If you want to stay friends than don’t do ministry together.
It is either business or friendship; you can’t have both.
It can be hard to find good help these days, and you can’t afford to lose an employee by becoming their friend.
These are common sayings in ministry. Are they true? All too often, friends excitedly start ministries, businesses, and churches together only to see it end up tearing the friendship and work apart (even Paul and Barnabas get split up). We are often taught to no blur the lines between relationship and business. We learn to compartmentalize, isolate our groups of friends from one another--coworkers, family, old friends from high school, church relationships, new friends, and those created around a shared interest or hobby. I've noticed a tendency to not only keep these friends separate but also to keep them from knowing me fully.
Does this sound like good news: you can only have your friend in one avenue of life? Jesus models a lifestyle that included leading, teaching, serving, eating, ministering to and with his friends. In John 15:15 he no longer calls his disciples servants but friends. Though he is their king and savior, he considers them friends. This is incredible. Jesus models friendship that crosses cultural, social, and even spiritual barriers. Jesus was not afraid to “do ministry” with friends. Why? Maybe because there is no fear in love as perfect love cast out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).
It is counter-cultural to do all of life with your friends but that seems to fit with the way Jesus lived anyway. The cross, where the perfect loving God of the universe dies for the imperfect scum of the earth, is a constant reminder of how counter-cultural Jesus is and therefore how counter-cultural his followers get to be. Jesus told his followers that it would be their love for one another that would let the world know they were following him (Jn. 12:34-35). Sounds like Christian relationships get to look radically different from the world as the relationships themselves show off the radical love of Jesus of the cross.
What does this look like in real life?
I am glad you asked. About a year and a half ago I asked my good friend Dustin Nickerson to seriously consider and pray about moving to San Diego to join me in serving Red Door Church. Our church leadership felt that his gifts and experience would be a good fit for us at this time, but beyond that I missed my good friend and wanted to do life with him once again.
Dustin and I began praying and dreaming about what it would be like to lead together. I felt God strongly saying that our relationship was a unique gift and it would be better leveraged for the Kingdom by working together rather than apart. Now this sounds like a no brainer right? Here is the catch: we are both strong leaders who have started and led ministries. We are good friends who would be working together on staff for the first time. In addition, it would be a role reversal; last time we led together he was in the first-among-equals role and this time I would be in the first-among-equals role. If that was not enough he would be leaving and leading his family into an area of unknown and would be entering all of my church, work, family, and recreational relationships head on. Oh, and one more thing, our church doesn’t really do outside hires and was in no place to guarantee a long-term job. We had to offer a temporary 3-month trial with no guarantee of a job even if it was a great fit as we were projecting for a budget growth but had no guarantee of one.
With all of that reality on the table we were still excited, but Dustin came to me with a growing concern that this could be too hard on our friendship. After all, friends don’t work together in normal circumstances let alone the barrage of obstacles we were facing.
I began praying through this concern and as I did God spoke to me clearly of how the gospel could empower us to do this and not only survive as friends but thrive. He gave me a warning of four major enemies of friendship and leadership teams that he was graciously calling us to avoid. I wrote Dustin that we needed to watch out for the 4 C’s of death and we pressed on, believing that by God’s power and grace our friendship would be strengthened by working together. We knew the enemy would attack our friendship but also knew if we relied on the truth of the gospel and were watchful for our sinful flesh, we could enjoy a fruitful friendship and ministry together.
I want to share these primary threats to friendship with you in hopes that your relationships and leadership teams can hold off the enemy and his attacks. It really isn’t the circumstances that drive folks apart when they start to work together. It isn’t the work, but our hearts and minds which frequently forget the gospel.
Comparison kills teams and friendships. When we compare ourselves to one another it will only lead us to pride or despair. Pride when we think that we are better than someone or despair when we believe we are worse. It also models a comparison culture that will lead people to comparing their leaders. People start gaining favorite preachers, teachers, and counselors and won’t want to submit or respond to the leader that is not their favorite. This causes tremendous division and creates room for Satan to have a field day in the church.
