The Role of Friends in Ministry
My all-time favorite movie is Forrest Gump. I am convinced it is the GOAT of movies. It teaches history and was on the cutting edge of cinema with a great plot line and amazing actors. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Forrest and Bubba were in Vietnam and they were packing through a downpour of rain for several days. They stopped one night to rest, and it was extremely muddy. Bubba says to Forrest, “I’m gonna lean up against you and you lean right back up against me. That way we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud.”
Ministry is muddy. Rain sometimes comes at us from all directions, and we often don’t have anywhere to lay our heads to rest. This is why we need friends to lean on. Friendships are not optional in ministry—they are essential. Friendships are often what God uses not only to keep us in ministry but to keep us in the faith.
The question is what kind of friendships do we need?
Put Aside Foolish Friends
One of the first stories of poor friendships in the Bible is the story of Abraham and Lot. Sure, they were family, but Abraham chose Lot to go with him on a mission from God. Lot was his right-hand man. However, the relationship was a train wreck. Lot did not offer sound wisdom and ended up almost costing Abraham his life. They parted ways, but Lot did not end up in a good place. So, Abraham had to rescue him from his foolishness (Gen. 18:22-19:38).
Lot is the type of friend who doesn’t provide help or wisdom and often drains emotional and financial resources. Does this sound familiar? To be clear, I am not saying you shouldn’t have this type of person in your life. Yet, you do need to know that people like do not help you continue on in faith and ministry.
Proverbs warns us about foolish friendships:
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm (Prov. 13:20).
In his book on relationships, James Cofield says, “We are made by and for relationships.” There is a direct connection between the friends you choose and whether you flourish. If you surround yourself with fools, you will suffer. We often believe the lie that we are self-made and autonomous. We aren’t! Our minds and souls are permeable, meaning we constantly consume the voices and lifestyles around us. The people and voices around us substantially affect us, and relationships with foolish people will lead to harm.
Avoid deep friendships with people whose lifestyles you would not want to emulate.
Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare (Prov. 22:24-25).
We are creatures of conformity. We conform to what we find ourselves constantly around. If you find yourself around immoral people, you will likely become an immoral person. If you spend time with a person given to anger, you will likely adopt their angry ways. If you hang out with a slanderer or gossip, you will find yourself doing the same.
Foolish friends hinder your faith, morality, and ministry. Do an honest assessment of the people in your life. Are they helping you flourish? Or do they drain you and encourage you to be a person you don’t want to be?
Find Honest Friends
Some may think “If I simply avoid foolish friends, then I will be okay.” This is an isolationist viewpoint. You think if you stay away from the world, then you can avoid sin. The problem is that foolishness isn’t simply “out there.” It is inside each one of us. So, not only should we avoid friendships with foolish people, we must also find honest friendships. We must befriend people who will tell us the truth and steer us toward righteousness and healthy ministry.
Where would David be if Nathan had not confronted him about his immorality? What would have happened to Peter if Paul had not confronted him about his culture conformity? These men had friends who were willing to tell them what they didn’t want to hear but needed to for the sake of their souls.
These proverbs serve as excellent reminders of this:
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love (Prov. 27:5).
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Prov. 27:6).
Friendships built on honesty will at times have disagreements. Now, that doesn’t mean you should constantly be fighting. If you are, I encourage you to examine your relationship further to determine why. But sometimes we disagree because we care. Disagreements are natural in an honest friendship because honesty hurts at times.
My friend and co-worker Karesse Warren says it like this, “You need people in your life who have permission to wound you.” This might start by having people in your life who don’t totally agree with you. If all your friends think the same way, vote the same way, eat the same food, live in the same places, and have the same hobbies, ask yourself if are you allowing people into your life who can change your status quo?
As you consider the friendships in your life, are there people who have permission to be honest with you? Do you have friends who can point out your sin, give honest feedback on your teaching, and ask you real questions? In honest friendships words, both encouragements and critiques, mean something because you know they come from a caring heart.
Cultivate Enduring Friendships
Friends aren’t just essential for our wisdom and morality but also for our endurance. We cannot survive this life or ministry without faithful friends. Like Bubba and Forrest, we are in a war. Our sin is hindering us. Our suffering is breaking us. Our people are wounding us. And we still have to teach that lesson or plan that meeting. Ministry is hard, and if we don’t find friends to help us endure, we will not make it.
