When I’m upset, the last thing I need is someone to disagree with me. Yet, it may be precisely what I need — someone to call me down when I’m out of line, let me know what I’m doing wrong, point me to the right way.
“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” says Proverbs 18:24. That’s the kind of friend I need. And so do you, particularly if you are in the Lord’s work.
We’ve said here that the epidemic afflicting the ministry today — at least, one of them—is the isolation of the minister. In my opinion, 95 percent of Southern Baptist pastors go it alone with their work of sermon-building, problem-solving, and ego-control.
Now, think of the foolishness and pure waste of that. Here we have 40,000 men (mostly) in our denomination laboring to do the same thing week in and week out — tasks like construct the sermons and Bible studies they will be bringing the following Sunday, plan business meetings and leadership summits to solve issues facing their churches, and the like. And instead of helping each other, they shut themselves inside their offices and studies to hammer out these matters in isolation.
If these were matters that can only be done alone, that would be one thing. But the fact is God has made His children so that we work great together and learn His Word at a greatly accelerated pace when we open the Bible with a good friend and share thoughts with one another. This does not replace the need for solitude to think through issues and matters and points and to commune with the Father about everything, but supplements it as nothing else can.
Every child of God needs a circumference of silence and solitude to think about his situation and to commune with the Father. In my experience, no one has ever doubted or disputed that.
But, can we assert just as positively that each believer needs one or two or three close friends with whom to share the matters of the Spirit?
I can hear the typical pastor (hey, I pastored for 42 years; I know typical pastors and was probably one myself) protesting, “I have the Holy Spirit within me, my wife alongside me, my staff helping me, and we’re all surrounded and upheld by our church members.”
No problem there. The problem is, it’s not enough.
You need one thing more.
You need two or three or four great close personal friends who are generally in the same work you’re in. If you are a pastor, you need your colleagues to be pastors. If you are in campus ministry, they need to be. Children’s ministers need to meet with children’s ministers. Missionaries with missionaries. Got it?
We’re not talking about your children in the faith or your father in the spirit or your mentor or your clones or your golfing partners. We don’t mean someone who thinks you hung the moon and can do no wrong.
The best friend for your ministry is not another you. The best friend — the kind who will be “iron to your iron” — is someone stronger than you in some areas and who has a tendency to see things differently.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
When I was a kid, I used to watch my dad working in my grandpa’s blacksmith shop. It was great fun to watch him build a fire in the forge. He would let me work the bellows. The ringing noise, the oppressive heat, the smells — there was nothing like the blacksmith shop.
Proverbs 27:17 is a “blacksmith shop” scripture. Iron is sharpening iron.
Now, that process produces friction and abrasion, and sets sparks to flying. But the end result is a sharpened tool.
Ever felt like you were dull and had lost your point? We all have.
In 1978, I was 38 years old, and had grown tired of every speaker I heard at Southern Baptist events. I thirsted to hear something fresh, something to be said that wasn’t so obvious or preached to death. In Christianity Today magazine I found that Moody Bible Institute in Chicago was having its annual pastors conference the last week of May. I signed up and attended. It was refreshing in every way.
That was the first time I heard a young John MacArthur and a middle-aged Warren Wiersbe. The college actually had a Southern Baptist or two on the program, but that was all right. I heard messages I had not thought of from speakers I did not know and grew immensely.
Looking back, I wish I had gone one step further and befriended two or three or four pastors in my area of Mississippi to meet with on a regular basis. Ideally, they would not have all been of my denomination, because the sharpening process works best when different perspectives are present.
Some of the greatest blessings of my life have come from other ministers, and sometimes were accompanied by friction and sparks. But later, I realized they made me sharper and clearer in my work for the Lord.
A former church member who has not seen me in 25 years heard me preach recently and blistered me with an email, informing me that I am a right-wing nut, a fundamentalist crackpot, a pygmy who has refused to grow in my understanding. I sloughed it off after a couple of exchanges and decided he and I have nothing to discuss.
Did that hurt? Nope. He doesn’t have a clue who I am. Had he known what I read and whom I befriend, he would not have made any of the charges, I am confident.
However, if he knew me as a close friend, if he and I met together regularly with a couple more buddies, and then he said those things to me, they would hurt deeply and I would pay attention to them. Because these are the people who know who I am.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6)