In certain quarters, men heading toward the ministry are told that they cannot have friends in the church. Why? They are to maintain the dignity of the pastoral office and fulfill their calling to shepherd the people, not be their friends.
Let us reject that concept completely. Why? Because our Lord called His own disciples His friends. “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. . . . I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13–15). If the Lord of glory befriended these men this way, then certainly the church should be a place of true friendship.
Developing friendships in a congregation will lead to more loving, effective shepherding. Elders can encourage friendships in two simple yet profound ways.
Build friendships among the elders. Efforts at friendship should begin among the leadership of the church. Beyond the regular time elders meet to attend to the needs of the church, they should have unique fellowship with one another.
Elders can host one another for meals in their homes or meet for lunch. A pastor can visit elders at their jobs to learn what they do. Elders can arrange and look forward to special social events with one another and their families. An annual retreat with elders to reflect on the ministry and make plans can aid ministry. Yet it can be greatly enhanced with significant time devoted to sharing lives and praying for one another. Friendship among elders builds teamwork and fruitfulness.
Encourage community among the flock. The Cambridge Declaration decries how the church typically operates today: “Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God.” Because the church has lost its trust in the power and direction that God’s Word gives, it relies instead on a frenzy of programs, activities, and specialized ministries to be significant in a community.
Yet the Lord’s desire is for the church to be significant as a community. The New Testament pictures the church this way. Believers were breaking bread with one another in homes (Acts 2:46). Elders practiced hospitality in the church (1 Tim. 3:2) and visited the flock to care for them (Acts 20:20, 28). Church members personally bore burdens and met the needs of those in the church and around them (Gal. 6:2, 9–10). In other words, they showed deep Christian friendship to one another, so much so that we are told that when Peter and John were released by the council, they “went to their friends” who were praying for them (Acts 4:23).
May we work so that this Christian greeting rings true in the church: “Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name” (3 John 15).