I once heard a prominent ministry leader parrot something from the platform that bothered me:
"You can’t plant a church with your friends."
He had a long list of reasons, many of which were rich with wisdom and right on point. Despite that fact, the sentence bothered me.
It bothered me then, because I was doing just that. Tami and I planted Redemption with our closest friends. It bothers me now because I think he was wrong. Not only CAN you plant a church with your friends, I believe more people SHOULD.
As someone who is seven years into church planting with two of my best friends (both of which are now on our paid staff), I think there is a better way to state the intended warning, while not throwing out the baby with the proverbial bath water. What I would say is:
Ministry has marred many friendships.
I don’t believe that means friends should not partner in gospel-ministry together, but I do believe we need to be sober-minded and labor to stay friends at the outset. Here are five things that have been key (albeit painful, at times) to seeing our friendships thrive on our staff...
1. Pray with and for one another.
Prayer with and for someone has a curious way of uniting your heart with theirs. It’s hard to be too put off with someone you’re praying with and for. When something that someone has said, or done is bothering you, pray for them. You may just find that God changes you more than them.
2. Speak candidly when something is bothering you.
Sin happens. Friends will sin against you and you will sin against your friends. This is when you need candid conversation. In my experience, it’s the words we leave unspoken that do more damage than the ones we do. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be a coward either. After careful thought and prayer, say what’s on your mind.
3. Forgive when you inevitably sin against one another.
It’s not enough to talk about sin, there needs to be regular repentance and forgiveness. When you harbor hurt, it degenerates into bitterness, and bitterness dishonors God and destroys the carrier. There is no longterm friendship without an immense amount of forgiveness. What are you holding on to? What do you need to let go of and forgive?
4. Be friends first and then co-laborers.
I’ve made the mistake of putting the friendship on the back burner in the name of ministry. Sometimes ministry has to take priority, but do this for too long, and it’s only a matter of time before there’s no friendship to protect. The health of the friendship directly informs the health of the ministry. Have fun. Hang out. Eat food. Play. Laugh. Live all of life together, not just ministry.
5. Accept them for who they are, not who you hope they’ll become.
We labor in ministry to see lives changed and eternities altered. One liability I’ve noticed in my own heart, however, is that I can love people more for who they’re becoming than who they are. That’s not how Jesus loves us and not how we should love others. We all need to grow and change, but if friendship is contingent on a set of behavior conditions, it’s really not friendship shaped by the gospel.
If you do the work of ministry with friends it will be hard, but it will also be more fulfilling, more rich and more meaningful. Should God allow, I highly recommend you jump into ministry with your friends.