At our recent Missional Association lunch our church planters were discussing the critical need for pastors to have friends who will hold them accountable. A fellow pastor shared how he was meeting regularly with a small group of fellow pastors they called "holy friends". This group's definition of a holy friend was really poignant.
"A Holy friend is someone who challenges the sins we've grown to love, affirms the gifts we're afraid to claim and helps us dream the dreams we could not otherwise dream."
Wouldn't it be great if we all had a friend or group of friends that would do this! How much healthier would we all be?
I believe the lack of "holy friends" in a Christian's life is one of the greatest hindrances to a spiritually and emotionally vibrant life. Men tend to have this void more than women. Men usually form friendships based on activities. Our conversations usually consist of sports, politics, family and sometimes religion. But seldom do men get to a level below the surface conversations. I admit it is very difficult to share your weaknesses and failures to another. And yet we all need a friend or friends with whom we can declare our aspirations, disclose where we struggle and divulge our fears. We all need "holy friends". "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" Prov. 27:17. To be spiritually mature we need comrades with whom we can be real and honest, guys we can trust, who will pray for us, who won't condemn or gossip but lift us up and encourage us to be more like Christ.
The Bible emphasizes how critical relationships are to each member of the body of Christ. The term "one another" is only one word in Greek and is used 100 times in 94 New Testament verses. Galatians 6:2 counsels us to bear one another's burdens. Ephesians 4:25 admonishes us to speak truth to one another. Colossians 3:9 instructs not to lie to one another and 1 Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us to encourage and build up one another. James 5:16 exhorts us to pray for one another. Spiritual maturity is best achieved through relationships.
Pastors have a unique dilemma in this regard because they find opening their life up to church members a dangerous proposition. Unless a pastor has close friends outside of his church or a group of fellow pastors he meets with, he can find himself all alone and susceptible to using unhealthy escape mechanisms like drugs, pornograpy or affairs to deal with the pressure of the ministry. Let's face it, pastors and all Christian men and women need holy friends.
Some churches try to organize men's and women's small groups to facilitate these kinds of relationships. But it's very difficult to program this level of openness and commitment. It almost always happens organically. But you can be intentional about finding and developing this level of relationship. Here are some suggestions and I'd love for you to share any other ideas.
- Take it slow. Look for friends that you already have and be their "holy friend". Discuss the possibility of a "holy friendship". Set aside a regular meeting to discuss personal issues.
- Keep your discussions confidential. Agree to tell no one, not even your wife, what you disclose in your meetings and honor that covenant.
- You be a holy friend and open up first. As you share deeper, this should encourage your friend to open up. If it is always a one sided discussion, then you probably need to look for another "holy friend".
- Focus not on the sin, but on the reason for the sin. Talk about why you feel the need to do what you do.
- Set goals and guidelines and ask about them each time you meet. Be honest and transparent. You can only be held accountable to that which you reveal.
- Give permission for your accountability partner to kick your butt when you need a butt-kicking.
- Seek progress not perfection.
- Don't focus totally on the negative. Discuss dreams and aspirations. Affirm and encourage each other.
- Keep the circle small. Many find it more beneficial to have three persons meeting for accountability. But the more you add beyond three the more difficult it becomes to have everyone at the meetings consistently. Consistency is critical to success.