A Brief, Personal History of How God May Use Friendships Like Yours
I recently wrote an article called “A Brief History of How Friendships Like Yours Can Change the World.” In that piece, I looked at how God uses “intimate Christian friendships, strategically leveraged for kingdom enterprise.” In this follow-up piece, I want to tell the same story firsthand.
Brad Kinnison, Zack DiPrima (my brother), and I were close friends throughout our high school and college years. In God’s kindness, we were raised in Christian homes and healthy churches, and were each converted in our early teenage years. We spent a tremendous amount of time together. We talked for hours, wrestling through vital questions about life, theology, and the Scriptures. We prayed together, discipled one another, and walked alongside each other as young churchmen. Of course, we also managed to have lots of fun—playing sports, taking road trips, and generally cutting up as friends do.
While in college, three things slowly began to dawn on us. First, we knew God had given us a wonderful Christian heritage, both in our families and in our churches. Faithful parents, pastors, and mentors poured their lives into us. Second, we realized our gifts complemented each other. We believed we could do more together than we could apart. Third, we shared a burden for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and the building of his church. We wanted to see sinners saved, churches built, saints discipled, missionaries sent, and the gospel preached to the ends of the earth.
So we started to consider the prospect of one day planting a church together. We knew this would be a God-honoring way to capitalize on the friendships we shared together. But we knew we couldn’t attempt this without the approval and support of a healthy local church. We wanted to be assessed under the watchful eye of a group of elders, and we wanted to serve in ordinary ways as church members. We knew a personal burden didn’t amount to a calling from the Lord. If God wanted us to plant a church, then that would happen through faithful elders alongside a healthy and discerning church body.
In God’s kindness, we found such a church in Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane, North Carolina. We first approached the elders of GRBC about church planting in the summer of 2009 while we were still in college, and we gladly entrusted the prospect of this potential church plant to their leadership and direction. In the years that followed, we grew immensely under their faithful shepherding. We discipled young people, met the practical needs of the body, and served in various ministries. Eventually, the elders entrusted us with the opportunity to serve the church publicly through teaching classes, leading worship services, and occasionally preaching. By the spring of 2016—seven years later— we finally began making concrete plans to plant a church in Winston-Salem, which is about an hour west of Mebane.
We held our first meetings as a core team in the fall of 2016. Little by little, God added to our number and slowly formed us into a church. Nearly a year later, in August 2017, seventeen charter members covenanted with one another to officially plant Emmanuel Church. Since that day, God has showered our church with blessings. We now have three elders, three deacons, and about 125 members. A dying church in the area gifted us a beautiful building located in the heart of northwest Winston-Salem, only about a mile or two from Wake Forest University. Even sweeter than the numerical growth and the gift of a building has been the rich fellowship, love, and unity that permeate our church body. By God’s grace, Emmanuel Church is steadfastly devoted to Christ, to one another, and to his Word.
And what of those three friends? I serve now as the church’s senior pastor. Brad Kinnison serves as a deacon and a pastoral assistant. Zack DiPrima serves as our song leader and as a pastoral assistant as well. We still spend hours talking, praying, and encouraging one another. God has used these friendships to help a new church came to life. Now our vision is to labor for the long-term health of this local family of believers, which we hope will endure until Christ returns.
In light of our experience, I want to share four encouragements to those who are considering how to best leverage their friendships for kingdom efforts.
1. Dream together.
When we first began to think about planting a church together, Brad was twenty, I was nineteen, and Zack was sixteen. We didn’t know much beyond the fact that we loved Christ, we loved his church, and we loved each other. In God’s abundant grace and kindness, he allowed us to see the fulfillment of that dream nearly ten years later.
Brothers and sisters, don’t be afraid to dream together. Attempt great things for God. Set goals. Make plans. Consider along with your friends what you might do together in service to Christ.
2. Pray together.
It would be impossible to count how many prayers we and others offered up to God over the decade leading up to planting Emmanuel Church. From the earliest expressions of interest to when the church at last covenanted together, we prayed without ceasing. And God heard and answered our prayers.
Nothing will nurture mutual love and commitment between friends more than praying together. Nothing will cultivate a shared devotion to Christ and his kingdom more than seeking God’s face together in prayer. Furthermore, nothing is more productive toward realizing God’s than going to him in prayer day after day. If you want to know how you and your circle of friends can be used of God to serve his kingdom, then pray to him together without ceasing.
3. Stick together.
The best friendships are long-term friendships that have persevered through seasons of sorrow and seasons of rejoicing, seasons of rain and seasons of sunshine, seasons of trial and seasons of triumph. Years of ups and downs cultivate strong bonds and deep roots. Brad, Zack, and I have been through a lot together. Lord willing, we’ll go through a lot more together. Our ability to persevere together in the future is built on our track record of persevering together in the past. After fifteen years of friendship, we’ve enjoyed the steady accumulation of love, trust, and devotion that will not be easily undone.
Brothers and sisters, nurture relationships that will last. Don’t let go of good friends easily. You will need them, perhaps more than you know.
4. Let others in.
One of the sweetest things about this cadre of friends is how much it has grown over the years. We shouldn’t try to create a special inner ring of intimates who never let others in. Instead, we should widen our circle of friends and seek to draw others into the work. There’s a sense in which Brad, Zack, and I will always be connected to one another in a special way. But as the years rolled on and the work took shape, new friends and new partners came aboard. We now have a family of friends who are as much a part of this work as we were when the seeds were first sown. What a joy it is to accumulate friends as you serve the Lord! It’s like being part of a loving and committed family that never stops growing.
Getting to spend your life serving Christ is sweet. Getting to do so with dear friends only makes it sweeter. I hope through the Lord’s kindness you’ll be able to experience that joy as well.