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Article The ministry of friendship1 Brian Edgar Asbury Theological Seminary, Kentucky, USA Pacifica 2016, Vol. 29(2) 127–140 ! The Author(s) 2017 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1030570X17707353 journals.sagepub.com/home/paa Abstract It is important for the church to take seriously the words of Jesus, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends’ (John 15:15) and locate servanthood – and ministry as a whole – within the context of divine friendship rather than within the context of modern conceptions of leadership. When servant-leadership is the dominant model of ministry it tends towards practices based on obligation rather than grace and creates practical difficulties for practitioners. Ministry can be defined in terms of the formation of friendship with God and others with benefits for community life, pastoral care and leadership. Keywords friendship, leadership, ministry, pastor, servanthood Servant imagery is such a dominant motif in Christian discipleship that it is now practically impossible to conceive of being a follower of Jesus without employing this imagery. Consequently, it seems to run counter to the whole notion of the Christian life to suggest that servanthood may be misconstrued in the way in which it is presented. But if servanthood is to remain as a vitally important part of the Christian life it is necessary to take seriously the words of Jesus to the disciples, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends’ (John 15:15) and locate servanthood – and ministry as a whole – within the context of divine friendship rather than, as is often done, within the context of modern conceptions of leadership. One typical understanding of the relationship between friendship and servanthood is that while friendship with Christ is an important part of the spiritual journey it is also only one step along the way to adopting the more dutiful and responsible form of relationship of being a servant. This form of relationship is 1 This article is adapted from Bri; an Edgar, God is Friendship: A Theology of Spirituality, Community and Society (Wilmore, KY: Seedbed, 2013). Corresponding author: Brian Edgar, Asbury Theological Seminary, 204 N. Lexington Avenue, Wilmore, KY, Kentucky 40390-1199, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 128 Pacifica 29(2) commonly seen as marking a high level of commitment and involves the adult dimensions of duty and responsibility and it is closely connected with leadership. It is as though Jesus had called the disciples to a new and higher level of relationship by saying, ‘I no longer call you friends, but servants.’ But this is to reverse the actual trend of Jesus’ thought and to guarantee the development of a works-related and duty-orientated view of discipleship, rather than one permeated by the grace and love of friendship. Up to the point in the narrative where Jesus declares the disciples to be his friends the Gospel of John has recounted how Jesus and the disciples had shared in a wedding together, eaten together, lived together, and had argued and been through storms and rough weather (both literally and metaphorically). They had stayed together and demonstrated many of the characteristics of friends and so, after spending considerable time together in this way, there should have been no surprise, at a human level, that Jesus declares, in John 15:10–17, that they are his loving friends. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. However, the disciples’ new friendship with Jesus does not have its origin in times of mutual sharing, conversation and experience, but more speciﬁcally in the decision and call of Jesus and generally as a sign of Jesus’ understanding of his role as the messianic suﬀering servant. This is seen in the way that the themes of choosing, servanthood and friendship are linked together in such a way that they are strongly reminiscent of these words in Isaiah 41:8–10: But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. The connection is seen in the way that (a) both passages function within a general context of imminent suﬀering; (b) both Israel and the disciples are described as servants; (c) their assurance is based on the fact of their being chosen; (d) there are Edgar 129 explicit promises of ongoing help in both passages; and, most importantly, (d) both passages speak of the establishment of a new relationship based on friendship, a relationship with messianic signiﬁcance. This friendship has an eschatological character and signiﬁcance beyond that of other typically close relationships, and it had to be established by an act of grace. Those who become friends of Jesus are nothing other than friends of the messiah and they have been chosen or elected to participate in those momentous events that mark the beginning of the end of all things. The disciples are representatives of those who will come, as foretold in Isaiah, ‘from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners’ and they are not friends primarily as a result of their own abilities, characters, or their own choice (although that is also necessary), but because of God: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’ (Isaiah 41:9; John 15:16). Servanthood and friendship compared The teaching of Jesus described