During 2017 there were a number of times I thanked God for the many ministry friendships I have. I’m not just talking about casual friendships but supportive friendships. These are persons who genuinely care about me and the ministry stresses and demands that I face. They want to know how I’m doing and are especially in touch with me during high demand times or situations. They are open to processing things with me and are able to pick up on the subtle indicators of when I am struggling. I cannot imagine making it in ministry without them.
Some of these relationships have been forged over the last 40 years and some of them are relatively new. Some of them have involved deep, heartfelt conversation for decades and some of them are casual friendships that have simply gotten deeper from having been in challenging situations together. I value and thank God for all of them.
Ministry can be tough. Whether leading a local church (or being an associate and leading a ministry in a local church), a regional ministry or a national ministry, there are constant demands, stressors, surprises, and blessings. The demands and the stressors – and sometimes even the surprises – take their toll. They drain energy and rob one of sleep. Our minds can become obsessed with these struggles even to the point of causing us to become distant. But supportive friends see that happening and go after us. They lovingly communicate that they care in ways that make it easy to open up and have heartfelt conversations. They remind you that you are not crazy after all.
I’ve seen surveys that indicate pastors and others in ministry are prone to not have supportive friendships. That breaks my heart. I cannot imagine the aloneness they feel. Or to what degree the toll of ministry must be intensified by their going it alone. Part of me wonders how they let themselves settle for just casual friendships. I don’t say that judgmentally or to blame. I know that developing supportive friendships is easier for some personality types than others. Some people simply struggle with it. If you are one of those people, don’t let that struggle win. WE ALL NEED SUPPORTIVE FRIENDSHIPS.
I really think that to have supportive friends you have to be one first. You have to take the initiative. Some persons you seek to be a supportive friend to will not respond and be that kind of friend to you. And sometimes a person you thought was a supportive friend will let you down or compromise confidentiality in a way that is very painful for you. But don’t let those situations cause you to withdraw and settle for being alone. You cannot make it alone. God never intended for you to be alone. The blessings of supportive friendships are worth the risk and even worth the pain of being disappointed.
I’ve been thinking lately about what characteristics make for being a supportive friend. Here’s my short list:
· Be genuine & authentic.
· Risk being vulnerable & transparent.
· Notice the clues others give when they are going through a high demand period and see them as opportunities to ask how they are doing. Don’t press. If they aren’t wanting to talk, honor that. Look to be a supportive friend and see where the relationship goes.
· Don’t focus on yourself or make the friendship about yourself. Each person in a supportive friendship forgets about him or herself.
· Be empathetic. Nothing deepens a friendship more than caring. And nothing wrecks a friendship quicker than telling a person, “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “that’s crazy.”
· Be willing to listen and ask questions. Don’t be afraid of silence. Don’t feel like someone has to be talking all the time.
· Follow up. Send an encouraging text or make a quick phone call just to see how they are doing.
There was something about hitting 60 two years ago that has made me more appreciative of the supportive friendships I have. Casual friendships, too. I tend to be more task oriented than people oriented, but as I become more seasoned God is teaching me how valuable and important friendships are – especially supportive friendships.
Can you readily name your supportive friends? If you have to think about it, you are probably under developed in this area. If so, let me challenge you to make as one of your top three goals for 2018 to develop at least one such friendship. And if you can readily name one or more right now, maybe you’ll want to send her/him a text and just say, “I appreciate you and our friendship.”
Have a fabulous, God-blessed 2018!