Ant Greenham: Friendship and the Great Commission, Part 2

Pin It

[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!

____________________________________

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

Ant Greenham: Friendship and the Great Commission, Part 1

Pin It

[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.]

“What surprised you the most about your trip to . . .?” I love asking this when I speak to anyone on their return from an overseas visit. It was also the question I put to my twelve-year-old niece, Amy, at RDU airport in July 2012. She was about to go home to South Africa after spending a month with us in the U.S. Well, what surprised her most was the heat (it was the 3rd hottest summer on record), but she also exclaimed how friendly Americans are.

If you know the U.S., Amy’s second observation isn’t all that remarkable. It’s something that Moreau, Corwin and McGee note in their helpful textbook, Introducing World Missions.[1] In a discussion ranging across their 14th chapter, “Relating to People of Other Cultures,” they consider friendship from a missions’ point of view. First, they speak of the need in all cultures to reduce uncertainty when meeting someone for the first time. Americans typically counter such hesitancy “by being friendly (upbeat, smiling, ‘chipper’) . . . in meeting strangers” (p. 234). This was the characteristic that struck Amy repeatedly while she was here. That’s how Americans come across, and my niece appreciated it.

But does initial, spontaneous friendliness translate into something more—into the depth of relationship? Addressing this, Moreau and company write of American friendships developing quickly (as with a child enthusing about the “new best friend” he or she made on the first day of school), but remaining rather shallow. In particular, they point out that “American friendships are formed in shared activities. They like to do things together. They have church friends, school friends . . . hobby friends, and the like” (p. 242). However, such activity-based friendship (ABF) has a downside. When folks “become interested in new activities or lose interest in old ones, they add or drop friendships related to those activities” (p. 242). This doesn’t mean folks act in an unfriendly way when they bump into their old acquaintances. If they have time, they may well enthuse how great it was to work/graduate/play/travel/participate with the person concerned. Unfortunately though, when the activity ended, the substance of the relationship would have ended too.

Moreau, Corwin and McGee examine the ABF phenomenon within Christian circles. Typically, people band together for a particular activity (such as a book-study or an organizational program) but feel no compulsion to stay with the group once it’s done. This obviously has implications for ongoing church membership and involvement. And it’s something we care about at Southeastern, given our concern to see students serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. For now then, let’s compare ABF with the imperative of the Great Commission which, of course, is to make disciples.

Long before he captured and catapulted the essence of his mission on a Galilean hillside (Matt 28:16-20), Jesus showed how disciples are made. We see this in all four Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament too), but Luke and Mark help us on our way. Essentially, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, ESV). Such likeness has to come from constant personal exposure. Thus, when Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he did so “that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14, emphasis added). The latter purpose, preaching, is an activity to be sure. But it follows (and draws its strength from) being with Jesus. In fact, the crucial disciple-making activity commanded in the Great Commission is vitally encouraged by Jesus’ ongoing presence: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Spending time with, being with his disciples, in the midst of all kinds of activities, was central to Jesus’ disciple-making strategy. The relationship did not end when a particular activity did. But since that’s the case, how can we make disciples (and so fulfill the Great Commission) any differently? Friendship for the long haul, across a range of changing activities, is the way to go. In other words, for disciple-making Christians, ABF has significant limitations.

If that is so, it seems ABF needs some fixing, which brings all kinds of cultural and behavioral implications into play. But I’ll have to explore this (and the broader question of friendship in America) more deeply in posts to follow.

______________________

[1] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin and Gary B, McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

BtT Interview: Matt Rogers

Pin It

[Editor's Note: In this Between the Times Interview we talk with Matt Rogers, Pastor at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, SC, about his new book Aspire: Developing and Deploying Disciples in the Church for the Church (Seed Publishing Group, 2014)Matt is a SEBTS M.Div. grad and PhD Student, so he talks about his book and how the training he received at SEBTS prepared him to write it.]

Aspire pic1. What is the main idea of Aspire?

Church leaders must do more than simply affirm the Great Commission. We also have to do the hard work to finding practical ways to empower all of God’s people to meaningfully participate in this grand mission. For too long the church has grown increasingly dependent on vocational pastors to do the work of disciple-making while the majority of the church remains passive. Pastors are equally complicit in this process as we have often failed to do the hard work of training our people to know how to make disciples themselves. Aspire was written to provide the church with a path for one-on-one relational discipleship undertaken over the course of at least one year. The book is divided into three, 12-week sections: Gospel, Ministry, and Mission. Section 1 aims to provide a robust, gospel framework derived from God’s Word that moves through God’s redemptive work from creation to consummation. Section 2 focuses on the process of spiritual formation and growth that results from heartfelt worship and is demonstrated in practices such as prayer and Bible reading. The final section pushes the disciple to live all of life on mission as they seek to declare and demonstrate the gospel to a watching world.

2. What makes Aspire different from other books on discipleship, church, etc?

I began Aspire with the premise that the churches who would find the book helpful did not need to be convinced of the disciple-making mandate that Jesus has given to his church. My desire was to spend more time addressing the “how” question of disciple-making. How can the men and women who fill our churches take a younger believer through an intentional process of disciple-making? The answer requires a book that is more than a theological textbook or a Bible-study. The book is designed in a workbook-like fashion that will allow the disciple-maker and the disciple space for reflective journaling on the topic under consideration. Ideally, the pair would meet each week discuss how God was transforming them through His Word. Books alone will not make disciples, but my prayer is that a book like Aspire will make it easier for churches to both affirm and live the Great Commission.

3. How much of the book (or the idea for it) emerged from your ministry as a pastor?

The best books are forged in the fires of local church ministry. Church planting actually forced me to write this book. I knew that I was planting a church to make disciples, but I, like many pastors, had never been discipled myself. Week after week I was challenging my people to make disciples, but I found that I was increasingly relying on my sermons and the church’s programs to do the work of disciple-making. As a result, I was nervous that the church was doing the same. They heard the call to disciple-making and knew this was the measure of our church’s health. Increasingly, however, I had well-meaning, long-time Christians who seemed insecure and discouraged by their lack of clarity on how to go about the task that I was calling them to. Most of those who were active in disciple-making had developed a plan through a parachurch ministry while in college through ministries like Cru or Navigators. I was burdened by the fact that many of the adults in our church who had been walking with Jesus for several decades seemed to lack a clear plan for discipleship, though they are the ones who often have the most to offer.

4. How did your time at SEBTS prepare you to write such a book?

I came to SEBTS to get an education and I got much more than that. I also fell in love with the local church and her God-given mission to make disciples of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. My time as a Master’s, and now a PhD student, allowed me to develop a robust understanding of God’s mission in the world and a contextual application of the Great Commission for the church who God entrusted to my care in Greenville, SC. The faculty provided exemplary models of leaders who were shaped by God’s mission and fostered an environment that was theological rich while still practically applicable. The seminary provided a tangible conduit of God’s grace to me and the lasting value of Aspire will be a testimony to the training, support, and encouragement that I found at Southeastern.

Order your copy of Aspire at Amazon, or Seed Publishing Group, where you can get 10% off orders of 25 or more copies. For info on the faculty, programs, and students of SEBTS, check out sebts.edu.