From the 27th chapter of Proverbs….
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6)
Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend…. (27:10)
He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him. (27:14)
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (27:17)
Pastor Joe Wiggins posted a note on Facebook the other day: “I now have 800 Facebook friends, and I personally know every one of them.”
Impressive. He’s one smart man.
I can show you several preachers who cannot count on the fingers of one hand the number of true friends they have. They are loners, and, if I’m any judge, they have chosen to be that way.
They will live to regret it a hundred times in a thousand ways.
In our denominational system, the way a pastor moves from one church to another is not by appointment, whether by the bishop or another authority. We do something much less efficient, but (theoretically) more appropriate to each congregation. Each church selects a search committee of their finest members and commissions them to search out and recommend the next shepherd for their flock.
When the search committee meets for the first time, they have a full agenda. They elect officers, read the constitution and bylaws for the details of their assignment, pray, and begin sending out requests far and wide for recommendations.
They invite denominational agencies, pastors familiar with their church, friends far and near, and their own members to write letters suggesting this pastor or that pastor. They would like to have a resume’ of the minister and if possible, a CD or two of his best preaching.
That’s where the friendship thing becomes a matter of survival for pastors.
Without friends–people who know him and believe in him–the pastor is left to recommend himself (yes, some ministers write letters in which they apply for a position and enclose their resume’) or to sit at home and pray for the Lord to intervene. A third option is to ask strangers to give his name and resume’ to a church. (Strangers? Pastors who are loners often resort to asking ministers who barely know them to “give my name to a church in your area.” Both ministers find this uncomfortable.)
Can the Lord send His preacher where He wants Him? You bet.
If you read this blog regularly, you surely know that I believe in prayer. Nothing about this should be interpreted as implying otherwise. However, God uses human instrumentality.
Here’s my case history…
In 1962, when I was just beginning to preach and longed for some church somewhere–anywhere!–to take a chance on me, my brother Ron mentioned my name to a friend who in turn told Unity Baptist Church, Kimberly, Alabama. They were the first.
In 1965, as a first-year seminary student, I hoped to pastor in the SE Louisiana area. When Paradis Baptist Church became pastorless, Teddy Pledger, a friend in Grand Isle who had heard me preach, gave my name to his mother-in-law who was on the search committee.
In 1967, after finishing seminary, I was ready to stay or go, whatever the Lord chose. Hugh Martin, a classmate, gave my name to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Greenville, MS.
In late 1970, a neighboring pastor, Joe Walker, mentioned me to the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi. They were looking for a minister of evangelism. Another pastor friend, James Richardson, seconded that motion, and I spent 3 wonderful years in that outstanding church.
In late 1973, when First Baptist, Columbus, MS, began looking for a pastor, a number of friends–including former MS Governor Ross Barnett and professional inspirational speaker Chester Swor–recommended me. We served God in Columbus for nearly 13 years.
In early 1986, it was Dr. Rick Lance (then pastor of FBC Tuscaloosa and now the executive of Alabama Baptists) who recommended me to the search committee of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, N.C. He and I still tease each other about that, since that brief (three-year) pastorate left me with a number of scars. But God was faithful.
In 1990, Dr. Frank Pollard (FBC Jackson) and Jerry Clower, the professional storyteller and entertainer, recommended me to the First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA. We spent nearly 14 years here as pastor, and still belong to this good church.
In 2004, when the New Orleans Baptist Association began searching for its next Director of Missions, I was a member of the committee. To my complete surprise, members of the committee and neighboring pastors began saying I was the only person for that position. I was 64 years old and completely taken aback by this. We spent 5 years with the association, including the Katrina years.
Do you see a pattern? In each case, friends made the difference.
This is unnecessary, but it must be said: At no point in my life have I amassed friends with the thought that someday I will be needing this one’s support or that one’s recommendation. That would have been selfish and most people would have seen through it.
God made me so that I need friends. I need friends of all kinds and types–in the ministry, in the pew, in the community, and just about everywhere else you can think of. I need friends for encouragement, for counsel, and comfort. I need their companionship, their rebuke and straight talk, and I need their input into whatever bright idea I’m working on at the time.
Yesterday, a friend of 20+ years sat in my little office at our church. I was working on a fund-raising letter which would be delivered to the printer later that afternoon, and before the week is out, mailed to 2300 individuals or churches. I asked Tim, “Do you have a couple of minutes?” He did.
I printed out the 3 page letter and handed it to him.
“I need your input. I want to write a zinger of a letter, one that will answer all the questions and leave people wanting to have a part in this campaign. Tell me what I’m missing, how to make it stronger.”
A minute later, he said, “First, you need a picture of the building at the top. You’re trying to pay this building off, so people need to see it.”
Good. I had not thought of that.
“Then,” he said after another 60 seconds, “you need to make this personal. You have 2300 recipients and you’re trying to raise $290,000. How much would that be per person? Bring it home to them.”
“And, you need to give your readers some details. You’re trying to pay off this port ministry center for Global Maritime. So, how many ships come into New Orleans each year? How many crew members are on those ships? From how many countries? What does the ministry do for them?”
Ahh. Very good, Tim. Thank you.
I had shared the first draft of that letter with a number of people a week ago, inviting input on how to strengthen it. Two people pointed out a word I had misspelled. But in three minutes, Tim had knocked it out of the park.
You have to love a friend like that.
Furthermore, you have to keep a friend like that, and try to gather as many like him as possible.
Someone should put a warning label on the ministry: “Don’t try this alone.”
God never meant for any of us to live the Christian life in isolation or to lead His church by ourselves. The Lord called a dozen disciples, and at least once, sent out 70 of them. When they went out as missionaries, they went in pairs and quickly gathered up helpers along the way.
If the Apostle Paul is your model, pastor, then I give to you the 16th chapter of Romans. Study it long and hard. Ask yourself if this famed apostle was a loner or a friend-keeper. Various people in this chapter are Paul’s “fellow-workers in Christ Jesus,” his “countrymen” and “fellow prisoners,” and “my beloved.”
Don’t miss the point that Paul knew their names. He knew what they were doing for the Lord and he treasured them. (You have to know that when this letter was read aloud in the church at Rome, these people were thrilled to hear Paul’s personal greetings to them. And just think, for their faithfulness, they received honorable mention in Holy Scripture!)
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
You will be needing friends, preacher. And, furthermore, they will be needing you. May we suggest you start by reaching out to the other ministers around you. A note of appreciation or reminder that you are praying for him is always in order. Most pastors would welcome an invitation to come by for a cup of coffee and a brief chat.
That’s where you start. Let the Lord show you where it goes from there.