Monday, June 27, 2011

Thoughts on Friendship

I've been thinking with focus about a particular subject for the last 3 years now but, far as I remember, have not written on it yet. That subject is friendship.

I was spurred to write last year (but didn't) after an exercise David Powlison put us through at a conference I attended in White River Junction, VT. David had us write down the names of the three people we trust the most. (Mine were: Becky, Dale C., and David M.) Then he asked us to write down what they had in common. The main thing these three people had in common -- for the record, they are my wife, a friend here in Vermont, and a friend in Nashville, respectively -- was that I could spend time with them without feeling like they needed something from me.

This isn't exactly true, of course. My wife does need things from me, very specific things, and so do Dale and David, but none of them in the sense that I think of them as "needy," which as a minister is pretty much the chief way I distinguish between people I trust and people who are trusting me. Which is to say, it is how I distinguish between friends and everybody else.

I didn't write about this at the time because I wasn't sure it was actually a very gospel-rich approach to friendship. Is a friend really somebody who doesn't need you?
In a sense, though, I think it is. And more recently, two literary encounters have made me think more about this.

The first was Mark Driscoll's recent blog series titled The Pastor and His Wife Get to Pick Their Own Friends. I confess to saying "Amen" to this, and then feeling a little guilty about it. But the truth is, when you're a pastor, there are many people who want to be close with you, apparently because you're the pastor. This can be particularly difficult for the wife of a pastor, who will have other women (typically moms) in the church wanting to be her close friend and then have to figure out how not to make it a federal case of hurt feelings to clarify that she likes them, but she doesn't necessarily like-like them. And then the pastor is in a tough spot, because he wants to honor his wife's ability to pick her own friends and also keep ladies in the church from thinking his wife is snobby. Or whatever. (And the truth is, you probably can't keep ladies from thinking that, so just honor your wife and dang the consequences.)

But it's an ongoing fishbowl-kind of struggle, trying to make sure everyone is ministered to while realizing that not everybody who wants to be your friend can be. This is why pastors typically find friendship with people who don't need a whole lot of ministering to. That might sound awful, but it's hard to be friends with someone if you feel like you have to always keep the pastor hat on.

This leads me to the next encounter that inspired this post. It is this quote from Douglas Wilson's Future Men:
Someone who desperately "needs a friend" will rarely make a good friend. A friend is one who overflows, not one who sucks everyone dry around him: "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24). Emotional demands are not the demands of a friend -- even if they are made in the name of friendship.
I think this is true. And so all of that was a long introduction to what I mean as the real meat of this post, some "bullet point" thoughts on friendship.

- Friendship is grown, not negotiated.

- Friendship happens; it's not requested.

- Being a friend to someone can be unilateral; being friends with someone cannot.

- It is okay to have concentric circles of deepening friendships. Jesus apparently did.

- A friend picks up on nonverbal cues that indicate fatigue or the need to be alone.

- Real friends can enjoy silence together.

- A friend is someone you can't wait to see again, not someone you need rest and recovery from after visiting.

- If someone makes you feel guilty for not spending time with them, they are not your friend.

- If someone makes passive aggressive comments about your lack of availability, they are not your friend.

- Relationships between needy "me-monsters" and need-to-feel-needed "fixers" are not friendships, but co-dependencies.

- Real friendship is kinship.

- One of the reasons the Bible refers to the church more often as "family" than as "friends" is because you don't pick your family -- God does.

- But I think God picks our friends too. There is a chemistry involved there that goes beyond similar life stages, interests, hobbies, and temperaments.

- If some of these thoughts bug you and you want to insist that everybody ought to be friends with everybody, it's possible you're "that guy" and that's why you don't have any friends.


Ben Brophy said...

I can totally sympathize with the Pastor's need to have friends who are just friends, not people looking to them for something. But, I'd ask, what are some good guidelines for a Pastor being available to his flock and maintaining his own sanity?

I've seen some pastors just totally check out except for Sundays and Staff meetings. I recognize that it's impossible to have dinner with everyone in your church or even be friends with half of them, but then I see that same logic used to justify flying around the country and not invest in anyone.

I guess this is a separate but somewhat related question to your post.

As for your points on what friendship is, I think you're dead on, friends refresh your soul, they don't drain it.

Jared said...

Ben, and I totally sympathize with your first and second paragraphs' concerns.

The guy who "only shows up for Sundays and staff meetings" may be a religious professional, but he's not a pastor. And that is a very real problem in the evangelical church today (which I've written on quite a few times).

But neither is the guy who is "open" 24/7 with no boundaries a pastor. He's an idol of some kind, I think.

There's more to be said here, clearly, about the gospel-forged median between pastoral neglect and pastor as functional savior.

I think I'm going to do a follow-up post, not about that issue, but about how the gospel creates real friendship.

fusilli said...

I think differentiating the being a friend TO someone versus being friends WITH someone is huge. The former is a voluntary (not guilt motivated) act of love, even though it's not always easy or fun. The latter is a more natural back and forth friendship where both a mutually encouraged. Thanks for the post, lots to think about...

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

So in terms of number-ranked lanes Mark Driscoll's kids are in +7 while ministry partners are +8?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Driscoll and Wilson have some helpful practical ideas regarding friendship but overall I still find Tim Keller's two sermons, both titled "Spiritual Friendship" to be a more persuasive bird's eye view of how Christians can think about friendship. If we supplement the details-approach of Driscoll and drop his puzzling tendency to constantly categorize and rank classes of people according to usefulness we'll be on a good track.

Jared said...

So in terms of number-ranked lanes Mark Driscoll's kids are in +7 while ministry partners are +8?

I understood "Close Family" to not refer to his immediate family, but extended family members he's close to.

I believe he is not including his kids in the "friendship" lens, perhaps for obvious reasons, but if he were to include him, having heard plenty of his talks on parenting and being "pastor dad," I'm sure they'd be in Lane 10 with his wife.

"Wilson"? Why are you referring to me as if I'm not here? ;-)

Will check the Keller stuff out.

My point in this post is not to suggest treating people according to usefulness but to be honest about friendship and how it works. Everyone has people who are close friends, friends, and acquaintances, and it's not necessary to suggest this happens because we're using people.

I have a follow-up coming that I hope will clarify on how the gospel forms and sustains friendships and how "needy people" demanding friendship doesn't work out as real friendship.

Anonymous said...

Been pastoring for nearly 20 years in small and now a large church. This all made for interesting conversation between my wife and me tonite.
If our friends in church read your post, I think they'd say, "right on." As would I. If they read your inspiration for this (Driscoll's article) I think they'd sense a mentality that gives pastors a bad wrap. There's a lot of "pastors situations are so different and complicated" out there. As a pastor, I don't want to be *that* guy.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Ah, let me clarify that I like what YOU have written on the subject, Jared. :)

rdsmith3 said...


Thanks. This is helpful. I also read a helpful blog post from Paul Tripp

nhe said...

I'm not sure if Wenatchee is referring to Keller's "Covenant Friendship" sermon on Jonathan and David, but if not - that one is excellent too.

One point Keller makes there:

A friend is someone who, when he/she shows up at your home unannounced, you don't think twice about how presentable the house is.