“It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have. The alphabet is fine. But it’s what we do with it that matters most—making words like ‘friend’ and ‘love.’ That’s what really matters.”
– Fred Rogers
It’s been said that “Good friends are hard to find,” but I think it’s truer to confess that “Good friendships are hard to build.”
They take time and work and diligence. They require patience and forgiveness. There are no shortcuts. They often grow in fits and starts. And though many are interested in experiencing the outcome of that kind of labor, few are interested in the effort.
In other words, many people want a friend. Few want to be a friend.
And that’s resulted in an epidemic of loneliness and dissatisfaction. The children’s poet Shel Silverstein speaks about the way we tend to approach friendships. He writes:
“I’ve discovered a way to stay friends forever There’s really nothing to it. I simply tell you what to do And you do it.”
Shel’s right. Too many of us unknowingly embrace a selfish posture towards friendship. His playful poem captures what I’ll call the “my friends exist for me” approach to friendship. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. It rears its ugly head when folks find themselves believing:
My friends exist so that I have something to do on a Friday night.
My friends exist so that I can try new restaurants and see new movies with someone.
My friends exist so that I won’t feel lonely.
My friends exist for me.
This posture towards friendship is highly misguided. It’s plain bad advice. If you desire deeper, more substantive relationships, here are four habits, advocated by the author of Proverbs, that can help you build better friendships. Friendships that aren’t all about you. Friendships that bring life and yield joy. Friendships that will last.
If you want to build friendships that will last, first, you must cultivate self-awareness.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
What’s going on deep inside us is difficult to analyze or to understand precisely. But those who desire to be good friends take the time to explore their own hearts. They assess their motives and desires, and honestly evaluate what makes them tick. They name old wounds and identify the effects of those wounds. They own up to the good, the bad, and the ugly that shapes their decision-making.
They cultivate self-awareness. And self-awareness is critical to building friendships that can last.
Someone who is self-aware is able to recognize when they’re being unreasonable, when they’re being demanding, and when they’re reacting to a current circumstance out of an old wound. And isn’t that what you want in a friendship?
Those who are self-aware have taken the time to look into their own hearts so that they can respond to and care well for those whom they call “friend.”
Self-awareness can grow in many contexts. Counseling is a helpful tool. So is journaling. Research shows that writing down things we are thankful for and identifying things that frustrate us can help us gain insight into the nooks and crannies of our hearts.
So how do you build friendships that last? First, you cultivate self-awareness.
But becoming a better friend isn’t just about improving the ways we understand ourselves. It’s also about adjusting the postures we adopt when relating to others.
If you want to build friendships that last, you must also commit to radical candor.
What’s radical candor?
Kim Scott, a remarkable business leader in the tech industry, who’s led online sales at AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick and Operations at Google, writes, “Radical candor is the ability to challenge directly and show you care personally at the same time.” It’s the commitment to take a risk and speak the truth to a person who matters to you.
Scott’s definition of radical candor reminds me of Proverbs 27:6, which says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
They also remind me of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Even though it can be remarkably difficult to tell the truth to those we love, it’s what a good friend does. It’s how we build friendships that last.
Radical candor matters for two reasons:
It’s how we care for our friends.
And it’s how trust grows in our friendships.
A friend says what needs to be said, even if it hurts for a little while, because they desire to keep their friends from greater heartache or harm.
And a friend speaks honestly, risking hurt or misunderstanding, so that their friendships might have opportunities to deepen and grow. Indeed, speaking with radical candor is one of the main ways trust grows between friends. It’s like Oscar Wilde said, “A good friend will always stab you in the front.”
Do you give your closest relationships a chance to grow through your commitment to courageous honesty? Are you committed to radical candor?
For healthy relationships to grow, honest, direct speech is necessary. But so is grace.
If you want to build friendships that last, you must make forgiveness a habit.
Proverbs 17:9 instructs, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”
Whoever covers an offense—which is a Hebrew way of saying whoevercommits to forgiveness—seeks love. But those who repeat the matter—those who ruminate on it, bringing it up again and again—cause separation between friends.
It’s been said the only things that are certain are death and taxes, but you can also count on this: Your friends will let you down.They will break your trust. They will hurt and offend you. It’s inevitable.
But the ability to forgive—the ability to cut some slack and offer understanding—that’s what allows friendship to grow over the long haul.
