Understanding Friendships

Every leader needs a few! But incorrect expectations about friendships can trip you up and leave you lame for a season. Let’s discuss friendship expectations in leadership.

Solomon appointed the “office of a friend.” We find in 1 Kings 4:5 these words: “Zabud the son of Nathan, a priest, was the king’s friend…” David had his thirty mighty men (1 Chronicles 11). We all long for friends that we can do life together with. Should that be found, rejoice, but this kind of kinship is an exception to the rule. It is rare and precious.

Outside the Church or Inside?

Some leaders ask if their friendships should be outside the church rather than inside.

This depends on the maturity of those friends and the expectations you have of them. I cultivate both: inside and outside.

Some friends in our church are those with which I share a common activity, a sport or a hobby. Others are like lightning rods, people with whom I can share struggles and they help me contain the volatility of my moment of discouragement. These are usually elders in our church, men ten years my elder. Others are close staff with whom I share ministry visions and dreams.

But each group has it’s own characteristics. There is none who is a catch-all kind of person. Only Jesus can fit that role.

Invest in your time with the greatest friend of all and you will not require someone with whom you must process everything. You must learn how to take time with Christ on a daily basis. I meet with Him each morning, and every time we meet, we discuss pertinent things about my family, my ministry, and my future.

A Word about Family

The longest partnership should be your spouse and family. It is crucial to invest in these friendships the most. Don’t deprioritize them. You cannot afford to sacrifice your family or marriage on the altar of ministry success. Invest in them without apology.

I was with some young emerging leaders recently. All high powered church leaders, and in conversing with them about their greatest fears, one said with ears in his eyes that his greatest fear was that his kids would grow up hating God because of him.

Begin by prioritizing your spouse. Invest in that friendship most of all. I tell my wife Anna, “Honey, in the beginning, before ministry and kids, it was you and me. In the end, it will be you and me. We need to be best friends!”

Seasons of Friendships

Most of the time, friendships are for a season. We don’t want those seasons to end, but they do … regardless of the sincere intent in the beginning to stay true to a godly cause with one another.

Mathew 26:35 finds the disciples with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is warning them of the impending crucifixion. “Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.”

Comforting words boldly spoken, ones that Jesus accepted and received, but he also knew they would not be kept. Cordial words motivated by the zeal of the moment. That didn’t make the words wrong… just unbuildable.

Jesus knew their words, when put under the pressure test of reality, would collapse. He actually factored that in and was prepared for their hasty departures when the soldiers appeared. Their flight at His moment of arrest didn’t take Jesus by surprise. It didn’t even cause Him consternation. What broke Christ’s heart was not the fleeing of His disciples but the turning away of the Father at the sin of mankind He bore to the cross. It was understood in the light of redemption, but it still did not remove the pain of the moment.

However, once redemption’s toll was satisfied, we were granted the sure promise that the price does not ever need to be paid again. It is a “once and for all” satisfaction for sin’s debt. Hebrews 13:5 reminds us that God will never leave us nor forsake us.

God never will, but man might.

This is a leadership essential. Staff, friends, and congregants with zeal and commitment may assure you that they will always be there. Cordial words spoken in sincerity. Just don’t build on them too firmly. See these wonderful people as partners and gifts along the way; some will stay for a short time, others longer. Some leave because of what God is doing in them. Others leave because of what God is trying to do in you. Failures on both ends can exacerbate hasty departures.

Some will leave because of family. Some because of perceived failure. Some may have a viable calling to leave, others not. Death is the final separator, but somewhere along the line, we all will experience them. Plan on it.

I had one friend who was very close for over eight years. We did everything together and shared our lives, hobbies, and ideas. But one day, God called me to move to a different island in Hawaii to pioneer another church. He was upset that I decided to leave, and our friendship came to an abrupt halt. He couldn’t believe that I would abandon our friendship.

When people heard about this, they felt badly and wondered in amazement how such a close friendship could end so quickly. My response? I told them that the friendship was still a gift to my life, and I will always remember the wonderful eight years that was such a gift to my life and ministry. I still feel that way today.

Don’t mourn over seasons that have been completed. Rather, give thanks for them and look forward to the next. Always call them friends who have nourished your life, but always look to Jesus as the One who will nourish your soul. No human being can take His place.

In Summary

God will add to your ministry along the way, friends. Cherish them but don’t hang onto them or expect them to last a lifetime. Shepherd them and enjoy their company while the season lasts. Receive every co laborer as a gift; friends who will share the burden along the way. Lead well those God places in your care for as long as they are there, but be certain to lean on God alone. His grace and presence will definitely be enough.

The length of their stay, only God knows. But love them and lead them as if God had asked you to prepare them for their next journey, and should they embark, they will always call you “friend.”

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