It shouldn’t be a surprise that church leaders need solid friendships. But how? What does it look like? For help on this, I reached out to some trusted church leaders who have cultivated solid friendships.
It looks like…Levels.
There are several levels of healthy relationships. For instance, I have many acquaintances, men whom I know by name, know something about them, and am happy to hang out with them given the right circumstances. Then there are next level friends, men with whom I have an ongoing relationship and most likely have a regularly scheduled reason to get together, be that a Bible School class, a small group, a ministry team, or something of that sort. Yet a third level is made up of men that I can call on when I need help in whatever way that may be. Most likely there will be a social element to this level as well.
But then there are friends such as those described in Proverbs 18:24b: “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Of course, the ultimate example of that is Jesus Himself (see John 15:13-15). But from a human, earthly viewpoint, those friends are few and far between: those with whom we can share our deepest, darkest secrets; challenge each other in our spiritual growth; hold each other accountable; and speak into each other’s lives what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear. In all that, absolute confidentiality is expected to be maintained.
Notice that there is a progression.
Each new level involves more time, increasing trust, increasing receptivity, and—perhaps most importantly—increasing vulnerability. I’m so thankful that I have other men at each of those levels in my life. But as they increase in significance, they decrease in number, as they should; and at most I only have two or three men at the highest level.
Perhaps the question is, “How much am I willing to invest in relationships with other men?” It is an investment. It takes time and effort. But it pays big dividends.
It looks like…Honesty.
Communication is key to healthy discipling relationships.
We decided to gather our men’s ministry together and have an honest conversation regarding the importance of communication as disciples. Unfortunately, the American church culture is often one of superficiality. Sometimes we approach our relationships with the mentality Jack Nicholson had in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth.” In my opinion, true brotherhood occurs when men can say honest, truthful, and challenging words to one another. Jesus, at times, said painful truths to His brothers.
“Are you still so dull?” “How long will I have to put up with you?”
Sometimes we misunderstand the idea of faithfulness. We believe Christians should always be happy and positive and able to overcome any obstacle. However, Paul admonished the early brothers: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).
It is impossible to build healthy relationships without honesty and genuineness.
Those of us who disciple others can’t be afraid to share our weaknesses, fears, and concerns. Our vulnerability is contagious. I once heard this phrase: “Openness breeds openness.” More truthful conversations will help to build healthy, spiritual, and powerful men’s ministries.
It looks like…Proactivity.
The first element concerning men building healthy relationships with other men is to realize this: If we are to develop relationships, we must be proactive in making it happen.
We have to step out and initiate.
Rarely do relationships just appear. We must be ready to initiate things like meeting for breakfast or lunch, going to the woodworking show down at the convention center together, hunting, sports, etc.
Getting families together is also a great way to connect with other men and begin entering and enriching each other’s lives. A good place to start would be with men with whom you already have a casual or surface relationship. A brother or two in your home Bible study group or church class would be an easy choice, or a man or two you know from the church softball or basketball team are good possibilities.
Of course, one of the very best ways to connect with other men would be through the men’s ministry at your church if one is present. Contacting the person in charge and discovering what is offered in terms of programming or men’s small group opportunities is a very non-threating “on-ramp” to getting to know brothers.
I would also look for brothers with whom I have “chemistry.” Common interests, work or hobbies will sometimes bring men together.
A brother who is proactive—who will reach out and initiate the relationship process—will find success in opening the door to an avenue of fellowship, support, and connectivity. Having close brother relationships, men in your life who would take a bullet for you, is one of the most important elements in a man’s spiritual growth in Christ.
It looks like…a Rope Ladder.
Exclusivity. Not everybody gets an invite. “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus says, “No thanks. The oxen are rigged up, the soil is ready, the plow is in dirt, forecast is clear, but all you have is a bag full of excuses.”
The only party you really care to go to is the one you’re not invited to. Didn’t you ever want to be in a gang? I did; I wanted to be in every gang: BMX, hunting, car clubs, motorcycle gangs, Navy Seals, cowboys, Indians, cops, robbers. We all love the idea of being a part of something powerful, secret, and special. When a pack of black motorcycles peel around me on the highway wearing matching jackets emblazoned with big back patches, rockers, and hellish looking emblems, it always creates a tinge of envy and leaves me asking, “How do you get in that club?”
We want to connect. We want to be a part of something meaningful, difficult, powerful, and fun, but we also want to be on an exclusive list.
Men want to be in a club that has a rope ladder. It’s hard to climb and it can be pulled up behind us. Rabbis have been known to deny “would be” disciples three times before granting them the privilege of learning from them. We want to know that our place in the group is important and unique. (Consider the different levels of Jesus’ influence: 5,000, 72, 12, 3.)
Men connect when they know they play an intricate part that can’t be filled by just anyone else.
It looks like…Decades.
DJ and I have been friends for thirty-six years. No kidding. In addition to the fact that Jesus is at the center of both our lives, the following are just some of the other factors that keep our friendship vibrant.
The first factor is time. Healthy relationships take time to develop. As I mentioned, DJ and I have been friends for 36 years (since meeting in grade 6). And, even though he lives in California, and I’m in Oklahoma, we still call and talk when we can. And we stay connected through text messaging and social media. We both agree it’s rarely often enough. But we’ve been on mission trips together, Dallas Cowboy games, and just occasional visits over the years. But distance and time apart, at this point, never seem to weaken our friendship.
To create a good, healthy relationship with friends, be prepared to give the gift of time. Hours. Years. Decades.
In addition to time, openness, genuineness, and complete safety are constants in our friendship. While we both greatly cherish our wives and keep them closer to us than anyone else, having a dear friend to share life with is priceless. Our stories took years for us to create, and then several more years to tell, but there is very little about our spiritual journeys or struggles that we don’t share with each other. And when we share life with each other, there is no fear of any love loss. We’ve walked and stuck with each other through some pretty awful stuff. Things that happened to us, and things we’ve done that we’re not proud of. Regardless, a healthy friendship like ours is open, genuine, and safe.
- Dr. Michael Patterson, John Caldwell, David Roadcup, Jared Ellis, & Lee Keele