To be clear: I’m not suggesting that we let our friends run all over us or do whatever they please without consequence. Boundaries matter. And there are times that boundaries need to be established and firmly held.
But at the same time, if you want your relationships to flourish, you need to make forgiveness a habit. You must be quick to extend grace and give another chance to those who have offended you.
That’s just part of friendship.
And finally, if you want to build friendships that last, you need to embrace self-sacrifice.
Proverbs 17:17 declares, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
A true friend is one who commits to costly love, who is present in good times and bad times. A true friend doesn’t vanish when things get difficult, they dig in.
What’s funny is many recognize that friendship is valuable. But few seem willing to pay the high price that lasting friendship costs. It cannot be denied: Valuable things come at a high price. And lasting friendship is pricey. There are physical, emotional, financial, and time costs associated with building friendships that last.
But they’re worth it.
Because Fred Rogers is right.
Investing in things like friendship and love—that is what really matters.
Indeed, in a filmed interview, Rogers once remarked,
“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”
That’s a gift we’re able to share in the context of friendship.
If you want to build those kind of friendships—friendships that bring joy, friendships that withstand hurts and deepen as years pass, friendships that last—you must cultivate self-awareness, commit to radical candor, make forgiveness a habit, and commit to self-sacrifice.
I recently heard a young woman saying she was considering a career change. “I’ve been in the for-profit sector now for awhile, but I can’t get away from the fact that I feel called to ministry.”
And, of course, I knew what she meant. “Going into ministry” is common shorthand for leaving a secular job to enter church or Christian non-profit work.
I wish it wasn’t so.
I’m often the first to push back when someone comes in as the language police. But this one has been bothering me for some time.
My issue with “ministry” referring to church work is both biblical and practical.
Biblically, the Greek word for “ministry” could also be translated “service.” And this is where our translations sometimes betray us. Acts 6:2 and 6:4 are a perfect example. Compare the two verses in the ESV translation:
6:2 “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.’”
6:4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
This makes it sound like two very different assignments. Stephen will serve tables. Paul, on the other hand, will be devoted to the ministry of the word. But in Greek, it is the same word.
We could say, Stephen will have the ministry of waiting on tables. Paul will be devoted to the ministry of the word. Or, Stephen will committed to serve tables, Paul will be devoted to the service of the word.
My dissatisfaction comes in part because of an inherent hierarchy of words. Service is often used to describe the not-fun stuff that anyone can do. Ministry, on the other hand, is construed as an elevated, special class of work.
Using “ministry” in this way subtly reinforces the sacred-secular divide.
In addition, in the New Testament, the task of leading the church is usually described as pastor, shepherd, elder, or bishop. But not “minister.” Paul will say he is a minister of Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:16). But this is more an identity and task that transcends a specific role.
A better solution:
What might I suggest instead? I don’t want to sound grumpy without proposing a way forward. What if, instead of referring to ministry as a special class of church work, we always used an adjective before ministry?
“I’m in plumbing ministry.” Or, “I’m in banking ministry.” Or, “I am in the restaurant ministry.” Or, “I am in the real estate ministry.”
This might sound incredibly odd, and more than a tad unrealistic. But consider that many countries have ministers of defense, ministers of finance, and even prime ministers. These aren’t church workers! Ministry in each of these contexts is assumed to be a task that serves others.
What would happen if every single person in a congregation understood that their everyday work, paid or unpaid, was a ministry? What if people didn’t have to leave for-profit work to “enter the ministry”? What if, to be just a little bit snarky, the young woman I talked to had said she felt called to leave marketing ministry for church ministry?
This is the glory of the royal priesthood spelled out in the Scriptures. We are not all pastors. But we are all priests. And we all have a ministry, which certainly includes our everyday work.
Matt Rusten serves as the executive director for Made to Flourish. He and his family are a part of Christ Community’s Brookside Campus.
In December of 2016, one Christ Community member took a bold step. She was convicted. And this conviction found its deepest pang not in how broken she saw the world but rather in how clearly she understood her calling.
Urban and underprivileged children should have opportunities to explore and experience music and the arts.
God is the ultimate Creator, who originally created a good and beautiful world for us to live in. As His image-bearers, we are also called to create beauty in our world.
Christians are called to seek the common good of our city.
And so Sara Forsythe gathered a team of Christ Community folks in collaboration with Mission Adelante staff to birth a weeklong Arts Camp.