in John 15 involved two revolutions of thought for the disciples. The ﬁrst meant leaving lordship behind and embracing servanthood; the second meant leaving servanthood behind and embracing friendship. The ﬁrst revolutionary call – to give up power and control in favor of humility and service is certainly dramatic. It is a complete reversal of human tendencies. But it is, according to Christ, an insuﬃciently radical step. Servanthood is preliminary to friendship with God in Christ and is a truly awesome, almost scandalous concept, one which stresses that not only is Jesus to be seen as Lord, King and Master, but also that every believer can be treated as a Friend of the King. This means a re-ordering – rather than a rejection – of many aspects of the believer’s relationship with Christ. Consider the similarities and the contrasts in the table below. Servant–master relationship Friend–friend relationship Does what the master wants Acts out of duty Obedience is the central virtue Does not really know the master A relationship defined by doing Servanthood is a requirement Work orientated Hierarchical in form Does what their friend wants Acts out of friendship Friendship and love are central virtues Knows the friend intimately A relationship defined by being Friendship is a gift of grace Relationship orientated Egalitarian in form The servant model of relationship is inevitably work orientated and less intimate. The friendship model does not imply that the friend does not do what the other wants; indeed, the sacriﬁces oﬀered by a friend are likely to be even greater than those oﬀered to a master. Consequently, the friendship model should not be seen as 130 Pacifica 29(2) an easy way of opting out of the serious demands of discipleship or the hard work of service. What it does do is change the attitude and the motivation involved. No longer is obligation at the heart of the relationship; instead, the free act of love which comes from a close friendship is the key. Unlike servants, friends are not justiﬁed by their work; they are appreciated for their friendship. This double revolution from lordship to servanthood and then from servanthood to friendship is relevant to the way that ministry and leadership are perceived within many mainline Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. The general parallels between biblical ‘lordship’ and contemporary ‘leadership’ are obvious. In the New Testament, ‘lord’ was a broad term that could mean owner, employer or superior. It could be used of husbands in relation to their wives, masters in relation to slaves, angels in relation to those they address and God in relation to people. Its range extended from simple politeness in everyday aﬀairs through to a designation appropriate for an emperor, but it consistently denotes superiority and has implicitly within it the right of the lord to direct, control and lead in a manner appropriate to the particular relationship (Matt. 10:24; Mark 12:9; Luke 16:3; 1 Pet. 3:6). Leadership in the modern era is a diﬀerent, though overlapping and equally multifaceted term potentially referring to a wide variety of military, political, community, business and voluntary associations. The mode of functioning for lords and leaders varies considerably within the usage range of both terms, and yet there is a correlation that makes the comparison appropriate. ‘Leadership’ has become a signiﬁcant ministry concept within the life of the modern church only in relatively recent times. Over the past two thousand years of Christian history, the church has worked with a number of diﬀerent models of Christian ministry and has always connected biblical images with local cultural convictions. For example, when the dominant model of ministry was that of the bishop or ‘overseer’ it was a role inevitably inﬂuenced by both biblical and secular usage and when, at the time of the Reformation, the dominant ministry model became that of the teaching pastor (the shepherd who feeds the sheep) it was undoubtedly inﬂuenced by development of humanism and the importance attributed to the general spread of education at that time. The selection and use of biblical imagery concerning the Christian life and ministry is always correlated with current needs and cultural understandings. Therefore, it is no surprise that in the contemporary era, the dominant model of ministry has become that of the leader; and while this has a biblical justiﬁcation, it is also a concept heavily inﬂuenced by cultural principles, which shape it in, for example, an individualistic and success-orientated manner. Certainly, ministry understood in terms of contemporary leadership would appear as unusual to many Christians in earlier times. The dominance of this model of ministry is seen in the way in which in many churches ‘leaders’ has become the preferred generic term for those people previously identiﬁed as ‘pastors’, ‘preachers’, ‘priests’, ‘ministers’ and ‘full-time Christian workers’. The older ‘clergy–laity’ distinction (which certainly created some problems) gave way to a ‘leader–follower’ way of talking. Similarly, within individual local congregations ‘the leadership team’ has become for many the Edgar 131 preferred way of grouping together those people otherwise referred to as ‘elders’, ‘deacons’ or ‘pastors’. ‘Leader’ is also used for