I’ve been learning to think of my self as fundamentally a friend rather than as an individual. I find it’s more honest. As James K.A. Smith puts it, you are what you love.1
Two friendships have transformed me most over the last decade. First, there is my wife Brittany. We started dating when we were seventeen years old, so it is impossible for me to imagine who I would be today apart from her. Without even considering how our personalities have shaped each other, if had we broken up when things got hard instead of getting hitched (we have stubbornness in common), the strange events that led to me becoming a (way too young) pastor would never have happened. And that vocation has shaped me, not to mention others, in profound ways. And that leads me to the second friendship with Heath, my co-laborer in the gospel whom I was introduced to by my friend Justin. Without Heath there is no way I would be a pastor and no way I would have made it through these first insane years (50% of pastors don’t even make it to five). And the beauty of both of these friendships is the multitude of friendships that have stemmed from them.
And then there are the friendships formed through my comGroup, deep and abiding ones that have helped me survive. It has been a place among believers where I’m safe to truly be myself. They’re mostly not “natural” friends, but we’ve become friends through a mutual love (isn’t that all friendship is?) of Jesus. I’ve learned that healthy community is not a box to check; it is truly a spiritual discipline. In the hidden “safety” of isolation we are deformed like Adam and Eve; in the vulnerability of community we are formed into the likeness of Jesus. He showed us how we must live: in a rag-tag band of disciples.
But these friendships have not been easy. Vulnerable community (love) is always hard. But I’ve learned something along the way: it has been much harder than it needed to be. Because honestly at times I’ve put my friendship with Brittany ahead of my friendship with Jesus. For all of my pastorate I’ve talked to Heath about Jesus way more than I’ve talked to Jesus about Heath.2 The same is true for my comGroup. Virtually every wound that I’ve inflicted in these wonderful relationships is due to that sad and simple fact.3
Years ago in a job interview for a Christian bookstore I was asked how I knew I was “going to heaven.” I remember I gave an answer that sounded like a math problem: “Well, me plus my sin equals no heaven, but carry the sin onto Jesus, add a cross and that equals me plus a right standing with God. Ta-da!” But something has changed deep within me since then. My gut response to this question now is now to frown and say…well, he’s my friend? Why would he abandon me just because I died? I know, I would have scoffed too. But James 2:23 states pretty plainly that Abraham wasn’t counted as right with God apart from a deep, trusting friendship with his Lord. God even stooped to be called the God of Abraham. Might God allow himself to be called the God of Dane? I think so. When I give up hiding from him, he shapes me in the most beautiful ways. He’s literally introduced me to every other friend I have. And I think heaven isn’t much more than all of these relationships, most importantly our friendship with Jesus, going on and being perfected forever. That is the gospel of friendship. That this means evangelism isn’t much more than introducing a friend to a friend. What is better than that?
Brothers and sisters, friends, comGroup leaders: don’t make friendship or “community” for that matter a goal. Friendships are discovered rather than made.4 Simply get to know Jesus. There is no condemnation for little-faiths like us. Let yourself be ravished with his love and faithfulness. Then talk with him about your community before you talk to your community about him. This kind of life is wonderful in every sense of the word. As you lose yourself in it, you’ll find him and yourself all at the same time.
- Seriously, read this book: http://a.co/eXXMvGE
- See Bonhoeffer’s Life Together
- Though there have been some “healing wounds” as well, see Proverbs 27:6.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe