I am going to speak to you about one of the most important areas of your life. It is an area that for many people, is a neglected or happenstance area of life.
What got me started on this area of study was an experience I had about a year ago. Entering my office after another inspiring leadership conference, I placed the notebook on my bookshelf and dove into the enormous task of playing “catch-up”. I justified the time away from my office based on the fact that I believed I was going to come back as a better leader. I had jotted down many practical ideas of application for the information I had learned at the conference, but I quickly forgot what they were. In fact, it seemed to me like all the good new ideas on leadership just meshed in my mind into principles I had heard reiterated time after time. Although these are good and helpful principles, I felt as if I had hit a wall in my ability to absorb more information on leadership theory. Seminars were not impacting my leadership formation to the degree in which I hoped.
How many people leaving seminars feeling the same way that I had felt? I love seminars for the relationships, not so much the content. In fact, I think conferences are popular because of the relationship building that goes on, more so than the great content that is being presented. People go to conferences to have fun and be with one another. Yes, they go to learn. But they also go to build friendships.
Furthermore, I had spent countless hours reading books on leadership. Yet I had found that both classic books on leadership, and the newest writings, were having little impact on my ability to be a better leader. This plateau of development forced me to examine what influences were really shaping me. Of course, God was at work in me, but how was He accomplishing His work. What influences were really making a difference in my life?
It may seem obvious, but those who were “closest” to me were having the greatest impact on my life and leadership. It wasn’t the seminars or the books, but it was key people. This is the case now, and has been true throughout my life. Key peoples’ friendship and encouragement was shaping me for the future, and bringing about a significant impact on my current decisions, attitudes and behaviors. Likewise, I found that the greatest, meaningful and lasting impact I was having was on those whom I cared about most deeply. This fact is reinforced by both my ecclesiology (what I believe about the Church) and my Christology (what I believe about Christ). God works through the church, and the church is people. Therefore He is working in my life through people. Christ is present through His church and is shaping me through His servants as well as His Spirit and His Word. So as Jesus Christ works in my life, He does so through people.
The power of the influence of caring people is the reason why my boss and Pastor were making a difference. My best friend(s) were also speaking into my life with more force than the last book I read. Furthermore, an experienced mentor of mine was speaking into my life in a way that was truly being lived out in my ministry. Turns out, the people with whom I have a relationship seemed to be having the greatest influence in my life. I have found that in my life, the closer the relationship, the greater degree of influence. As I pondered this fact I wondered if other people were having similar experiences.
Friendship is a word used to describe the relationships that we have that have tremendous power in our lives. Numerous studies of teenagers have been done proving this fact. People generally define friendship as being voluntary relationships with people, characterized by a degree of intimacy and affection.
How strong are you at friendship? How good are you at relationships? Few would disagree with me, over the large degree of influence that friends can have on us. Yet we have not worked very intentionally on this area. At one time friendship was considered to be one of the highest human virtues of all.
It is also an appeal to go return to a value of friendship that has been largely forgotten by modern, Western civilization. “No one,” wrote Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, “would choose to live without friends, even if he had all other goods.”(Aristotle 1962). Although this may have been true in Aristotle’s day, in the 21st century, there are thousands of people who live without friends and instead spend their days in the pursuit of “all other goods”. Aristotle, like many of the ancient philosophers, classified Philia as one of the highest virtues of life. He linked it to the fabric of the state, politics and society. Plato, Epictetus and Cicero also devoted writings to the subject of friendship. To the Stoics and the Epicureans, friendship was a virtue that made life worth living. Friendship was “the foundation of the Greek city state, and in the earlier period of the Roman empire it was the ‘glue’ that bound men, cities, and the world together…All the classical schools argued that thought was meaningless without action, but action was meaningless without the fruition of friendships.”(Houston 2001). Today, friendship is viewed by many as a luxury of society rather than the fabric upon which society is built and maintained.
I have been taught a “servant leadership” leadership model.
Servant Leadership has marked recent trends.