those involved in Christian education and worship. It has become an all-purpose word, and so it is not surprising that training in leadership proliferated in all types of resources (books, magazines, journals, tapes, seminars, courses and other materials) in such a way that the implication is that leadership is ministry, or that ministry without leadership is inadequate. So, for a long time now, seminaries and Bible and theological colleges have stressed the development of leadership skills in formal ministry training. Good leadership has not only become an essential part or pre-requisite for competent and successful ministry; ministry is, in fact, primarily to be deﬁned in terms of eﬀective leadership. Therefore, the essence of Christian leadership tends to become a clear, measurable, success in achieving objectives that have been laid out beforehand, albeit done with a servant attitude. If one is to be a good leader, one also has to be a good manager; for good leadership requires good management. Leadership not only involves the ability to envision the future and to motivate and lead people, it requires the necessary ability to organize and to make this come about. A vision has to become a plan, and a plan has to be implemented. Of course, if ministry is deﬁned primarily in terms of leadership then there are two alternatives for those who are not leaders. The ﬁrst is that they are logically seen primarily in terms of being followers. This has the eﬀect of perpetuating the problem concerning the ambiguity of the term ‘the ministry of the Church’, which has been used to refer to both the ministry of ‘the people of God as a whole’ and, more narrowly, to the ministry of ‘the minister’ (the ordained minister, the pastor, the preacher, or the clergy, depending on the particular tradition). This ambiguity has been confusing and disenfranchising for many people because the terminology suggests that the real ministry is what the pastor, minister or priest does. Biblically speaking, however, every baptized person is a minister of Christ. If ‘ministry’ is replaced by ‘leadership’ it does little to enhance the ministry role of the laity. The alternative to this leader–follower distinction has been to develop the idea of ministry as leadership as a model for all ministry, and to seek to train everyone to become a leader in their own sphere of life and ministry. It can be argued, though, that while universal leadership training enhances many people’s conﬁdence and awareness of their abilities, it also has the potential to reduce an emphasis on the diversity of forms of ministry and the gifts of the Spirit by turning everyone towards leadership. Nonetheless, the concept of ministry as leadership is one that has been well accepted culturally and it has now been exercising considerable inﬂuence for many years. It has been able to do this because some of the obvious problems associated with certain forms of leadership, especially domineering attitudes and behaviors, have been mitigated by attempts to Christianize leadership through the adoption of servant attitudes utilizing the teaching of Jesus. This means taking seriously Jesus’ injunction that ‘whoever wants to be ﬁrst must be slave of all’. The leader, therefore, has to be a servant rather than a lord. Gradually, in the modern manifestation of the Christian life, servanthood and 132 Pacifica 29(2) contemporary conceptions of leadership have become fused. Together they have inﬂuenced the perception of Christians with regard to the way that Christian selfidentity, as well as the way Christian community and mission are to be understood. The connection of leadership with servanthood has produced ‘servant-leadership’ a term that is familiar throughout the church. This owes much to Robert Greenleaf’s inﬂuential Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness,2 and ‘servant-leadership’ has become, arguably, the most dominant model of ministry in recent decades. One of the great advantages of this correlation of terms is that it has ensured that purely secular approaches to leadership have not provided the only content for Christian leadership. Nonetheless, the movement as a whole has had the eﬀect of reinforcing the notion that ministers and full-time Christian workers are essentially to be leaders. The basic concept is leadership, with servant being a qualifying term. That is, the reference is always to ‘servantleaders’ rather than to ‘leading-servants’. The implication is that Christians need to be leaders in order to be good ministers of Christ. The difficulty of servant-leadership The emergence of servant-leadership as a leading understanding of ministry is not really surprising, as strong, decisive leadership is a well-regarded and much soughtafter factor in contemporary culture because it promises security in the midst of uncertainty. This is what many seek, within the church as well as society. It reﬂects the situation of the children of Israel who asked for a king to be appointed so that they could feel safe and ‘be like the other nations’ (1 Sam. 8:5–8). The same desire exists today. Almost every organization wants dynamic, charismatic, visionary leaders, and there is a whole industry that revolves around writing about, searching for and training leaders. This generates higher and higher expectations and increasing