Jonathan, despite his father’s hatred for David, continually served and protected his friend. The Bible says that their hearts were knit together. Jonathan was instrumental in David escaping death at the hands of his father Saul and in David becoming king.
I wonder if Solomon had his father’s friendship with Jonathan in mind when he wrote:
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity (Prov. 17:17).
Do you have a Jonathan in your life? Do you have a friend you can cry with? Do you have someone who will talk you out of quitting? Do you have a friend who will force you to rest? Suffering and adversity will happen; we don’t have to question that. But do you have friends to help you endure it?
You may be thinking “I have plenty of friends!” Yet you can have many friends and still have no deep, personal friendships.
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).
Think through your friendships according to the diagram below.
There are blurry lines between categories, so we don’t want to overthink it. But by doing an assessment of our friendships through this lens, we may realize that we have many proximate friends but no intimate friends who truly know us.
If you are married, your spouse should be in the intimate category. You must allow them into your inner world to help you endure. If not, they may become bitter from being emotionally boxed out of your life.
We all have different capacities for intimate friendships due to our experience and makeup. Some people have more intimate friends than others. Don’t focus on the number but only on whether these people exist in your life and who they are. If you can’t think of any, cultivate them. Commit to befriend a person your soul is drawn to and till the soil of friendship.
Jesus Modeled True Friendship
Jesus should be our model for honest, enduring friendships. In his Gospel, John writes:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:13-15).
Jesus called you his friend. Jesus loved you more than anyone else can.
Knowing we would fail him, he died for us.
Knowing we wouldn’t talk to him as much as we should, he called us friend.
Knowing we wouldn’t read his Word like we should, he loved us.
Knowing we wouldn’t love like we should, he called us his own.
Knowing we probably deserved the mess we were in, he didn’t leave us in it.
Jesus is the perfect friend. He has not only sacrificed for our foolishness, but he also guides us toward righteousness. He doesn’t leave us or forsake us. Jesus is the only reason we can be good friends with anyone. His friendship isn’t clean or Instagram worthy, but it is the most honest and enduring friendship you will ever have. Your first step towards good friendships is clinging to the friendship you have in Jesus. He isn’t your CEO hoping that you deliver on dividends. He is your faithful friends until the end of your days, in the dark times and in the good times.
The Only Way Forward
If you’ve seen Forrest Gump, you know that Bubba does not make it out of the woods where they slept that night. During a fire fight, many of Forrest’s fellow soldiers were wounded. Forrest continually runs into the woods to pull them to safety. The troops keep yelling at him to stop, but he yells back, “I have to find Bubba!” We need friends like this. We need a friend who will drag us out of a bad situation. We need a friend to talk us out of a stupid decision. We need a friend to simply dwell in our sadness with us.
Brokenness and ministry will not wait for us to find friends. They will continue to take from us. The only way we can possibly struggle forward in life and ministry is by intentionally seeking out honest, enduring friendships.
The Relational Soul by Richard Plass and James Cofield
Made for Friendship by Drew Hunter
Befriend by Scott Sauls
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The beauty of the gospel story is that we are not a bride with a father who has withheld a bridegroom to take care of us. He provided one. Jesus was given to us so that we know we will be taken care of. With his broken body and his blood, he met us at the alter vowing with his life to take care of us and love us forever. That’s the story of gospel. That’s your story.
In a world full of self-love and apathy, we don’t need less self-clarity, we need more. If you read this and see no need for self-clarity or self-awareness, then I might encourage you that you are the very person who needs this. I’d urge you to be curious about how you are being experienced by others, to find honest people to tell you how you are doing in loving others, and find tools that might help you on that journey.
It’s alarming how easy it is to forget what we were saved from and that it was not because of our own effort, but only by the grace of God. So subtly can we start to believe that our spiritual maturity simply happened or that we’ve gotten to where we are merely by our effort.
I believe there is an underlying narrative surrounding the value of women that threatens the influencing and flourishing of women in the local church. Beginning to grasp that reality was a painful and confusing process for me. Sometimes this narrative shows up in the most heartbreaking of ways in the local church—like in stories of the devaluing and abuse of women in the church. Sometimes the narrative is less extremely represented through the absence of women in ministry. And sometimes, like in my case, I didn’t think this narrative applied to me at all because of the good ministry situation I was in.