The universe operates according to a cause-and-effect framework. When matter is acted upon, change happens. When a match is struck, fire flares. When food cooks, hungry stomachs grumble. And when a pastor befriends a young man, the kingdom advances.
This last equation might seem simplistic. But God doesn’t need us to conduct mass evangelistic rallies or dream up growth plans with S-curves. He simply calls wise men of God to befriend young men and disciple them for ministry. When God’s shepherds invest in young Christian men by befriending them, the young men will be transformed. When they are transformed, they are hungry to minister to others.
In what follows, we will consider the biblical picture of invested friendship, a personal testimony of such friendship, and then a few practical principles. As a Timothy, I hope that these words will be used to encourage you to invest in young men in your local church.
TWO BIBLICAL PICTURES OF INVESTED FRIENDSHIP: CHRIST AND PAUL
The Gospels clearly communicate the idea that Jesus befriended and loved his apostles. As the apostle John describes the scene in which Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal, John sets the stage by writing, “there was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). John often used the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” to describe himself (John 19:26-27, 20:2-9; 21:1, 20-23). This is telling. Jesus was not an austere lecturer or an emotionally distant preacher. He was a personal friend of his disciples to the point that they were assured of his love. He relaxed with them, letting them rest against his chest. He traveled with them. He preached with them. He cried with them. And he shared joy with them. This was deep, soul-shaping friendship. It was the kind that every young man desires, and few young men receive.
The apostle Paul understood that it was his responsibility to follow in Christ’s footsteps. We get a glimpse of his love for Timothy in the opening verses of 2 Timothy. The very context of this letter is moving. Paul, the apostle who suffered so powerfully for the gospel of Christ, was soon to die, and it seems that he knew this. In the first seven verses of this second letter to Timothy, Paul pours out his love for his disciple. In verse two, he calls Timothy his “beloved son.” In verse three, he says that he “constantly remembers [Timothy] in his prayers night and day.” In verse four, he says that he is “longing to see” Timothy, whom he “recall[s] with tears,” because he wants “to be filled with joy.” Like Christ, Paul shows great affection for his disciple. Like Christ, Paul’s discipleship of Timothy transcended mere education. Like Christ, Paul did not simply befriend Timothy, but cherished him. Paul’s example should drive us past the meaningless, the ordinary, and the polite and bring us to the demanding, expensive work of invested friendship.
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON INVESTED FRIENDSHIP
It is special to be trained by a godly pastor. It is even more special to be befriended by a godly pastor.
I speak as one who was befriended by a pastor some years ago. Like Christ and Paul, this man loved me. Our relationship was not complex. It was not based on a unique, non-transferrable model. He simply befriended me and invested in me over a period of time. He invited me over to his study and talked with me. He listened to my frustrations about women. He poked fun at me. He gave me insightful advice about jobs. He let me join him in his study while he worked on sermons (I did my own work). He took me on walks on which we reflected together on a number of things—his family, his burdens, his joys. He discipled me, yes, but he did so through friendship.
As a Timothy, I have benefited immeasurably from having a man to learn from, to work beside, and to share the experiences of life. My future ministry will be sharpened and honed by more experiences in days to come, but the foundation was set by the invested friendship of my former pastor.
Pastor, let me encourage you to befriend possible future shepherds in your congregation. Your friendship, alongside efforts to personally train them for ministry, will transform them. It will assist them long after the textbooks and lecture notes are forgotten.
PRACTICAL PRINCIPALS FOR INVESTED FRIENDSHIP
There are a few principles that, when put into practice, may help you in your work to befriend your disciple.
1. Invite them to work with you
Pastors should bring other men into their everyday working life. From watching my pastor prepare sermons, and interacting with him intermittently as he went, I learned to prepare my own. From listening to him give counsel, I learned to counsel. From watching him run meetings, I learned to administer effectively. Watching how my pastor work taught me how to work and brought much enjoyment and counsel to me.
2. Invite them to relax with you
In discipleship, pastors are teaching their charges a lifestyle. Your disciple needs to have fun with you, relax with you, do boring things with you like run errands. I learned how to be discerning with media, in part, from the way my former pastor dealt with movies and television. I’ve learned how to play basketball with grace from competing with one of my elders. All told, I’ve learned at least as many lessons outside of the office as I have in it.
3. Show them genuine passion
Young people are passionate and attracted to passion, sincerity, or earnestness. I’m not saying that every pastor needs to have an effusive personality. But young men will connect with pastors who clearly love their work and believe it’s meaningful. They will also benefit when pastors communicate passion or strong conviction for the work of discipleship and the future ministry of their charges. It was in part the passion of my pastor that gave me passion in my life and ministry. Passion and sincerity have a way of rubbing off on people, especially those close to us.
4. Show them genuine kindness
Pastors should show great kindness to their charges. Pastoral discipleship presents a special opportunity to pastors to dish out huge helpings of kindness to another person. My pastor was unfailingly kind to me. He won my devotion and respect as a result, and gave me a model for my own life.
5. Show them genuineness
The young people of today are trained to be cynical. We have grown up amidst the weeds of hypocrisy and deceit. The pastor who speaks honestly about his fears, struggles, hopes, and joys places himself in a position to build a strong friendship with his disciple. My pastor talked honestly with me. I never doubted whether he was being genuine or not. As a result, a strong trust was forged.
Pastor, invested friendship is no small thing. This work will involve sacrifice and devotion. Yet the result, should you live to see it, will be worth far more than you ever calculated. Let the simple calculus of the universe lead you on when your motivation wanes and the hours grow long. When a pastor befriends a young man, the kingdom advances.
May it go far through your efforts.