Mark Dever recently said to his church, "If you don't have friends in the church, you deprive us pastors of some of our best tools for reaching out to you, especially when you're hurt or beginning to stray." Many talk about "community" and "koinonia." But what do these consist of, if not God-established, Christ-focused, Spirit-empowered friendships?
Friendship is one of the primary means of grace the Lord uses to keep church members growing in grace and bound to one another—like the sinews between muscles. Friendship helps church members to fight sin, disciple younger Christians, and spur one another on to love and good deeds. After all, friendship is a bond of mutual affection, trust, and commitment; and two individuals will most quickly influence one another within the context of such affection and trust. It's a basic fact of human nature, I believe, that we more quickly believe and follow individuals whom we know love us and are committed to us. Likewise, we'll take greater care in encouraging those whom we love. That's what friendship affords. So a pastor who practices and encourages healthy friendships in his congregation is building transmission lines between individuals for the free exchange of gospel goods. Though he doesn't focus on the local church itself, Michael Haykin raises this much overlooked topic for us in the context of Scripture and church history. Owen Strachan describes the importance of friendship between pastors and younger men for training ministers. Cory Megorden and Michael Lawrence, presenting complementary visions for small groups, show how Christian relationships help us fight sin and do the work of pastoral ministry. The two pieces on hospitality, which include contributions from Donald Whitney and Ken Sande, point to how important befriending strangers is for displaying the gospel. Brent Thomas introduces us to a good book on hospitality.
Michael McKinley extends the conversation back to the Puritan's uses of church membership. Greg Gilbert and Matt Schmucker close out the issue with two practical exhortations: get involved in your church, and take your church covenant seriously. In the end, it's hard to do better than Michael W. Smith: "Friend's are friends forever, if the Lord's the Lord of them."