We meet a need
We provide the money and the resources
We learn how to serve
But guess what happens?
Instead they serve us. This has always been my experience. I go to serve, but instead I end up being served.
They serve you, because they “need” what you have:
Resources, your expertise, what you bring materially, more so than what you offer them spiritually. Resourcing clouds the message, and becomes the product of the ministry.
A paternal relationship is maintained, while doing “servant evangelism”.
We serve our conscience, and go home changed by the experience.
The people on the field are happy, because they have a new building.
But Servanthood is not the goal of relational dynamics in mission. It is a stepping-stone along the way to a deeper relationship. As long as we stick with doing missions as merely works of service, we will not bear good fruit, but will perpetuate unhealthy dependencies and paternal relationships.
Who/what is actually being served in this model? There is something missing from this picture.
Jesus is our model leader. Came and showed us how to work with people, and how to raise up leaders.
Jesus’ Leadership Moved Beyond the “servant model”
A great deal has been written on the importance and effectiveness of “servant leadership”, based on the ministry and model of Jesus. Servant leadership is important, and has become a standard principle within the Church. But Jesus didn’t stop with “servant leadership”.
In His last words before going to the cross, Jesus spoke to His disciples some final mandates and words of encouragement that are recorded in John 15
He took his leadership with the disciples to the next level when he stated, “15 I 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.” (John 15). Our tendency is to stop at servant leadership.
Jesus moved beyond the “servant-hood model”
Jesus had a progressive relationship with the disciples.
–Rabbi (functioned as their teacher)
–Lord (functioned as Master)
Experience the transforming friendship of Jesus in your life! This is one of His objectives for your relationships with Him.
Likewise, learn how to be a friend to others: The power of friendship is one of the keys to long-term effective influence, evangelism, mission and leadership.
Friends are “together when they are separated, they are rich when they are poor, strong when they are weak, and – thing even harder to explain – they live on after they have died, so great is the honor that follows them, so vivid the memory, so poignant the sorrow” – Cicero (Pakaluk 1991)
Friendship is a powerful factor that will move us beyond the master/servant dichotomy.
A servant does things because they have to, not because they want to.
A friend does things because they want to, not because they have to.
A servant does things because it is their duty – their heart is not into it.
A friend will do something for a friend because they are moved with compassion.
A servant is a professional: emotionally safe, but effectively distant from the place where we would otherwise have our maximum impact.
Look at your own life.
When tragedy strikes, who helps?
At the next leadership seminar you will take good notes. You will think of new ideas. But most of you will enjoy the fellowship and friendships, more than the content. What do you remember about last year’s conference?
C.S. Lewis wrote, “The little knots of Friends who turn their backs on the “World” are those who really transform it.”(Lewis 1988). I assume that everyone in this room is interested in seeing the world transformed by Jesus Christ – I believe that this is true, and we must look for strategic knots that can transform the world.
People will shape your ministry more than ideas.
Jesus called His disciples friends, and He invites us to relate to one another at that level as well. Keep the door open to go beyond acts of service.
A servant will only do so much. A friend will go the extra mile.
We have neglected Friendship out of Fear
We have shunned friendship on the basis of all kinds of things – fear of personal rejection, hurt – dual relationships, secular models of hierarchical leadership.
But we cannot excuse ourselves from friendship. I cannot excuse myself from love, (I cannot excuse myself from friendship), without giving up my highest calling (to love), and my most powerful resource.
Jesus continues in John 15:16-17, saying, “You 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. This is my command: Love each other.”
I challenge you to be a friend that God can use – 1 person at a time. Look for strategic, intentional friendship. Take the risk, give the time and effort, and make the development of long-term friendship a value by which you will have the greatest impact for God.
Friendship with God and self are the starting points:
Friendship with God
“But, the personal character of Yahweh in the Old Testament is described in such relational terms that when He speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai, it is ‘face to face, as a man speaks to a friend.’”(Houston 2001)
“Christianity is the acceptance of the gift of the friendship of Jesus.”(Weatherhead 1943).