I look back on my life and I often reflect on friendships. I often will look back & think about all the good times I had with certain guys I grew up with, or trips I was on with choirs in high school (kinda nerdy I know), hanging out at football or basketball games and the list goes on. Funny thing is, very few of those friendships last. Sad, actually, not funny. Give me a moment… okay, I’m fine again!
Well, no mystery in student ministry we see continually how students pick their friends, or DON’T pick their friends & simply “chillax” with whoever happens to be there. As I witness this throughout my interactions with students & advise them to choose wisely I begin more & more to value friends in my life. But let me restate my vocabulary, by friends, as I grow older (and much wiser) I begin to see people as not just friends but as family. You see, the people I call friends, are the people who serve me my 14th cup of Starbucks at 4 in the afternoon, or my cardiologist who I talk about ski trips with. The guy I used to live with before I met my wife & grew up is a friend, as well as the guys I used to party with before the Lord overtook my heart & mind. But then there are others who are categorized as family simply because “friend” doesn’t seem intimate enough.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
You see, when I share in ministry with others, when I share in life together & struggle with others, it is significant! And I don’t mean struggle like “Man that was a long day at work, and I am sure it was for you too. So we must be close!” I mean struggle like we suffer in Christ, in the body together. We suffer through job losses, through miscarriages, through discipline, through lack of funds in the bank account, the frustration of not being able to afford cable… okay maybe that doesn’t apply. But I think I am getting the point across that friendship grows from being close simply because of similar interests and personalities. Jesus was standing among those who were seeking the will of the Father along side of Him. Sure, He loved his (somewhat biological) family but He was using the moment to teach something. He was making a point that this is your “eternal family”. As if He was saying “Along with (actual) family, these are the ones that will be a big deal to us eternally!”
So how do we get students to understand this? To understand that friendship takes on a different face with time, with struggles, with suffering, with lots of conversation over coffee… okay I’m getting distracted again! Anyway, I think the way we get them to understand it is to see it! Novel idea, I know. Maybe I should write a book called “Do What I Do, Not Just What I Teach”. But that would imply that I have it figured out & I do not! But really, I do believe that if they can see you & I living breathing & ministering among others, loving people, serving neighbors & sacrificing our time for “friends”, they will begin to understand what it is to be friends or “family”.
I look at those ones that have lasted, you know who they are? Nate who I HAVE struggled with for years through difficult times, Randy who has grown along side with me in life & ministry (many of those hours were in Starbucks laughing it off), my wife who believe me has suffered much both with me & even because of me! But the one that stands out is the body of Christ at Grace Community Church in Hudsonville, MI. They are my brothers & sisters. They along with Randy, Nate, my wife Kristi & my biological mother, father & brothers… truly are family. They are friends who will last eternally! So remember to let your students see you suffer with them, rejoice with them, worship with them and laugh with them. They will learn with the teaching & example what it is to be “friends”. They will learn what to value in life, and in relationships. They will learn that we don’t “pick them” as much as we think, but that we grow with them.
So to those who are my closest of friends, I’ll sign off like I do with them;