The remedy is the cross. Comparing ourselves not to one another but to Christ and his work on the cross. This reminds us that we deserve death and only he could perfectly live our life for us. It puts all of humanity at an even playing field as we all deserve the cross and yet the one who did not deserve it took it for us. A leadership team that focuses its thoughts on the cross is constantly forced back into a posture of humble worship of Jesus (Phil. 2:3-10). It is impossible to pridefully compare yourselves to others while believing in the work of the cross. It is also impossible to despair knowing the grace and love of the cross.
When complaining leaks into a relationship, it falls apart. Complaining about leadership styles, preaching, sinful patterns, and more. This usually fuels the sheep to complain about the other person too and ends up causing a church filled with complaining gossips. We must not believe the lie that our complaining is justified as there is no complaining that is.
Leaders must lead in building one another up. There is no room in friendship or in the Kingdom for complaining. Scripture speaks of us being a people with praise and thanksgiving on our lips. Remember as Christians we are to do everything without grumbling and rejoice always (Phil. 2:14, 4:4). We must fight to remain thankful for one another’s friendship and gifts.
This is very close to complaining, and the two often hold hands. It can be easy to become an ear to critics and then become a critic. Leaders must not be an ear to critics but call others to check their criticism. If it is legitimate, we must go to our friend in person and speak truth in love. Critique grows outside of real relationship. Time and distance allow for us to characterize the other person into a criticism voo-doo doll.
The remedy is relationship. Friendship thrives in a community of light and confession. It thrives when friends recreate, party, eat and play together. Relational weight allows us to speak truth in love when necessary. Friends with a strong relationship are quick to call critics to be silent and to give their friend the benefit of the doubt. Relationship involves real hearts and real people instead of caricatures of a person’s weakness.
Leaders can forget they are on the same team and compete for audiences, status, and all sorts of junk that only leads to division. Dustin and I compete in all sorts of sports and games and are both very competitive. But we can’t forget that in God’s Kingdom we are on the same team. We are unified by the same gospel. We worship the same God and are empowered by the same Holy Spirit for the same purpose. A team unified by the gospel is quick to see each other’s gifts and victories as nothing short of sheer grace. A gospel-centered team is quick to point out and celebrate the evidence of God's grace in each other's lives! Dustin and I have committed to be for each other. We want the other one to succeed and be blessed.
5. Control and 6. Celebrity
Okay, if you are counting you realize that this is number five and six. Good work. But I thought I would throw in a couple of bonus C’s of relational death.
It can be so easy for the American dream and American individualism to creep into the life of the church. A mentality where it has to be about the one man starting something from scratch on his way to becoming rich and famous. In this environment leaders will have to fight to make all the decisions (control) and fight even harder to get all the credit (celebrity).
Does this sound like the gospel to you? No. The gospel is about one man having all control and all the credit but that one man is the God-man Jesus Christ! The gospel allows us to not be in control but to submit to Jesus, his word and his people as we lead humbly together. It allows us not to fight for fame but instead to weep when men want to give us the credit that only belongs to Jesus (Acts 14:4-18).
How are things going for the church and our friendship now?
We are over a year into Dustin and his family moving here and it has been an amazing blessing. Dustin is now a co-elder with me and helped lead one of the biggest transitions our church has experienced as we reorganized the whole church. He worked on staff for one year and we loved working side-by-side daily and our friendship grew as we worked together. We have now transitioned to him being off staff as God opened a local position in our mission field that became a "can’t miss opportunity" and our friendship has grown in that transition, too. We are next-door neighbors; our wives and kids enjoy and love one another. We get to share the gospel together in our neighborhood. The enemy has attacked our families and our friendship in a myriad of ways but by God’s grace we have walked in the light, confessed sin to one another, prayed for one another, and continued to trust Jesus to rule our friendship. We laugh, play, serve, teach, eat, and do ministry together. To be honest it is going great. It turns out believing the gospel and doing life similar to Jesus—with friends—can be fun!
Jake Chambers (@JakeJayChambers) is a member of Jesus’ bride - the church. He is the husband to his beautiful bride Lindsey, and a daddy to his boy Ezra. Jake is passionate about seeing the gospel both transform lives and create communities that love Jesus, the city, and the lost. He currently serves Red Door Church through leading, preaching, equipping, and pastoring. You can read more of his writing at reddoorlife.tv.