Earlier this year I preached a sermon based on Jonathan and David and their friendship (I Samuel 18:1 ff.). One of my points was that we live in an age that is hostile to friendship. In particular, there is constant pressure to view others as objects for personal gratification. Humanity is over sexualized. It is as if we wear a lens that first sees people as sexual objects. This makes it difficult to have any physical contact that is not viewed as sexual in nature. Personal presence has degenerated into sexual opportunity.
This objectification of others results in fearful isolation which forces us to build emotional, psychological, and spatial walls around ourselves. While it has been common in many parts of the world for women to walk together holding each other’s hands with no hint of homosexuality and the same for men, in the west we have so sexualized our existence that it is inconceivable to have extended physical contact that is not sexual in nature.
One consequence is that we crave friendship while barricading ourselves from the possibility. I am not suggesting that you must have extended physical contact (hand-holding) to establish and maintain true friendship. I am merely suggesting our culture’s over emphasis on sex is an obstacle to our getting close to people. In spite of what we see on television, friendship is hard to attain.
As a pastor I have additional obstacles to friendship. Friendship is all about intimacy, sharing hopes, dreams, and fears. It requires mutual respect and vulnerability. Ministry is saturated with shared hopes, dreams and concerns. Mutual respect is an essential aspect of Christian service. But vulnerability is a luxury for those responsible for the care of souls. To be vulnerable is to expose one’s weaknesses. Ministers have plenty of those but revealing them is a two-edged sword. One danger is that of becoming a stumbling block for those you are charged to disciple. New converts and others can be discouraged if their spiritual leaders are struggling with issues regardless of the nature of the struggle. Self revelation must be done with great care and for the pastor it must always be aimed toward the spiritual wellbeing of others.
The second danger is that ministers are held to a higher standard than most people and a confession of weakness might lead to a loss of ministry. Just the suspicion of impropriety can destroy a minister. And the confession of a struggle is often viewed as a confession of a failure. “Where there is smoke there is fire.”
If vulnerability is an essential ingredient for friendship, ministers are socially and psychologically handicapped.
On the other hand, I would argue that friendship is essential to discipleship. If we are going to disciple others we must become their friend, therefore we must be vulnerable. I seek to model vulnerability. I am open with the fact that I often struggle to actualize my faith. I readily admit that I sometimes have deep, unanswered questions. I have publicly confessed to extended dark nights of the soul. I hurt and I have not always handled that hurt well. In short, I want my church family to know that I have not arrived; I am tempted, tested and tried; I know what it is like to be in their shoes. By grace I have not fallen into besetting sins. I have no secret transgressions. But, I have struggled. I also want my church family to know I am pressing forward. I am by faith an overcomer. And, I am their friend.
The results are that I have a host of friends. There are dozens of people I could call on for help if I needed it. I am truly blessed with wonderful friends and I am thankful.
P.S. - I have one friend who knows everything and she chooses to still love me.
June 26, 2010