Community & Friendship

friends

Community is both one of the most powerful and painful forces in our lives.  There are few things as exhilarating as being fully known and still fully loved.  Yet there are few things more damaging than being rejected by people we thought we trusted.

The Scriptures are clear that we’re made in the image of a relational God and are designed for community.  The local church is anchored in the belief that God uses others to make us more like Jesus.  Experience tells us that we can’t be fully human apart from relationships.

At the same time, we also know the hurt, disappointment and disillusionment that often comes with community.  Sin is the explanation for most of that.  We’re all messy, broken people.  Community simply multiplies the mess.

But sin alone doesn’t explain our struggle with community.  Unmet expectations also play a big role.  In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer says, “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”  That’s a shocking truth – our zeal for community can turn us into unintentional destroyers of community.  But that’s what happens every time we create a utopian picture of community that simply doesn’t exist this side of heaven and then blast every opportunity for community we have because it inevitably fails to meet those expectations.

The more I think about it, the more I realize a lot of our unmet expectations come from confusion regarding the relationship between the words friendship and community.  We commonly use them as synonyms.  But they aren’t.  They mean very different things.

I recently listened to a sermon that Pastor Leonce Crump preached at Renovation Church in Atlanta, GA.  He was preaching about our need for community but also our need to understand that community and friendship are two different things. His point was simple – both community and friendship are essential but they are also distinct.

The whole sermon is worth listening to but here’s his argument in a nutshell: you might become friends with some of the people you are in community with but friendship is not the ultimate expectation of community.  Yes, the church is a family.  But Crump points out that not all family members are friends and reminds everyone that’s okay.  There are some cousins you like to hang out with and some you don’t.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t family or that you’re doing something wrong.  It just means you aren’t friends.

Here’s what all of that means – you aren’t going to be friends with everyone at church.  And that’s okay.  You also aren’t going to be friends with everyone in your Community Group.  And that’s okay.  Yes, we’re a family.  Yes, we’re called to love one another as Christ has loved us.  We are a community.  But we’re not all going to be friends.

If friendship isn’t the ultimate expectation of community, what is?  Pastor Crump defines the ultimate purpose of community as “fellowship, partnership and encouragement to walk faithfully with God.”  I love that because that’s exactly what our Community Groups at Restoration City are designed to do!  We gather together every week to spur one another on, to encourage one another not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and to encourage one another to run our race well.  Will friendships develop out of that?  I hope so.  But friendship isn’t the ultimate goal of our Community Groups – mission is!

Crump’s distinction is enormously important for us to process.  If we think the ultimate goal of Community Groups is to help us make friends, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.  If we come knowing the goal is to make us more like Jesus, we’re setting ourselves up for growth.

Just to be clear, I’m not minimizing the importance of friendships.  They’re vital.  But no church or program can form friendships for us.  Friendships are something we form individually, one person at a time.

I want to keep thinking more about this in my life and in our church.  Would love any thoughts or feedback you have.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Distinct

distinct-coverI can’t wait for the start of our new series, Distinct, this Sunday at Restoration City.  We’re going to devote the next seven weeks to talking about the ways the gospel shapes our relationships with one another as followers of Jesus.  It’s all aimed at leading us to friendships with one another that are totally different than anything else the world offers.  In short, we should be distinct.

Community is such a buzzword in our culture yet so many of us are starving for friendships.  We’re looking online, at the gym, at work, at happy hour, in our apartment communities or in the local coffee shop.  All too often, we’re looking and not finding.  Or if we are finding, we’re settling for relationships that are so shallow that they’re hardly worthy of being called friendships.  And our souls are shriveling.

Sadly, we don’t always find friendships in the church being all that different.  Maybe slightly more sober, with less cussing and a little more Jesus.  But are we really living out Jesus’ commands for our lives?  I’m not sure.  But I can’t wait to spend seven weeks asking God to grow us in this area.