levels of responsibility for leaders – and the Christian community is not exempt from this. Pastors are expected to demonstrate high levels of leadership. The call to high-quality, dynamic, charismatic leadership is such that many do not feel up to this task and so, inevitably, even more is expected of fewer people. This, in turn, leads to the problems of stress and burnout among church leaders. As Craig Blomberg comments: Ours is an age that delights to exalt Christian celebrities, to demand that our pastors entertain, have charismatic personalities, and display more spiritual gifts than any one Bible character ever had! Little wonder that burn-out from full-time ministry seems to be at an all time high and that moral failure often results from stress.3 As long as ministry is deﬁned in terms of leadership, there will be a constant tendency to deﬁne successful leadership as the mark of authentic ministry because 2 3 Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (25th edition; New York: Paulist Press, 1977). Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 257. Edgar 133 a need to succeed is built into the very concept of leadership. The extent of the identiﬁcation of leadership skills with Christian ministry is seen in the way that management skills become determinative in the appointment of pastors to larger and, thus, more complex congregations. The top-management skills required for leading a congregation of ﬁve thousand are very diﬀerent from those needed in a congregation of ﬁfty where a competency equivalent to that of a general supervisor is required. Such assessments are necessary as long as the understanding is that the fundamental role of the pastor is to ‘manage’ or ‘run’ or ‘lead’ the congregation in a manner comparable to that of the managing director of a business. The inevitable consequence is that the minister becomes less and less of a pastor and more and more of an executive with the exercise of spiritual gifts being supplanted by the need to demonstrate leadership and management skills. The secular principle of ‘management by objective’ is spiritualized and becomes the measure of ministry. In a secular context, the exercise of modern, charismatic, eﬀective, visionary leadership is diﬃcult. And within the church, which is primarily a voluntary association, it takes on additional challenges relating to motivation and inspiration in order to achieve measurable success. And, in addition to that, the expectation that leaders be servant-leaders creates a new and particular diﬃculty for ministers. There is not only the stress of seeking to be an empowered, visionary and successful leader, but there is also the diﬃculty of being a willing and eternally gracious servant at the same time. The expectations associated with this form of ministry undoubtedly add a high level of personal obligation on the leader in terms of character to the already extensive, often almost unlimited range of responsibilities that they are expected to engage in or oversee. The success of leadership has to be accompanied by a similar success in personal life and manner. Altogether, servant-leadership is an exceedingly diﬃcult concept to practice. Lean too far to the leadership side (with all the attendant notions of what it means to be a leader as deﬁned in a secular context), the leader becomes (albeit unintentionally) dominant and controlling. Lean too far to the servant side, and the leader is likely to become an over-worked, stressed-out doormat whose life is controlled by everyone else. These two concepts of leadership and servanthood have been put together precisely because they are seen to represent opposite aspects of ministry – one is needed to counter the worst tendencies of the other. However, this can produce a personal tension that is unbearable for the one who tries to live it out. It is possible to feel inadequate both as a leader and as a servant – and to be criticized for it as well. Is this stating the matter too harshly? Not for many ministers and full-time Christian workers, and especially not for the large proportion that have dropped out of ministry. The issue is particularly sharp for evangelicals, younger people and those involved in church growth strategies. It is they who have been particularly enthusiastic about adopting these servant-leadership expectations. Much of the literature related to the idea of servant-leadership addresses these diﬃculties, and it is true that many useful, appropriate and helpful biblical principles can be applied to minimize the problems. However, it is possible to ask the potentially subversive and dangerous question as to whether the basic servant-leadership model of 134 Pacifica 29(2) ministry actually creates these problems and whether it deserves the extensive attention it has received in recent years. From both biblical and practical points of view, both the leader and the servant dimensions of servant-leadership need to be rethought, though not rejected. The practical implications of this principle for every minister, even (perhaps especially) those called and set apart by the church as ordained or full-time workers, are very clear. The task of the minister-servant will always include the most humble service and may include unblocking the church toilets as much as preaching ﬁne sermons. Those who profess to follow one who washed dirty feet must be prepared to do likewise. However, although the importance of this servanthood cannot be over-estimated, it is vitally important that it be placed within the context in which Jesus placed it – as functioning within the orbit of a divine–human relationship that is described in terms of friend–friend rather than master–servant because Jesus said, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends.’ However, this is not always the actual situation, and the diﬃculty of accepting the friendship model of relationship rather than the servant–leader model is nothing other than the diﬃculty of accepting grace. Ministry as friendship One of the best-known deﬁnitions of Christian ministry is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17–20 where the apostle Paul refers to the ministry of reconciliation that is part of the new creation in Christ. The central concept of reconciliation, expressed by various forms of katallage, appears four times in three verses as Paul shows how God’s work of reconciliation in Christ leads to a ministry of reconciliation for all believers: God reconciled us . . . Christ was reconciling the world . . . he entrusted the message of reconciliation to us . . . we entreat you to be reconciled to God. Properly understood, katallage refers to the process of ‘making friends’, and the intent of the passage is to emphasize the way that the death of Christ has actually transformed enemies into friends. Unfortunately, few translations express the full extent of the way that relationships are transformed because reconciliation in modern thought has taken on a largely negative connotation as the removal of enmity, rather than being a positive creation of friendship between those who were formerly enemies. John Fitzgerald notes that very few modern translations convey to readers ‘the idea that reconciliation implies not simply the termination of hatred and hostility but also the establishment or restoration of friendship, and thus the inception or return of aﬀection’.4 One translation which does exactly that, and 4 John Fitzgerald, ‘Christian Friendship: John, Paul, and the Philippians’, Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology 61 (July 2007), 290. Fitzgerald notes that Hesychius of Alexandria gives philia (‘friendship’) as one meaning for katallage (‘reconciliation’) which is used in 2 Cor. 5:18–20 and ‘to make a friend’ (philon poiesai) as the meaning of ‘to reconcile’ (apokatallaxai) which is used in Eph 2:16; Col 1:20, 22. He quotes Spicq: ‘For pagans and Christians alike, reconciliation is the action of reestablishing Edgar 135 which thus puts the full, positive meaning of reconciliation into this well-known passage, is that of William Barclay: And the whole process is due to the action of God, who through Christ turned our enmity to himself into friendship, and who gave us the task of helping others to accept that friendship. The fact is that God was acting in Christ to turn the world’s enmity to himself into friendship, that he was not holding men’s sins against them, and that he placed upon us the privilege of taking to men who are hostile to him the oﬀer of his friendship. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors. It is as if God was making his appeal to you through us. As the representatives of Christ we appeal to you to accept the oﬀer of friendship that God is making to you.5 Unfortunately, although formal English deﬁnitions indicate that reconciliation is the restoration of friendship after estrangement, common usage tends towards understanding it merely as the removal of a barrier that returns a relationship to a more neutral standing, rather than turning it into friendship. According to this attenuated view of reconciliation, forgiveness does not automatically mean friendship. But Paul’s point is that Christian reconciliation is not merely the process of dealing with a problem; it has a positive dimension that goes beyond the idea of overcoming sin and dealing with enmity and stresses that this produces a new, warm relationship with God. The idea of a ‘new creation’ is shown to be grounded in this ‘new relationship’. When a war between nations comes to an end and an armistice is signed, it does not mean that the previously warring nations are now suddenly friends; it merely means that hostilities have ceased, but when Christ’s sacriﬁce brings enmity to an end between God and anyone at all, it immediately involves the creation of a new relationship. God’s grace is not a grudging dismissal of a set of awkward problems but the start of a beautiful friendship! Consequently, Paul is enthusiastic about this conception of the ministry that God has given to believers as a ministry of friendship. In these few verses he repeatedly makes the point that God not only called people into friendship with him, but that he gives them the task, the privilege, of helping others accept the oﬀer of friendship that God is making to all. The Christian message is not just that one can be released and forgiven, but that it is possible to have a friendship with God. The centrality of friendship for Paul’s theology can be expressed in two claims. The ﬁrst is that being a friend of Jesus and taking the friendship of Jesus to others is Christian ministry, and one that is a privilege. And the second is that friendship with Jesus is not the means by which one achieves salvation – it is salvation. This critical point is frequently misunderstood. It is popularly thought of in this way: that a relationship with Jesus is important as the means to achieving eternal 5 friendship between two persons who are on bad terms, to replace hostility with peaceful relations.’ William Barclay, The New Testament: A New Translation, Vol. 2 (London: Collins, 1969), 72, cited by Fitzgerald, ‘Christian Friendship’, 290. Emphasis added. 136 Pacifica 29(2) life or salvation, but the reality is that the relationship – a friendship – with Jesus is exactly what eternal life or salvation actually is. There is nothing more beyond friendship with Christ. Certainly, the form of friendship changes as either death comes or this world ends and believers transition to a new, resurrection life. The fundamental nature of the relationship, however, stays the same – believers are friends with Jesus and live in his presence. There is a danger that ‘having a relationship with Jesus’ or ‘accepting Jesus into your life’ can be seen as the means to an end – avoiding condemnation and entering the kingdom of heaven – but the relationship is what God wants. Friendship as the formation of the Christian This friendship, like all true friendships, is transformative. It is inevitable that friends become like those they live closely with and who they appreciate, admire and love. And so, as believers live in friendship with Christ, they are transformed into his likeness. Friendship is the means by which believers are clothed with the new self and conformed to the image of Christ. Through friendship, believers are made like their friend Jesus (Col. 1:15; 3:10–11). I regularly give the students in my ethics classes an exercise that asks them to write a brief account of the person who has most inﬂuenced them for good in terms of morality and holiness of life. This informal survey shows that for these students there are three main categories of inﬂuential people: parents, pastors and friends. The inclusion of parents is no surprise given the role parents have in bringing up and modeling right behavior for children. What is signiﬁcant is that when one examines the role pastors and other Christian leaders are described as having in inﬂuencing the students, it is relatively rare to read about ministry gifts and abilities, such as good teaching and preaching, or biblical knowledge or professional attitude. Nor is there, initially at least, much reference to the presence of general moral qualities such as honesty, humility, peacefulness, truthfulness, and so forth. These are, indeed, often the qualities that are learned; but what almost everyone is more concerned to stress in explaining the inﬂuence these people have had are the personal and relational qualities that have been expressed. Again and again one hears that they were ‘more like a friend’, they were ‘interested in my life’, ‘we were genuine with one another’, ‘they spent hours sharing their lives’ and ‘she demonstrated this to me in her life’. It is these friendship qualities that impress people and opens them up to learn about the right way to live. Ministry without friendship is minimized in its eﬀect. Christian friendship is to be transformative. It is a loving ministry that transforms us into the image of our friend, Jesus, and enables us to be friends and reﬂectors of Christ’s character to others. Christ’s kingdom is not won by war. It does not come by force. Evil is not overcome by sheer power. The moral life is not achieved by anything other than friendship with Christ and this is most often mediated by friendship within the Christian community. It was true of Jesus, as the proverb says, that ‘a man is known by the company he keeps’, for Jesus was widely known for his association with those who were Edgar 137 socially outcast. Indeed, the teachers of the law could not comprehend this and demanded to know of his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ (Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:2). It was considered such unusual behavior for a man of God that he probably became better known as ‘the friend of sinners and tax collectors’ (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34) than as a prophet or a teacher. Jesus did not merely treat the sinners, the unclean and the outcast as objects of mercy and compassion, he treated them as human beings, as real people and even as friends, and in the eyes of his enemies this was the worst sin of all. Ultimately, Jesus was not condemned so much for being an unorthodox teacher or social activist as much as for being a friend to sinners. It was this that they found most oﬀensive. Perhaps it would have been easier for the scribes and Pharisees to understand his manner of dealing with sinners if he had related to them, to use an anachronistic term, in a purely ‘professional’ capacity. The Pharisees also came into contact with poor and outcast people and would sometimes have related to them with charity and kindness, for they were teachers and leaders who knew what the law said and they sought zealously to obey it. They were religiously committed people, and it is wrong to assume that they never engaged in any kind or charitable deeds. Indeed, they are not condemned