For the past two years, this week-long camp has been a catalyst for discipling children in knowing our creative God and honing their creative gifts as image-bearers. Check out her recap of this last year’s camp here. It’s beautiful to see Christ Community volunteers and financial support leveraged in this common-good initiative.
Not only is the Arts Camp a beautiful picture of our robust partnership with Mission Adelante, but it keeps growing in impact. Now, throughout the year, children are growing in the arts, developing leadership skills, and finding their place to serve others in their community.
Gissell Vasquez is an associate ministry director at Mission Adelante. She leads the Adelante Arts Community year round, and one child who has been impacted through Adelante Arts is Prishmila. Gissell writes:
“When she began attending Arts Community, you could tell that she was one of those charming and shy girls that would not answer a question if not asked directly. Not only did she never miss a class, she was the first to arrive.”
But over time, something happened:
“…As I was helping the students one by one to remember the names of the guitar strings and naming the new chords we were practicing, this girl stepped in and said to me, ‘Do you want me to help you? I can work with my partner while you are doing it with the rest.’ It was a surprise and a joy for me having her offer to help. Immediately I said, ‘Yes, of course, go for it!’ That night and for the rest of the trimester she became not only a student but a helper. She is becoming an artist with a potential to be developed beyond our program and she is turning into a young leader with the most important leadership skill: a servant heart.
I’m blessed to have such an amazing group of students that come every Monday night to enjoy the arts, to share life together, and to learn about Jesus.”
It’s one of our great joys as a church to partner with such excellent organizations like Mission Adelante, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. If you aren’t familiar with their work, Mission Adelante longs to see “a growing multicultural community of disciples making disciples, where immigrants and others are thriving and using our gifts together to transform our neighborhood and the world for the glory of Jesus Christ.”
Whether helping immigrants and refugees sharpen their English speaking skills, cultivating the arts with emerging artists, cultivating a space for community support, sharing the gospel, or providing jobs through Adelante Thrift, Kansas City is better for it and Jesus is glorified in it.
Partnership is always more than just a relationship, but never less. And every relationship has to start somewhere. If you are curious about how you too can get engaged with the amazing work at Mission Adelante but you don’t have a ton of time, try this. One good first step would be to coordinate a time for you or a group to serve at Adelante Thrift. If you would like to schedule an opportunity to serve, you can go here.
If you’re looking for more robust engagement, whether in mentoring or teaching in ESL, check out those opportunities here. And if you have artistic gifts and hearing the story of Prishmila inspired you, Gissell is always looking for teachers and mentors in the arts. Reach out for information here.
Think about it. Can you imagine if a whole generation of immigrants and refugees were affirmed in their dignity as image-bearers? Imagine if the most vulnerable in KC were empowered to cultivate their God-given capacity to create where God has them today? It would make for a better city. A better tomorrow for us all.
May we not just be broken by what we see but convicted by who we’re called to be.
Sundays were my favorite as a kid because it meant lunch at my grandparents’ farm after church. When we arrived, everyone pitched in to set the table and finish prepping the food.
I loved visiting my grandparents’ home because they lived on a farm, and there was always something to be done. I wanted our time at Grandma and Grandpa’s to last as long as possible, so after lunch, I would search for a way to help my grandparents.
In the house, I would quietly sneak back to the bedrooms to strip the beds and remake them with clean linens. I would clean the shower in the master bedroom, knowing it was hard for my grandparents to do. I would start doing their laundry and press my grandpa’s jeans. Yes, he loved pressed jeans for work. I would head out to the chicken coop to clean and put down fresh straw, or hike out to the pasture to dig up the thistles that frustrated grandpa. The best part of Sunday was going in search of a way to surprise my grandparents with an act of service to make them smile.
Sundays were like a day of playing Hide and Seek around my grandparents’ farm, where there were hundreds of hidden ways to serve them as an act of kindness and generosity. Serving my grandparents cultivated in me, at a young age, a behavior of seeking to serve and help others.
Seeing the smile on my grandma’s face at her freshly made bed or my grandpa’s pat on the back of thanks for ironing his jeans gave me a deep sense of joy! An unstoppable joy, which I have continued to cultivate in my lifetime and now see being passed down to my daughters.
The beauty of serving others is developing a sensitivity to the needs of another person. Cultivating this in our children means we must model attentive posturing of the heart towards others. We must use our eyes to see and ears to hear ways we can serve. It’s leading our kids to play the biggest game of Hide and Seek, where winning is discovering ways to serve another.
