend.
I know there can be pastoral sensitivities about this, often good ones. ‘If I as a church leader talk about my friends, won’t others in the congregation feel left out? Will people feel I have favourites?’ The heart behind that concern is good, but I don’t think it should hold us back. Part of casting a good vision of Christian friendship is raising the bar such that we realise it’s ok for each of us to have just a small number of true friendships and a large number of acquaintances and that both types of relationship can be valued in their own way. Or maybe for you the challenge is whether you have friendships of the sort of depth that you could talk about them in this way. Do you have friends beyond a spouse, or do you really just have a lot of acquaintances? For many of us, that may be an uncomfortable question that requires us to think honestly and to take some action in response.
Friendship is vital to Christian life. And friends are as vital for leaders as they are for everyone else. Investing in deep, committed friendships will do you good, and those friendships will give you a basis from which to call others into the good gift of close friendship. Talking about our friends shows the importance of friendship and allows us to cast a vision of how nourishing and life-giving friendships can be. Let’s talk about our friends.