Ant Greenham: Friendship and the Great Commission, Part 2

[Editor's Note: Dr. Ant Greenahm is Associate Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at Southeastern. A specialist on the Middle East, he is author of Muslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy Land (WICU, 2011), and co-author (with David Black and Allan Bevere) of The Questioning God: An Inquiry for Muslims, Jews, and Christians (Areopagus, 2012). He is also passionate about helping students see the breadth of the Great Commission. To that end, he writes below about the nature of friendship in the Great Commission. This is the first post in a three-part series. Come back next Monday for part two.]

As we continue our exploration of friendship, let’s consider an insight from Bernard Lewis, the renowned scholar of Islam and the Middle East. Before he left Britain permanently for America in 1974, “an old friend and colleague” had the following to say: “Here in London . . . you have friends. In Princeton you will have colleagues, neighbors and in certain situations, allies, but you will not have friends as you understand and use that word here.”[1] Lewis shares this conversation at a crucial juncture in his narrative, at the point where he began a new life in the United States. I think that’s significant. Almost 40 years later, it seems he hadn’t experienced friendship in America in the way he had before he came here. The reason, I believe, is the nature of activity-based friendship in the US.

Considering the rest of his reflections, it’s fair to say Lewis was involved in valuable academic and institutional activities with colleagues, got along (for the most part) with neighbors at the office and at home, and found allies to help him in battles fought along the way. But it seems that none of these shared activities led to an overarching friendship. In other words, different elements of life, shared in a friendly way, did not (and do not) translate into friendship for the long haul.

Essentially, friendliness and friendship are different. But they may be hard to distinguish because of our use of the word, friend. Colleagues, neighbors and allies call each other friends. Celebrities pursuing an agenda, who don’t know me from Adam, address me as friend. A favorite bakery has a sign telling anyone at the door: “Arrive as a Customer, Leave as a Friend.” And the problem is enhanced by the explosion of “friends,” people you hardly know, on Facebook. Just about anyone can be your friend.

This cultural notion of friend is certainly far removed from the friendship demanded by the Great Commission. When I discussed it in class last semester, a student, Zach, had an interesting anecdote to add. He had been abroad, met a local he liked and then introduced him to someone else as his “friend.” To Zach’s surprise, his new acquaintance immediately corrected him with the words, “I’m not your friend!” What he meant, it seems, is being someone’s friend goes way beyond initial friendliness. A commitment, proven over time, is required.

So how do we get from friendliness to true friendship? I hope to end with three practical suggestions in my third and final post on the subject. Here though, I’d like to linger over a key difference between friendliness and friendship: I believe that friendly expressions easily mask the absence of a deeper relationship.

How often have you used the words “thank you for asking” when a colleague asked you to follow up on a prayer request you shared publicly? Or when you’ve had a decent conversation with someone you don’t know well, ended with “it was nice talking to you?” Typically, such words are sincere, and I have no quarrel with them as they stand. However, they express an element of surprise that person X cared enough to ask, or that conversation with person Y had meaning beyond the mundane.

In contrast, my wife and I don’t say those words in our relationship. We repeatedly express our love for each other, but it’s established that we care for each other’s welfare and enjoy each other’s company. Of course we do—we’re very good friends. In fact, saying those words in a truly close companionship becomes biting sarcasm if something’s amiss. That’s because they are properly reserved for superficial interactions. My suggestion then, when you use them, is to ask yourself whether the surface level is where you want things to stay. Often that is quite appropriate. We can’t get close to everyone. But don’t kid yourself that the people concerned are friends in any meaningful sense of the word—or that this encapsulates disciple-making in the way of Jesus.

Instead, if you want to explore taking the relationship further (and it has to be reciprocated, of course), enquire after the other person’s welfare (and possibly elicit a prayer request) when you thank them for asking. And at the end of a surprisingly good conversation with a mere acquaintance, raise the possibility of having another, not in general terms but at a specific time and place. Finally, if things are going to develop in the direction of true friendship, anticipate, pray for, and work towards that end.

More about all this next time!

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[1] Bernard Lewis with Buntzie Ellis Churchill, Notes On A Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian (New York: Viking, 2012), 171.

In Case You Missed It

1) If you really (like under a rock) missed it this week, David Platt was elected was the new President of the International Mission Board.

2) Check out the reaction to Platt’s election from Russ Moore, J. D. Greear, and Paige Patterson.

3) Speaking of David Platt, he has a post on Life on Mission over at the SEND Network.

4) Chuck Quarles, SEBTS Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology, writes about the devil’s lie over at B&H Academic.

5) Tony Merida, Associate Professor of Preaching at SEBTS and Pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, writes about the essential secret of preaching.

John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 4

John Ewart is Director of the Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching and Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives. This is the fourth post in a series on Critical Abilities in Pastoral Leadership. 

Previously I have posted that the first two critical abilities a missional leader must possess are 1) the ability to understand the true mission and 2) to establish a biblical vision. With these in place, the tracks are laid; the train has been built and set into place.

Now how does the train stay on track and move forward? I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the question of how do new churches make decisions concerning what they are going to actually do. I was concerned with the “now what?” question. We have planted a church, now what do we do and how do we decide that in order to best move forward?

Over the years I have seen a plethora of churches that cannot make healthy decisions, do not realize they need to, and/or if they did, have unhealthy practices in which they make them. This inability has led to a lot of contextual chaos…bumper cars from a previous post, or a train wreck. They are either going in a million directions with no cohesive process or they are doing virtually nothing. If they continue, they often end up in reverse or totally off track.

So what can a leader do? The third critical ability of a missional leader is to build bridges of leadership. If there is no understanding of the true mission or a strong biblical vision, leaders will not be able to guide the church down the tracks in the proper direction or at the proper speed. But even with those first two abilities, it is absolutely critical to put in place the right leadership team with a proper understanding of bridge building.

Railway_bridge_over_the_Aar_Berne

A bridge connects two sides of a gap of some kind. Some bridges are designed for one-way traffic; others are for two-way traffic. Some leadership relationships are one-way while others are two-way. Let me illustrate just a couple of them.

The first leadership bridge a missional leader must build and cross is the leadership relationship between leader (himself) and God. This is a one-way bridge. Not the relationship but the leadership. I never lead God. God must always lead me. It is amazing how often pastors and church leaders need to be reminded of this basic truth. This is where it begins and ends. How is your total submission to the leadership of God? Are you trying to lead Him? How is that working for you?

Another bridge to build and cross is the leadership relationship of leader to leaders. Some may argue that this is a one-way bridge. I do not. In fact I am confident this is part of the problem sometimes. I believe this is a two-way bridge. Missional leaders recognize they can still learn from and at times be led by other leaders.

I always worked closely with the other key church leaders, both vocational and volunteer, as a pastor. We worked together in synergy, moving down the tracks as one. We met and communicated with one another frequently and learned to trust and love one another. We were friends and co-laborers. We were on the same page.

I am convinced that if this type of understanding and harmony existed among the leaders of churches, then the health of the church would vastly improve.

Remember a third leadership bridge. The leadership relationship of God to leaders. I actually believe that I do not own the market on discerning God’s will. God speaks to others through His Word as well. This is a one-way bridge for them just like it is for me. A wise man will seek wise godly counsel from God-led people and not attempt to lead alone.

How are you relating to and leading those with whom you serve? Once these initial bridges are built, there are several others to cross. These include leaders to congregation, God to congregation and congregation to the world. Understanding these connections and the proper way they fit together is critical for missional motion down the tracks.

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