When we play Hide and Seek, we hide so others can’t discover us. The same is true when we genuinely need help. We can be so embarrassed or ashamed of our need that we hide it from others. In order to seek out how we can serve others, we need God’s wisdom. Engage your family in conversation around these questions.
Let’s celebrate the many ways God can use us to serve others. Take turns as a family, going around in a circle, sharing ways God can use you to serve others. Keep going until you run out of ideas: prepare a meal, walk someone’s dog, mow a lawn, make a bed, write a card, weed a garden, etc.
God says when we “seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness…all these things will be given unto you as well.” What are “all these things” that will be given to you?
Share about a time you discovered a way to serve someone else, and how it made you feel.
Start at home. Pray for God to use your family, then send everyone in the family on a Hide and Seek hunt to discover a way they could serve in your home. Challenge them to think about how they can serve extended family members, neighbors, friends, and strangers.
I was a bit intimidated when approached by our Pastor of Children’s Ministries to contribute an article on serving—I fail a lot in serving and in modeling service. Still, we are fortunate that our whole family has generally embraced service. Enough so, that we have been asked, “How do you get your kids to serve?” Simply, if you want kids who serve, you must serve. If principles are caught and not taught, it must be modeled. So what is the model? The ideas below are not comprehensive, but I hope they serve as launching points.
Ever since American churches embraced Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, there has been a widespread movement to find individual purpose, in relationship with God, but also specifically in regard to service. I wholeheartedly agree with the concepts of identifying our spiritual giftedness, personality types, passions, and strengths.
I also wonder if the American church has been inculcated with the concept that unless you find your own true calling, any efforts are wasted or unnecessary. Past experience in service and leadership positions leads me to believe this leaves necessary work undone and even a lack of joy among believers.
Instead, if there is a need, fill it, even if it’s not perceptible as a “true calling.” Again, my experience is that when I’ve set aside my desires and sacrificially served in areas I don’t particularly care for or feel ill-equipped for, God has honored it, ultimately providing both growth and fulfillment.
As an example, my hope for my own kids is that they achieve their highest and best calling, fully utilizing their unique gifts and abilities. There are also times I just want them to take out the trash, do the dishes, scoop dog doo, or any number of everyday tasks. How is it any different as God’s children? Yes, we should seek to fully utilize our gifts, but sometimes there are less self-actualizing things that need doing. I wonder if God also expects His children to pitch in, with good attitudes. When my kids serve well and without complaining, I want to lavish them with praise and good things, including helping them eventually fulfill interests and unique abilities.
Don’t Forget Hospitality
I value my privacy and the feeling that my home is a sanctum—yes, I’m an introvert. Conversely, my wife loves to be with people. She intentionally makes our home a place where everyone feels welcome, from simple things like always having popsicles in the garage freezer for our kids’ neighborhood friends, to more complex issues like happily accommodating dietary restrictions when others come for a meal or sensitivity to vastly different backgrounds or ideologies of our guests.
I’m grateful for a spouse who stretches me to graciously welcome neighbors, our kids’ friends, and fellow church-goers into our home. Doing so is key to the relational connections that are a bedrock of sharing the gospel and encouraging believers. What’s more, it’s been a blessing, even for an introverted curmudgeon like me.
Embrace a Wider Scope of Service
Our daughter, now 17, is in the midst of selecting a college and, as a byproduct, setting a direction for a career path. More immediately, she is searching for a part time job, which she desires in order to have “fun money” but also for additional savings for upcoming college expenses. It will be imperative to impress upon her that such work is not just about the compensation she’ll receive, but more importantly, it is about the contribution she’ll make to glorify God and in service to her fellow man.
Genesis 1-2 shows we are created in the likeness of God and are commanded to be creative and productive (fruitful), just like our Heavenly Father. He created us for work, not as a means of economic remuneration or status, but as an extension of who we are and how we are made to glorify Him, while also providing value for others.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “cultivate,” aboda, in Gen. 2:15 is translated contextually three different ways throughout the Old Testament: work, service, or worship. Even as members of the workforce, we are called to service and worship in our work. Called to faithfully serve God and our neighbors with our abilities, creativity, and fruitfulness, regardless of the role.
How would the church and our communities look if we all served when needed and where needed, regardless of our personal preferences, as an act of love?
