Flourishing Friendships in Your Church

From the True Woman team: We’re celebrating today, because our friend Christina Fox’s new book, Closer than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish, releases tomorrow! She’s got great, gospel-centered wisdom to share on making and keeping “sister-friends” in the church. This post is a just taste of what her book covers. If you find what she says to be helpful, you can read even more (and support her writing) by ordering her book here. You’ll be glad you did.

We’ve all had bad experiences with friendship at some point in our lives. Whether a friend rejected us, shared something with others we told them in confidence, or turned out to be someone other than who we thought they were, such experiences are painful. They may shape our view of friendship for years to come.

When we meet new people, we might find ourselves distrusting, hesitant, and guarded. Some of us wear polite masks to church on Sunday morning, never revealing who we really are. And others give up on friendship altogether.

But I don’t believe we should. I believe it is possible to find safe and trustworthy friendships. And God calls us to have such friendships in the church.

How the Bible Describes Friendship

Scripture uses various metaphors and images to describe the church. One is the human body. The church is described as a body made up of many parts, with Christ as our head. We are united to Christ through faith and united to one another as adopted children of God. Like the human body, each part of the church body is important; we need each part to function and not one part is better than the others. Also like the human body, we are so tightly knitted together, when one part of the church body hurts, we all hurt.

The Bible describes what relationships within the church body look like:

  • Sacrificial love: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).
  • Spiritual encouragement: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25).
  • Helping one another: “Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
  • Mourning and rejoicing together: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).
  • Caring for each other’s burdens: “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • Exhortation: Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
  • Discipleship: “Older women . . . are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3–5).

Though the Bible describes relationships in the church in this way, the truth is we are all sinners. And when sinners get together in a group, we will sin against each other. We may seek after our own good. We are sometimes unkind, hurtful, and let each other down. We can bicker and quarrel. This should not surprise us; after all, even among the twelve, there was a Judas. And even Jesus’ dearest and closest friends fled and failed Him when He needed them most.

So how can we cultivate safe and trustworthy relationships in the church? How do we find trustworthy friends with whom we can remove our masks and share our lives? How can we live out the kinds of relationships the Bible describes in the New Testament church?

Cultivating Safe Friendship

Safe and trustworthy friendship develops through a process, over a period of time. It begins with simple friendship where we bond with another person over common likes and interests. In the church, we all have a love for Christ in common. But there are other commonalities we may discover as we spend time with people: similar hobbies, childhoods and backgrounds, job experiences, personalities, and spiritual giftings. Over time, as we learn more about the other person, the friendship develops into one where we can trust each other and mutually share our burdens.

In their book, How Should We Develop Biblical Friendship?, Joel Beeke and Michael Haykin point out a good way to look at our friendships: concentric circles of mutual trust and knowledge. Think of a target, the kind at which you throw darts or shoot arrows. Those closest to us are those we trust the most and know the most about us. They would be in the circle at the very center of the target.

Then there are those whom we might consider friends because we spend much time with them in our work or serve alongside them in ministry, but they don’t know everything about us. These friends would be in the ring around the center of the circle.

Then there are those on the next ring, with whom we might share common goals, but we wouldn’t consider them good friends. And then on the furthest ring away from the center are those who are more like acquaintances, people whom we might have met and know a few facts about but with whom we have little connection.

Most of our relationships in church will begin in the outer rings of the circle, as acquaintances. Through time spent together in service, in fellowship, or in attending Bible studies together, we might get to know them more. Some of these people will move inward on the circle as we learn more about them and as we grow in our mutual trust of one another—until finally there are those sister-friends, with whom the fruit of deep friendship is born through time and patience.  

It takes time to identify people who are trustworthy, people with whom we can be vulnerable and real. Charles Spurgeon has some wise words for us here. He suggests giving time before calling someone our “friend”:

Wait a wee bit, until you know more of him; just see him, examine him, try him, test him, and not till then enter him on the sacred list of friends. Be friendly to all, but make none your friends until they know you, and you know them. Many a friendship born in the darkness of ignorance, hath died suddenly in the light of a better acquaintance with each other.

To be sure, not everyone in our church will be in our inner circle of deep trust and knowledge. That would be impossible. Certainly we will extend kindness to everyone in the church. We will help, love, and serve all the members of the body. But only a few will be those closest to us, knowing our deepest hurts and cares, our sins and temptations, and exhorting us in the truth of the gospel.

Like all things in life, friendship takes hard work, even in the church. Finding and cultivating safe and trustworthy friendships takes time and patience. But we are not alone. Christ—our safest and most trustworthy friend of all—is with us. We must seek His wisdom and help, trusting Him to provide us the friendship we need. After all, the Church is His; He died to make her His own. He believed she is worth it, so shouldn’t we?

Did you discover God’s Truth today?

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