A Special Kind of Friend

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)

7 thoughts on “A Special Kind of Friend

  1. Your mention of the conference at Moody reminded me of similar conferences for pastors at both LC and NOBTS at times in the past. I also made two or three at my home seminary in L’ville. All greatly helped me and were not repetitive. Usually the Bible study at the convention is the best, but it’s too early for a sleepy head like me! I’ve got an outline I use now and then that covers most convention sermons:1 – The world is going to hell in a handbasket (examples) 2 – We have the answer but are way too lazy. 3 – Get up off it and get after it. [Usually they are phrased more piously.)

    Of course, you’re correct on fellowship. I have been surprised at the wide variety of men in local MA’s that I grew close to.

  2. Fellowship. Two or more fellows on a ship. You are traveling the same direction. One would assume that you are traveling to the same destination. But, there are many ports of call. Some may choose to ‘abandon ship’ along the way for something more inviting, more comfortable, with fewer ‘straight laced believers’ watching over them.

    On the ship you don’t see each other the entire time, but you are aware of their existence on board if you maintain contact regularly. In essence, you do life together.

    If a fellow’s cabin leaks, you must choose to share your cabin while his is repaired or just ‘pray’ for the repair.

    On the ship you can choose to dine with the friendly, happy, loud crowd, or you can seek out the lonely, quite ones an try to pull them in to the fellows having fun.

    Fellowship involes: Seeking others outside of yourself to share, save, and encourage others. It requires getting wet, bailing water, getting shoulders soaked in tear, sharing your provisions to those who lost their home, opening your home in the late hour to someone traveling through needing a bed for the night, and it involves laughter, tears of joy, and blessings abundant. Fellowship is ministry….to the innerman…the part of us that is eternal and will one day live in heaven. Done correctly, it will strengthen the inner man and draw him to the God and His Word that can give him strength when he is our of the presence of the fellowship group. All should leave encouraged, energized, and ready to pass it on. Amazed, not by the people present, but by the present that God has given them in the fellowship and meeting the needs there that only He knew were needed.

    Fellowship: Make a point to get together. Do like together. Learn from one another…in person. While there is still time. People are eternal. Lets make and meet more neighbors for heaven.

  3. This point of fellowship and accountability rings true. Know ones the pressure that is felt by a pastor, unless it is another pastor. I look at the ones who have fallen because of any number of sins and I wonder if it could have been helped by a network of fellow shepherds.

    I like Mary B’s analysis.

  4. Your former church member’s comments who had not heard you preach in 25 years, should not be sloughed off, and the door of discussion closed, Joe. Remember what Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Mt. 5:11-12) At least, write him back and thank him for being the source of such a great blessing here, and the great reward in heaven. Bro. Percy Ray used to say, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad,” means to have a shouting spell, praising Jesus. I wish I had done more of this during my ministry when I was “unjustly” criticised. Your former church member may be a better friend than you thought. I hope I qualify as your friend. Hugh Martin.

  5. I am not a pastor or minister, but I did work in local government for 16 years and wanted to offer what I consider to be a common denominator. People are always quick to express their criticisms and negative comments if they think we are not performing the way they think we should, but how few ever offer a kind word when they feel that we have done a good job. In my 16 years I couldn’t count or remember the complaints I received. But I do recall the TWO people who were kind enough to contact me and thank me for helping them.

    Isn’t it sad that people aren’t as quick to commend us when they feel we have reflected positively in their lives as they are to condemn us when they are not happy with us!!???

    I have only known Brother Joe for a brief period of time, but I think he does an excellent job, and I learn more and more from him every day – every time I read another of his publications.

    God bless Brother Joe, and may the Lord help guide him in continuing to help so many people like this humble (and most grateful) member of the human race.


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