Sunday, March 1, 2009

Going to Church and Being Friends

Perhaps, the most revolutionary social idea that Jesus taught and practiced while on Earth was that God wants to be friends with us. Surprisingly it is grasped by very few of God's people. An even more threatening idea is that He also wants us to be friends with each other.

9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.
John 15:9-17

I’ve done some informal surveys of people who go to church regarding their friendships in church. When asked, “Do you have many friends at church.” The answer was an emphatic, “Yes.” When asked what they did with these friends outside of a planned church activity the answer for many was “nothing.”

The glue that holds the friendship together is a church activity that required very little personal interaction with their friends. Often it was simply the 5-10 minutes of social interaction before and after a meeting that generally centered on the weather, the economy or sports. Obviously, I’m writing as a guy since the women would also talk about how the family is doing.

Friendships at church aren’t based on common interests or mutual building one another up. In fact, most members don’t know each other outside of a planned meeting context. Drop the meeting, drop the friendship is the golden rule of church membership.

Most people at church don’t know what is really going on in each others lives. Could we say as Jesus did, that everything we have learned from our heavenly Father, we have made known to our friends? Or is it more like, everything the pastor has ever known is quoted by the people.

There is a quiet, unobserved isolation that all too often, happens at church. Most people don’t realize it until they are in a marital, financial or health crisis. In many congregations you could quietly stop going and nobody would even notice. However, heaven help you if did something wrong because everyone would know that. In fact, some churches make you stand in front of the congregation to let them know the error of your ways. This is obviously done for mutual edification.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some real friendships in the institutional church, it simply means that most don’t experience them because of the institutional church model.

Jesus defines friendships by how he related to his disciples. 15”I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.” In other words, friends know what is going on in each others lives.

John goes on to write about friendship in a way that was to define Jesus’ church. 16”This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1 John 3:16-19

The sharing of possessions with those in need is a very tangible measurement of our love that cannot be fudged with spiritual jargon like, I'll pray for you. I was in an institutional church for 25+ years, tithed faithfully and yet I rarely practiced this kind of personalized giving, either as a layman and definitely not as a pastor. It simply never occurred to me or anyone that I was "friends" with. In fact, people rarely give these days if there is not a donation receipt attached to the giving and it is illegal to give to a specific person and get a receipt. (Pastors and single person ministries are the exception to this law.)

My guess is that in building centered churches as opposed to the friendship centered church, that even though we are in the greatest economic collapse since the great depression, we will not hear of institutional churches selling off holdings, stopping building programs and consolidating resources in order to make sure all of its members get through this.

Many people are praying for revival these days. The greatest revival would be one in which we get back to simply being friends with each other and learning to lay our lives and finances down for each other.

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