Leaders are often lonely. It’s tragic when ministry leaders can preach to large numbers of people while slowly dying of personal isolation. For the sake of your emotional and relational health and your long term effectiveness, you need to develop friendships. Here’s why:
- God formed you for fellowship and for friendship.
- Friends help us to grow spiritually.
- Friends hold us up and support us when we suffer.
- Friends keep us accountable to life with integrity.
- Friends are fun! We need to enjoy life with people.
Obviously the best place for people to find friends is at church. This is why we encourage people to get involved in a small group and volunteer alongside others on a ministry team. But pastors often struggle to know whether or not they should get close to people, especially people in the church. But the risk we take by getting close to people is always worth it. It was worth it for Jesus, and it’s worth it for you as a church leader.
Knowing that you need friends is only the beginning. Actually building friendships is vital. So how do you do that? If you really want to have great, deep, meaningful, lifelong friendships, then be the friend that you would like to have.
You’re not going to have deep friendships unless you’re a deep kind of friend. You don’t attract what you want. You attract what you are. If you’re a shallow person, you’ll attract shallow people. If you’re a loving person, you’ll attract loving people. You attract what you are.
So how can you develop friendships and be the friend you hope to have? Here are six ways…
1. Invest the time
Deep friendships are not accidental. They’re intentional. They’re a choice. Deep friendships are not instant. Deep friendships are not cheap. You must choose to invest time, energy and effort. And no friendship is going to flourish without time spent together.
Proverbs 18:24 “A man that has friends must show himself friendly” (KJV). You’re not going to have friends unless you put forth the effort to be friends. You’ll get more friends by becoming interested in others than you ever will by waiting for people to take an interest in you.
2. Earn their trust
Trust is what makes a friendship a friendship. You talk to acquaintances, but you trust your friends. If you don’t trust them, they’re not your friend. Proverbs 20:6 says, “Many people claim to be a friend, but it’s rare to find someone who is truly trustworthy” (The Message).
Reliability is the difference between a friend and a flake. You all have flakes in your life. And they’re flaky. But friends are reliable.
3. Listen with empathy
You can’t love people without listening to people. We all need to learn how to listen better. There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. You can hear something and not really be listening. James 1:19 says this: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT).
What does it mean to listen with empathy? Empathy is a fancy word that means having the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes healing comes simply by knowing that someone is listening.
4. Accept their flaws
We all have flaws. We all have faults. We all have defects, failings, weaknesses, and sins. Nobody’s perfect. The Bible says in Romans 15:7, “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory” (NLT).
5. Celebrate wins and share losses
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (NLT). And 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness” (GNT).
You need to learn how to celebrate, not just the good things that happen to you, but the good things that happen to other people, without becoming envious, jealous, critical, resentful or competitive.
6. Bring out their best
You want to help people become the people they can’t be without you. Nobody can become all they’re meant to be by themselves. Your best friend is the person who brings out the best in you. Sometimes friendship requires frankness.
Do you have anybody in your life who you’ve given permission to get in your face? Friends make it their business. Friends take sides. And friends show up.
As I’ve reflected back on the last fifteen years that I’ve spent with the same people in the same small group, I wrote a list of the qualities of awesome friends.
- Awesome friends nourish your spirit. They nudge you to grow. They push and prod you to become what you could be.
- Awesome friends help you see the humor in difficulty. They enlarge your perspective from a narrow vision. They help you to stand in the fire.
- Awesome friends help you get unstuck and pull you out of a rut. They give you a jumpstart when your battery needs recharging.
- Awesome friends encourage you when you’re discouraged, provide a shoulder to cry on, revitalize your energy, share your burdens, lift your moods, help you face the unknown, and encourage you to trust God more.
Go build some life-giving friendships!