Oct
27

Friendship Hunger

By

Twenty-nine years of pastoral ministry has robbed me of a lot. Sometimes when I look at “normal” Christians, aka those who are not in ministry, I envy them. My family has moved nine times in relation to ministry and/or ministry training/education. We’ve been a part of seven churches during these years. And while the normal Christianese clichés are true to an extent, like “All my moves have been moves up,” what’s also true is that that much mobility carries inherent costs. And trust me, this is not a “whoa is me” sermon. Ministry has also been the vehicle of some of the most incredible blessings of my life. I am simply reflecting today on one of the challenges inherent in the lives of those in ministry, the challenge of deeply rooted friendships.

Most church leaders espouse a doctrine that says folks in ministry cannot have friends in their church. Others say church is to be community, the very place where real relationships grow and thrive.

I ascribe to the latter belief, and yet I find that the very essence of “life in ministry” stretches many friends beyond their comfort zone. Maybe they find they don’t agree with the direction of the church (which you have something to do with!) or perhaps they find themselves pulled between various groups in the church who have different agendas (and yes, church folks sometimes have agendas!) Or they become offended for your sake at a real or perceived offense and bear grudges towards others. And on and on the list goes.

One of the loneliest realities for me as a pastor is how difficult it is for even those closest to you to see you in two roles, their leader and simultaneously, their peer and friend. There are times when I, as a pastoral leader,  need someone to just listen to my heart as I hash out my thoughts. I don’t need rescued. I don’t need anyone to fix “it”. I just need to be allowed to be human. To not have all the answers.

So often people have difficulty engaging their leaders’ humanity. Often that is our fault as leaders. We portray ourselves as individuals who never struggle or as those who have all the answers. We are afraid to be real with our flocks.

Much of that fear comes from our previous attempts to invite friends into the most real places of our hearts and later find ourselves toasted because we’ve dared to be real. Some of it comes from our own deep seated insecurities. Part of it comes from the church systems themselves.

Our discomfort with humanity extends into our theology. We say, and correctly so, that Jesus was 100% human and 100% God, and yet we struggle to accept that 100% humanity part. We’d rather say He was 100% God, 0% human. We are uncomfortable, at a core level, with Jesus being human. When we think of his supernatural lifestyle, we assume he did those things because he was God, not because he was a man completely submitted to the Spirit of God within him. Yet wasn’t this God’s plan to show us how to live victoriously? Men and women completely submitted to the Spirit of God within, leaning into God’s heart and God’s purposes?

Can we honestly look at the humanity of Jesus? His broken heart for his mother while he was dying on the cross? His agony in the Garden while his friends slept? In both these and other situations, Jesus turned to his friends for support.

We all need friends. We were created for relationship. Being a Christian means being in relationship with God and living in relationship with others. God is relational! And yet, in some twisted way, the American Church has largely rejected a model of living that allows leaders to live relationally with their congregants.

Now I must say that this blog is not about my church; it’s about ‘The Church’.  It’s largely in response to a message I heard preached by an awesome young man, Josh Clayton. He spoke on being a friend of God, and my heart began to reflect on friendship, both with God and with others.

I began to think of what an incredible gift we have in friendship with God. The God of the Universe, the Lord of All, the Father of Life, invites us into friendship. I began to reflect on how God must long for us to know Him in that way. John 15:15 tells us that Jesus desires for us to be more than servants; he calls us friends.

He is the friend who “sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

He is the friend who promises to never leave me. He never misunderstands my heart. He never backs away from my realness. He’s always available. He always cares.

I know I’ve not always been that kind of friend for others. I want to be. And I long to experience more friendships where our “iron sharpens iron”. Proverbs 27:17

And what I know to be true is that as I walk more deeply in friendship with God, I will understand more of what it means to be a true friend to others. And perhaps as I walk deeply with my friends, I will know more of what it means to be a friend to God.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know there is “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31) and I keep my heart open on the journey as I experience glimpses of this way because the glimpses tell me that there is more to come. The glimpses awaken my heart for the more, both with God and with others.

What about you?

Are you experiencing the depths of real friendship?

Do you know God as a friend?

