In January of 2012, my wife and I started working towards planting a new, life-giving church in Albemarle, NC. It was a scary, exciting, and faith-filled journey. We left behind a city we loved living in, friends we loved doing life with, and a church we’d given years to build.
I thought planting a church was all about church.
In many ways it is. You have to understand the mission and vision of the church. You have to have a specific identity for this new work. You need to have a vision for every single detail in your church. You need to understand the systems and procedures that lead people from simply attending towards participating in the mission and vision. That, obviously, has a lot to do with the church.
Hidden within all that is the most important part of planting a church (or leading a church or ministry).
The most important part is people.
What I didn’t understand at the beginning of that journey was that we weren’t just building systems or ministries, we were building people. I’ve repented to the Lord many times for being too focused on the systems and ministries and not focused on the people. While my capacity for systems and visioneering is a strength, it also can create an unnecessary distance between me and people.
What caught me completely off guard is that one of the most important parts of planting a church is making friends.
I was so caught off guard by my friends. I wanted to build a church, but building a church means building people… person by person. The relationship that emerges from that can only be described as a friendship.
I think that’s why Jesus said, “’There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends since I have told you everything the Father told me.’” John 15:12-15
If Jesus looked at these guys that we so prone to failure and called them “friends”, I think it’s natural for us that lead churches to cultivate friendships with those we lead.
My friends range from the guy who is covered with tattoos (that I don’t understand) who never attended church before coming to our church, to a mixed martial artist, to a very successful corporate executive. There’s no recipe. They’re just people. Friendship is something that simply happens when you love people.
There are some realities of friendship I’ve had to embrace in this journey…
#1 – I can’t be friends with everyone.
Realistically… I’m an opinionated, hard-to-get-along-with, flawed human being. I’m not created to be friends with everyone. There are certain categories of people that just simply do not mesh well with my personality and that’s ok. The average person has the capacity to have between 5-10 friends. I’m not Jesus, and I’m not going to have the expectation that I can be friends with everyone who attends our church. I can, however, be FRIENDLY to EVERYONE, and that I’m working on!
#2 – Some friendships aren’t mutually invested.
I have friends that I’m more invested in their lives than they are in my life, and that’s ok. I’d argue that Jesus was more invested in His disciples than they were invested in Him.
Here’s one important reality for these kinds of friendships: don’t rest in them to provide for you what you provide for them. They’re not going to be encouraging. They’re going to take and not give. And… that’s ok. To quote the great Rick Warren: “If you want to be a bridge for people far from God to get closer to Him, you’re going need to be walked over.”
Identifying these relationships in this category has helped me love these people without expecting anything in return, and that has freed me to live without regret or frustration with them.
#3 – Great friendships are mutually invested.
The most intimate relationships in our lives are mutually invested. You give, and they give. You love them, and they love you. You encourage, and they encourage. You’re there when they’re hurting, and they’re there when you’re hurting.
These are the friendships that change our lives. They are the people that we get to open up our hearts and lives to. We get to invite these friends into our weakness to mourn with us and into our strengths to celebrate with us. These relationships represent a beautiful picture of hope and love.
I think I’ve learned it’s impossible to be a good Church Planter if you’re not a good friend because building a church is all about building people. Those people should eventually become friends of some sort. If you’re not good at that, you’re going to be very limited in your capacity to influence people and lead them to Jesus!
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How have you struggled to be the kind of friend to others you know God needs you to be and has called you to be?