Be A Friend
by Michael Clarensau
This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father. John 15:13-15 (The Message)
His name was Paul, and as my best friend's dad, he had more than a two-decade head start on me in life. The connection between our families had been proven through shared vacations, countless meals, and adjacent seating through hundreds of church services. For me, Paul wasn't just one of the dozens of church adults that connected with my early teen life. He was my friend.
Paul and his wife had invited my parents to church a few months before my birth, and fourteen years later, the connection between our families was never stronger. I'll never forget the evening when Paul and I sat and discussed life, ideas, my dreams, and ambitions. He was the first adult to talk to me like an equal, to listen to my insights like they could contain a measure of wisdom, to explore my inexperienced understanding with questions and a respect that made me feel grown up.
That's what friendship does. A friend is one who steps from the periphery of our lives into a deeper connection - one that comes with opportunities, privileges, and shared responsibilities for those things in life that matter. And through that connection, they help us become the best version of ourselves, one that flourishes in their acceptance and value.
I think that's what Jesus is saying in this highly relational moment with His disciples. He lays aside the master-servant or teacher-student connection and brings these men to a higher plane - one on which they can stand close to Him. And in that moment, He reveals a level of partnership that will forever change the altitude of their lives.
Truth is, nothing motivates someone to learn like acceptance and individual interest. Most of us can remember a favorite schoolteacher. Likely that person was our favorite because of the interest they showed in us and the growing connection we felt. And that connection motivated us to give our best in that class and to remember their efforts, even to this day.
Imagine such moments with the girls that look up to you. Your determined effort to see more in them, to engage their worlds at their level, to be a friend can propel them to greater confidence, self-respect, and belief in their contribution to the eternal purpose you share. A student will only match or exceed a teacher if the teacher will lift her up to her ever-increasing levels of potential.
When a leader extends herself in friendship to one she leads, the two don't become equal in the sense that each can share the other's burdens and life challenges. The disciples were far from ready to face what was ahead for Jesus. And, Jesus didn't "come down" to their level, pretending to be one of them by acting with the same undeveloped understanding that dominated their lives. Leaders who try connecting with those they lead by acting with immaturity will never develop maturity in others.
But when a leader becomes a friend - one who cares, believes, listens, dreams, and shares mission with those she leads, life-changing relationships ensue. That's why Jesus was willing to shed the teacher cloak and draw close to those He led. The result is beyond measurement, but we know that these men carried His mission to the corners of the globe and ultimately until their deaths.
If Jesus saw friendship potential in men who struggled to understand Him and often resisted His efforts to reshape their thoughts and motives, surely we can see such potential in the young hearts and minds of those who trust us to lead them. Be a great teacher, be a great leader, but learn to be a great friend as well. That's the way you'll change a life, and maybe even change the world.
Dr. Mike Clarensau, serves as senior director for the Healthy Church Network, has ministered in camps, conferences, and churches across the nation. He has also served as Editor in Chief and head of the National Sunday School Department for the Assemblies of God and as District Youth & CE Director for the Kansas District. Mike has authored fourteen books including, From Belonging to Becoming, Journey to Integrity, The Sanctity of Life, Give Them What They Want, and co-authored We Build People a discipleship strategy book used in Assemblies of God churches throughout the United States.