May my iron sharpen yours today and we all pursue the more excellent way. As we endeavor to deepen our friendships, may our hearts beat with the clarity of 1 Corinthians 13 and may we experience more of the love that loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17).

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Comments

  1. Denie says:

    What a good word Mikki. It is so sad, but true. I feel so much of what you just wrote. Many ladies probably do, and just haven’t stated it so eloquently. You are such as blessing to so many ladies. Thank you for being so real.

  2. Amber says:

    I love this…transparency is a must.with.God or man:) Its so easy to invite
    people to Grace House/The Ark because you know you are
    sending them into a house that.they will be not ignored and
    judged, but instead loved and changed by the love of
    God thru His people:)

  3. Rhonda says:

    Hi Mikki,
    I have been away for a long time, dealing with my challenges and being very aware of the absence of what you so strongly and tastefully speak about. I have run through the same dialog in my heart so many times that as I read your post I thought, “boy I wish she knew me.” I have for so many years been the kind of person who openly and freely accepts people into my life and heart, despite the routine occurrences of disappointment and even betrayal. This is not more common than the type experience you illustrate, but if it happens only once,it is too much. The frequency in my life of being misunderstood has caused me the most pain, yet through it I discovered God’s will for me specifically. I had to realize that God gave me a heart to love His people, even my heart ached for unconditional love from those around me, even family (yes, the church too). I have often despaired of the hope of experiencing the lasting and dedicated friendship of women; women of mature and developed (and developing) love and fellowship with God. With this person, though we know our humanness will reveal itself, you have a measure of comfort and relaxation because they understand your road and your humanness, because it is their own. Maturity is the key to the type freedom you seek with another sister (and/or brother) you can be “Mikki” with; with someone who will allow you the privilege to put down your robe and title, to simply be the Mikki who use to roll around in the grass as a little girl (maybe not literally), the Mikki who can enjoy a day out with lunch, shopping or a pleasant movie, Tea, weekend getaway and just take in the pleasures of pampering yourselves. The rare privileges of leadership. Someone who longs to find that connection too. What I can offer you, because I have been accused of what you charge with your moments of transparency, is that you ask your ‘friend’ to “just listen”. Tell them what you want from that moment in time. Start with transparency and tell them “you simply want to ‘release’ or ‘purge and unburden’ yourself of the light afflictions you presently carry. They may not be big, but if your accumulate a sizable amount of them, they can become a heaping mound. Tell them what you want before they have a chance to step into the ‘counselor’ garment. I say this because God raised me as a counselor (from childhood). He placed in me a keen sensibility and caring for His people. He taught me how to observe, then to listen, then to discern and then to advise (according to His direction). So, if someone comes to me, that is the first spiritual reaction I have to “distress, anxiety, worry, concern, etc” in anyone who comes to me. Its no longer a conscious response, it is almost reflex. Sometimes people don’t know how to shed that mantle if they have been trained to listen to “petitions” on a certain level. Some may even have their own insecurities and can’t accept the notion that you (Mikki-Pastor) actually see them as a potential “friend”. I could be off the mark, but I hope it presents another option or perspective. Don’t we all have the same problem, at times, seeing Jesus in this way, in spite of the fact that He has already called Us “friend”?

  4. Mikki says:

    Hi Rhonda,

    You share another real perspective on this issue. Thanks for your thoughts.

    I have had some of those friends who engage my heart on that level. This has been more true in the last few years than before. Those times are so refreshing and filling! And yes, you are right that I can “clue” my friends in on what I need from them in that moment. What I find to be true is that real friendships, like other authentic relationships, require lots of work and also provide many dividends from that work.

    And, yes, I did roll around in the grass as a little girl! lol

    Perhaps one day our paths will cross and we’ll sit down to that cup of coffee, so to speak, and connect as friends.

    Mikki

  5. Mikki says:

    Thanks, Amber, for your encouragement. We are all becoming more “True Faced” and what a joy that is when it happens!

  6. Mikki says:

    Denie, Thanks for your feedback. I know you are walking the ministry path as I am. I really seek to be more real these days, but it’s always a temptation to slip back into hiding behind the Superwoman facade. I try to remember that that didn’t work for me! I pray that you will have more and more of those authentic relationships in your life of ministry. We all need them so desperately!

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