by Jesus for a complete absence of such actions or because they were the worst of all people, but because they considered themselves among the best and relied on their actions to save them. The real problem for the Pharisees – and also potentially for believers today – was not sin but selfrighteousness and the failure to understand grace. They could have understood a ministry that oﬀered the services of education, liturgy, counsel or charity, but they could not understand the grace of friendship. They would not refuse the obligations of the law, for they understood religious duty all too well. But. But they would refuse to associate or eat with ‘sinners’ (and therefore with Jesus), for they did not, they could not, they would not understand grace or friendship that goes beyond all that is required by law and duty. Our context today may be diﬀerent, but the implications are the same. Friendship goes beyond what is expected of a servant; it exceeds the requirements of the law; it is more than charity can give; and it challenges a purely professional view of ministry. Jesus’ friendship-based ministry was central to both the way he lived with the disciples and his mission to others, and so there is no surprise that it was taken up as a model for ministry in the theology of Paul. As Wayne Oates said in his discussion of The Christian Pastor, the ﬁrst level of pastoral care is friendship. So much of the time, what is needed in pastoral care is provided by friendship. Oates deﬁned ﬁve levels of pastoral care: friendship, comfort, confession, teaching, counseling and psychotherapy. All these can be used to move people towards spiritual growth, but he observes that friendship is the ‘indispensable necessity for all other deeper levels of pastoral work’.6 Pastoral friendship has, however, been resisted. Many pastors will be aware of the tradition that insists 6 Wayne E. Oates, The Christian Pastor (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), 196. 138 Pacifica 29(2) that pastors ought not be particular friends with any of the people within their care. I well remember being somewhat astonished, but at the same time challenged, at the exhortation of a senior minister to the cohort of ministry candidates to which I belonged, to the eﬀect that, ‘You cannot be friends with anyone in your church.’ This emerged out of the pastoral concern that special friendships can inhibit the need for pastors to relate well to all of their people, and has been intensiﬁed by the expectation that a professional relationship should not be in conﬂict with other forms of relationship. But, of course, pastors need friends just as much as anyone does, and friendship is not always to be denied when people work together. Care must be taken to ensure that such friendships do not damage other relationships within the congregation, and it is appropriate for codes of ethics to limit certain forms of relationships to avoid power or sexual abuses. But Christ’s own example of friendship and ministry indicates that the two are not incompatible. This is seen, most obviously, in the relationship Jesus had with the Twelve – especially with some of the Twelve, including James, John, Peter and Andrew. He set an example of leading by friendship, and this is possible because friendships are inherently inﬂuential, whether for good or ill. The level of inﬂuence increases as a friendship deepens. The closer people become, the more they will listen to, trust and respect what is said. If leadership is about inﬂuence then close friendships have the greatest potential for signiﬁcant leadership. This kind of leadership will function without any precise program being involved. It will change people in every area of life. To put it simply, ‘People who get along best in life and deal with uncertainties and trials and tribulations have friends.’7 Without friendship in leadership, institutionalism will inevitably dominate, the joy of leadership will diminish, and the ability to experience transformative change will be reduced. Messner concludes that leadership needs to be enhanced by intentional friendships that follow the example of Christ. He hopes that they will understand that they cannot be best friends to everyone, but they should nonetheless look for people with whom they can develop strong friendships. By doing so, ‘they will not only be more eﬀective and inﬂuential, but also more satisﬁed as people’. He recommends ‘that Christian leaders at all levels, follow the example of Jesus by setting the goal of intentionally developing friendships with twelve people, and even closer friendships with two or three. By doing so, they will have a deep and lasting impact that otherwise will not be realized.’8 This issue is not new. The English bishop and popular writer of his day, Jeremy Taylor (1613–67), wrote a Discourse of the Nature and Oﬃces of Friendship in order to respond to the question, ‘How far a dear and perfect friendship is authorized by 7 8 Alan Booth, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Human Development and Demography at Penn State University, cited in Florence Isaacs, Toxic Friends, True Friends: How Your Friendships Can Make or Break Your Health, Happiness, Family, and Career (New York: William Morrow, 1999), 1. Matthew Messner, Leadership that Cares: How Intentional Friendship Revolutionizes Leadership (D.Min. Thesis, Massachusetts: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 2005), 94. Edgar 139 the principles of Christianity?’ The answer, he argued, was that friendships should really ‘be as universal as our conversation’. That is, the Christian should treat everyone they have contact with as their dearest friend, and the only limitation on universal friendship is the limitation that we, as ﬁnite and sinful people, place upon it. Consequently, the more we love, the better we are, and the greater our friendships are, the dearer we are to God; let them be as dear, and let them be as perfect, and let them be as many as you can; there is no danger in it; only where the restraint begins, there begins our imperfection; it is not ill that you entertain brave friendships and worthy societies: it were well if you could love, and if you could beneﬁt all mankind; for I conceive that is the sum of all friendship.9 He understood rightly that there should be no limitation placed upon messianic friendship, neither refraining from special friendships nor from treating everyone we possibly can, in every way that is within our power, as dear, close and spiritual friends, just as Jesus did when he told his new friends, ‘everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you’ (John 15:15). The minister who adopts this open, honest and revealing form of friendship in all dealings will reﬂect the openness of Jesus who, after his arrest, declared to the High Priest, ‘I have spoken openly to the world, I always taught in synagogues or at the temple . . . I said nothing in secret . . . ask those who heard me. They know what I said’ (John 18:20–21). This open speech was replicated in the early preaching of the church and it should be the same today. Preacher and professor Gail O’Day describes preaching as an act of friendship in ministry: At least one possible function for preaching is to be a friend in one’s preaching. Note carefully that I did not say that one possible function is to be friendly in one’s sermon. There is plenty of friendliness in much of the church’s preaching – jokes, chatter, anecdotes told simply to make a congregation smile or to get them on one’s good side, tangential personal asides – but friendliness is not the same thing as gospel friendship.10 Being a gospel friend means speaking plainly, frankly, and honestly. It means telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A failure to do this can happen in a number of ways. Flatterers say what they believe people want to hear said about them in order to advance their own position by being well thought of; deceivers preach doctrines that people would like to be true in order to gain more adherents to their way of thinking (2 Tim. 4:3) far more common than either of these are the well-meaning, measured sermons of those whose friendship is not 9 10 Jeremy Taylor, The Whole Works of the Right Reverend Jeremy Taylor, Vol. 1 (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1854), 73. Gail O’Day, ‘Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John’, Interpretation 58(2) (2004), 147. 140 Pacifica 29(2) fully formed. They tend to think that friendship depends upon kind words and gentle encouragement, and there is not enough to challenge or extend the believers. It is important to note that Jesus told his disciples some very hard things about being ready to die. The Great Commission speciﬁes that disciples are to be taught everything (rather than some select teachings), and the apostle Paul chided the Corinthians that despite their immaturity they needed to receive the ‘solid food’ of his diﬃcult teaching that critiqued their willingness to listen to, and boast about, foolish teachers (1 Cor. 1–3). In short, preaching as a friend in the tradition of the ancient world means almost the opposite of what it means according to contemporary thought. It is not a lightweight, personal sharing that is always ‘friendly’, it means making an open, honest assessment of the situation and applying spiritual lessons in order to build up that which is good and to challenge that which is not helpful. In these and other ways friendship can be seen as the essential form of ministry, provided that one views friendship as being of the messianic form exempliﬁed in the ministry of Jesus. This messianic friendship is, of course, not inward looking or self-centred friendship but one that is constantly seeking to extend the circle of friendship in every direction. It is vitally important to a full understanding of the Christian life to take seriously the words of Jesus to the disciples: ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends.’ Author biography Brian Edgar is Professor of Theological Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary (USA) although resident in Melbourne, Australia for much of the year. He was formerly Academic Dean and Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the (now) Melbourne School of Theology and also Director of Public Theology for the Australian Evangelical Alliance. He is the author of The Message of the Trinity (IVP, 2005) and God is Friendship: a theology of spirituality, community and society (Seedbed, 2013) and has a forthcoming book on the theology of play arguing that play is the essential and ultimate form of relationship with God.