“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:9-15 NKJV)
I firmly believe that friendship should always take preeminence over function in ministry. Function being what someone can simply produce in the confines of a program/service, friendship being existence of a love relationship based on value and vulnerability. Unfortunately, friendship is not the normal mode of engagement in a corporate church structure in America. As a minister who travels a lot, I am consistently having conversations with friends who attend and have a function/leadership positions in a local body. However, they realize once they fail to have a function or position that directly benefits the church they are treated differently. They feel unwanted and unimportant and sometimes like their presence is an offense. This sort of treatment usually leads to flight and is in large part why churches consistently dissolve. In a corporate church structure there is a lack of intentionality and vulnerability which are two main ingredients to friendship. Very seldom do members in a church have direct friendships with leaders or even the pastor. Leadership is a call to love, and if Christ our master calls us to friendship with Himself and likens His relationship with the Father as a friendship, should we not strive for the same goal?
When function proceeds friendship the value of relationship is distorted and we perceive the significance of a relationship by what it can produce, usually just for us, our program or purpose. Production overrides the value of relationship, and people find when they cannot produce they lose what they thought was a friendship. When someone develops this ideology where function proceeds friendship, they fail to form meaningful relationships. This is most common among church leaders and pastors, because friendship is always directly related to duty. I have helped ministers wrestle through some of these mentalities and I have sat with some who cannot understand this distinction or take themselves too seriously, so they refuse to see it. There are several variables that contribute to this detrimental perception in the American church, much is tied to American history and the Church’s failure to distinguish God’s kingdom from Caesar’s kingdom. Nonetheless, I will cover history another time.
What I desire to bring attention to here briefly is simply the unnatural form of leadership exhibited in most churches in America. I say most because there are some churches that do well to love intentionally even with the corporate hand-me-down system, but usually the system wins out in the end despite good intentions. I could explicate Jesus’ words in the passage above for several pages, but the main point I want to get across is this distinction between friendship and function. There is a difference between the two, and friendship should always be the foundation and driving force when engaging in love relationships.
As the Church, believers are called to love. Love is not an option. Love is a calling. Love is to be a natural expression of our nature. Part of loving people is being able to develop genuine friendships with those in our direct sphere of influence as well as strangers. However, to develop genuine friendships, intentional vulnerability must proceed titles and positions. There must be a greater desire for genuine relationship and unity of the Spirit over the production of a perfect service. The failure to be intentional in relationships turns the Church into an industry and people become parts on the assembly line no matter how long they’ve attended or lead.
Perspective: Where are you looking from?
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do I have genuine relationships with leaders and other members in my church?
- If I stopped doing my task in my church would I still be accepted and valued the same?