Saturday, 2 February 2013

Transcending Friendship To Be Friendly

Friendship circles are a two edged sword. Friendship builds relations of warmth and intimacy, encourages community and builds a sense of self worth. All good. But friendship can easily exclude. I can't be friends with everyone, and to maintain friendships I spend time with friends more than strangers for our friends, and in conflict take their side rather than the side of a stranger. Friends can make me feel included, but by definition can make others feel excluded. So I can reinforce and strengthen my sense of belonging by excluding others from my friendship circle. But not always of course, and probably rarely consciously. Most of the time I like spending time with my friends: I see them, I go over and talk to them missing the 'other' I walk past to get to the friend. This happens in any group meeting. The meeting closes and we congregate to those we know and enjoy.

A strange paradox for a Christian church is that to be friendly the congregation must transcend friendship. When the liturgy finishes a friendly congregation includes those who might not yet have friends in the congregation. Churches reliant on friendship circles break into groups and have the smell of cliques. Sure, there is nothing wrong with having friends wherever we are. And when we join a new church we might stay because we have made a couple of friends, but at some point we are called beyond friendship to truly include others and break down barriers that might be mirrored in the lines between groups in the church.

I can't think of anywhere in the Gospels where Jesus says we should be friends. He says that he calls us friends and that we should mimic his love for us by loving one another. (John 15:12-17) Our love for one another is found in our unity with Christ. Indeed, the passage just cited follows that great teaching on the vine and its branches where Jesus commands us to abide in him. (See especially John 15:1-11)

Elsewhere Jesus tells us to love our enemies. (Matt 5:43-48) Imagine if your enemy attended the same church as you! What a great opportunity to obey Jesus' command to love as he loved us (see Rom 5:6-11) And what a better picture of the kingdom such a church would be than a church of friends. It would of course be harder work at times, and there would be times when we would prefer the company of our friends at church. But a church that has enemies within it would be a great place to practice one's discipleship.


  1. Great to see you blogging again and with a timely message for all our interactions.

  2. Thanks Wendy and Chris. It is good to be 'back' and I just have to get back into the habit of writing stuff!