How would society and the workplace change if we all viewed our daily work, whether paid or unpaid, through the lens of contribution instead of compensation, as an act of loving service to others and God-honoring worship?
How could we have impact for generations to come if we modeled this attitude of work/service/worship to our children?
Clay Nickel serves on Christ Community’s Elder Leadership Team. He attends the Olathe Campus with his wife, Sarah, and their three children. This article was previously published in HomeFront magazine, September 2018 edition.
When you hear the word “gift,” what thought jumps to your mind? Perhaps Christmas, with lots of neatly wrapped presents under the tree. Or the birthday of a child, who is plopped in front of a cake and surrounded by a mountain of presents.
Spoiler alert: Christmas and birthday presents aren’t what the Bible has in mind when it comes to the topic of spiritual gifts! No, something quite different is in view. It will help to begin with a definition:
A spiritual gift is a Holy Spirit empowered ability, freely given to the believer for the purpose of serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.
This definition is meaty, so let’s break it down just a bit.
First, spiritual gifts aregiven by the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, the Apostle Paul emphasizes repeatedly that all spiritual gifts originate from the Holy Spirit. Over and over again, he presses the point: There are a variety of gifts, but they come from the SAME source, the Holy Spirit. This ought to be a humble reminder—we should never grow prideful about our spiritual gifts, because they didn’t originate with us. God gets the glory!
Second, spiritual gifts are not talents. The word “ability” in our definition might evoke the image of a particularly talented person putting that skill to use (i.e., LeBron James dunking a basketball), so it is important to remember that while both natural talents and supernatural spiritual gifts come from God, they are not the same.
“A talent is a natural ability or aptitude given by God to a person at birth. A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability given by God at rebirth. A talent can be anything from athletic ability to musical aptitude to artistic genius. … [Don’t forget that] all talents and spiritual gifts come from God. He can use talents and spiritual gifts to fulfill His purposes and bring Himself glory. The main difference between the two is that only Christians receive spiritual gifts because only Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. As a believer in Christ, you are called to use your talents and your spiritual gifts for the glory of God.”
There are five different places in the New Testament where we find lists of the spiritual gifts:
1 Corinthians 12:8-11
1 Corinthians 12:28
1 Peter 4:11
There are a few different ways to divide up the lists, so you’ll see different totals attached to the question of how many spiritual gifts are listed in the Bible, usually 19, 20, or 21 gifts.
None of the lists, by themselves OR put together, are meant to be exhaustive. In other words, in all likelihood, we do not have a complete list of all the spiritual gifts in the Bible. If we stop and think about it, this makes sense. Our God is the author of ALL creativity and innovation. Are we really to restrict Him to 19 or 21 ways of gifting His children?
“We do not want to limit God’s ability to give more gifts, He most certainly has, but we must be cautious when calling an ability a spiritual gift if it is not found in Scripture. [I] operate within the framework that there are likely many other spiritual gifts that have been given, but they should all connect categorically to those that are found in Scripture. For instance, a ‘gift of songwriting’ could connect with the categories of exhortation, or evangelism, or a ‘gift of cooking’ could be a form of the gift of serving and ministering.”
Fourth and finally, your spiritual gifts are not about you! It might be tempting to make your spiritual gift all about you. After all, it’s your gift, isn’t it? That’s why the purpose statement in our definition above is so clear. What are your spiritual gifts for? They are for serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.
In another passage on spiritual gifts, Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul makes this purpose clear: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Edification of others is the end goal—your gifts are not about you!
Furthermore, they’re not just about the church, either. What a shame it would be if the church turned inward with her gifts, forgetting about God’s heart for all people! In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul includes this reminder: “To each [i.e., Christians] is given the manifestation of the Spirit [i.e., spiritual gifts] for the common good.”
This means that it’s just as important to consider ways to utilize your spiritual gifts OUTSIDE the walls of the church as it is inside. How might you be able to employ your spiritual gifts at home? At work? With your neighbors?
Are you gifted in teaching? Teach your children! Are you gifted in hospitality? Open up your home for a party, a study, one of our global partners who is visiting KC, or ________. Are you gifted in administration? Apply for a job where you could use that gift!
Whatever you do, don’t forget that your spiritual gifts are not about you, but are for the purpose of, as our definition says, “serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.”
Check out PART TWO of this blog post, coming later this year, which will dive into the process of discovering your spiritual gifts!