Imagine a day in your future. You are now seventy or seventy-five, and the pace of life has slowed. You get up early in the morning and sit in your favorite chair with a cup of coffee. The house is still and silent. No one is there but you and God and your thoughts.
On this morning, instead of thinking about the day’s activities, you begin to reflect upon the past. You see family vacations, times with your spouse, holidays spent with relatives. You have memories of ministry, both rewarding and painful. It hasn’t always been easy, and not everything turned out like you hoped, but it’s been a good life.
Today one thought especially encourages you and brings a smile to your face. You are grateful to God that you took time to develop a handful of deep friendships. You realize that on life’s balance sheet, possessing cars, houses, and toys doesn’t add up to much. But a real friendship is of high value. It’s the stuff life is made of.
The truth is those of us in ministry often don’t do the friendship thing very well. One survey among pastors found that 70 percent do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Most Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships.” What an indictment.
I grew up around church and Christians, so I’ve always had a lot of acquaintances. My relational circle was wide but not very deep.
Somewhere along the way in my ministry training, I got it in my head that as a pastor you can’t (and shouldn’t) have close friends in your church. You don’t want to be accused of partiality by hanging out with some members more than others. And, besides, you don’t want to let people peer too closely into your life and family. They might discover you don’t have it all together.
So, for the first fifteen years of ministry I learned how to pastor and live the Christian life by keeping everyone at a safe emotional distance. I lived in denial of any deep relational needs I had. I was quite content to skim relationally and focus on building the church. Then I hit my mid-thirties.
Longings I had suppressed began to come to the surface. There was something missing, and I began to feel it. I began to have thoughts like, God made me a man before he made me a pastor. And, as a man he made me to live in community. I got to where I just didn’t care what other people thought. I knew I had to go deeper in a few relationships, no matter how it was perceived.
During this season God brought into my life a pastor friend with whom I connected easily. As trust began to develop, we both decided to pursue the friendship. I learned in this process that you never drift into deep friendship.
One of the most famous friendships in Scripture is that of David and Jonathan. At one point, Jonathan does something that feels awkward and uncomfortable for most men: “Jonathan made a special vow to be David’s friend, and he sealed the pact by giving him his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt.” He made a “special vow.” He declared his commitment to pursue the friendship. We just don’t do that today. For most people I know in ministry and certainly for most men, this seems way too touchy-feely.
Nevertheless, if I’m going to be spiritually healthy, I’m going to need an intimate friend or two who fully know me. I need a deep friendship with someone who isn’t impressed with me and who isn’t afraid to tell me the truth. I need a handful of people who know the junk about me, who know where I struggle, who know the skeletons in my closet, and who love and accept me anyway.
This kind of friendship doesn’t happen by accident. If you’ve got someone in your life you want to go deeper with, do what Jonathan did. Declare it! Life is too short and there is too much at stake for you to avoid this level of friendship.
In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller tells the story of Jim and Janice, who was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t live long after her diagnosis. After her funeral, a lot of family friends gathered and shared stories and memories of times with her. “I wondered,” Miller writes, “how much it costs to be rich in friends and how many years and stories and scenes it takes to make a rich life happen. You can’t build an end scene as beautiful as this by sitting on the couch.”
No you can’t. So, start now. Build a rich life by developing a few deep friendships.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
1. What is the biggest barrier to you going deeper with a few friends?
2. What is a next step you can take to pursue a deeper friendship?