If we’re following Jesus in our friendships, people who don’t know Christ should look into our church and be astonished by how we love one another.  They should look at the depth of our relationships and our joy in one another and be captivated.  There should be people coming to Restoration City simply because they want in on our kind of friendships.  And in the course of their time with us, they should see that our community is shaped by our King.  What makes us distinct isn’t that we’re nicer people, it’s that we’re being transformed by the Spirit and conformed to the gospel.

I’m praying these will be seven culture shaping weeks for us at Restoration City.  I’m not after head knowledge about community and friendship.  I’m asking God to deepen our relationships and conform them to the truths of the gospel.  I’m ready for this series.  I need this series.  I can’t wait to see what God does with it.

Where Did All My Friends Go?

Friends

Do you remember how big of a deal your friends were in high school and college?  They were everything – my guess is you wanted to do everything with them, spend as much time with them as possible, figure out life with them and just be yourself with them.  They were a source of encouragement, rebuke, understanding and joy.

But the whole concept of friendship seems to take a real beating in our 20’s.

There’s a sea of new relationships to navigate.  For the first time in our lives, we have coworkers and apartment mates.  Dating relationships get more serious and start to turn into marriages.  Kids enter the picture with all of their play dates, preschools and weekends at the playground.  Every one of these changes is good.  But many times they come at the expense of our friends.  If we’re not careful, we can wake up in our 30’s and realize we don’t really have any close friends.

It’s interesting to see how concerned Solomon was with friendship when he was writing the proverbs.  Consider just a few:

  • A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Prov. 17:17)
  • A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24)
  • Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Prov. 27:9)

The wisest man who ever lived seemed to think it was important to have a few close friends.  He needed people who would stick with him no matter what.  He wanted to know he had a few guys in his corner when he failed and needed to be picked up.  He needed people to shoot straight with him.  He needed people who were willing to tell him what he needed to hear even when he didn’t want to hear it.

Honestly, I need the same.  We all do.

But those kind of close friendships don’t happen by accident.  They take time, intentionality and the willingness to ride out a few storms.

So, here’s my question for you if you’re in your 20’s: Who are the people in your life now who you know will be there for you 30 years from now?  Who are the friends you’re going to want to go on vacation with when you’re married and have kids?  Who would you call if the bottom dropped out of life and you needed serious help?  Those are your closest friends.  Prioritize them, invest in them, take the risk of being vulnerable with them, let them into your world and stay involved in theirs.

There are plenty of people who bring joy to our lives for a season.  But my closest friends have been with me through multiple seasons.  We’ve been in each other’s weddings.  We’ve all changed jobs (in most cases, several times).  We’ve all moved.  We’ve seen each other at our best and our worst.  They couldn’t care less that I’m a pastor or church planter.  They just love me.  And I love them.

Don’t let adulthood crush friendship.  Whether you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or beyond, there’s always room to form, strengthen and enjoy the blessings of a few close friends.  You’re life will be so much richer if you do.

You’ve Gotta Say It

I came home from work the other day and started filling Laura in on everything that had happened since we last connected in the morning.  In the course of our conversation, I started talking about a member of our church and said something along the lines of, “I really love that guy and am so grateful for him.”  Laura’s response was so typically female and so incredibly convicting, “Did you tell him that?”

Umm….no!  What’s wrong with you?  Guys don’t talk that way, babe!

Rather than say all that, I just mumbled something like, “no, but I’m sure I will” and quickly changed the subject.  But Laura’s point was right on.  Secret gratitude doesn’t do much good.  But the words “thank you” have tremendous potential to lift, encourage and honor other people.  So many times, I make the mistake of assuming people know I love them or appreciate them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Be vocal, genuine and generous with your love and your gratitude.

The Apostle Paul (who is not the most touchy-feely guy in the Bible!) did this so well in his letter.  Look at what he says about the church in Philippi in a letter addressed to them, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:7-8)  Talk about swinging for the emotional fences!

You don’t have to be as eloquent as Paul to encourage someone today.  So, let me ask you; Who do you need to text, call or look in the eye and thank?  Who are you assuming knows how much they matter?  Take some time to reach out today and tell them!