The Unfriended

Friends Photographing ThemselvesAs an introverted only child, my BFF was a talking dog. (You develop a fertile imagination as an only child.) I had some very pleasant conversations with that dog. Even as an adult, I have a connection with dogs. Oh I can also talk to cats, but they are usually aloof or only want to talk about the absurd ways of mice and sparrows. Contrary to popular opinion, cats are actually more superficial than dogs. (Hence their passion for chasing laser dots to perpetuity.)

Anyhow, there is a misconception out there that introverts such as me are not keen on people. (The truth is we love a small number of people and loathe the rest.) I like to think that Jesus was an introvert. Sure, he had his twelve disciples, which are more friends than a classic introvert would ever prefer. But Jesus also had one very close friend among the disciples–John. And Jesus liked to slip away to spend time alone in the wilderness; a classic sign of introversion.

Really, it doesn’t matter if you are introverted or extroverted. Both types thrive with close friends. Proverbs 18:24 says: “There are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family.”

It is in the area of friendship where I believe many churches unwittingly harm themselves. It is best described with a personal story. A friend of mine, Dave (not his real name), once shared that he and his wife, Jen (not her real name), attended a medium-size church for a few years. Dave easily connected and made friends in the church. Jen did not, though despite her introversion, she longed to connect. Dave, with great sensitivity, occasionally approached ladies in the church and beseeched them to connect with Jen. It never happened. Most of the ladies already had close friends, or they were extremely busy in their ministry roles, or they were pulled this way and that by the dictates of motherhood and careers. And so an opportunity for meaningful relationships and individual growth was lost. Dave and Jen eventually gave up and left the church. No one from the church pursued them or asked why they left. We talk a big game in the church about relationships, but we often don’t live it.

I know your counterargument: People have a responsibility to reach out to make close friends. My counterargument to your counterargument is that such an expectation usually comes from extroverts who do not comprehend what it is like to be extremely introverted (what we from the Paleolithic Era used to call shyness).

I often hear pastors proclaim that their church is a family that encourages relationships. I’m not so sure. Something is missing. Perhaps churches focus excessively on mission and too little on developing a simple culture of friendship . . . which, ironically, is part of the mission. Granted, we expect the church to fill too many of our needs and we constantly pile on more expectations. Still, there must be something the church can do to make sure that friendship is attainable in the community of Christ. A complete solution is not found in well-crafted programs such as home-groups, accountability groups, men’s ministries, women’s ministries, mentoring, counseling, or fellowship committees. The missing part of the solution happens on a personal level where individuals become vulnerable and open themselves up to the possibility of simple yet profound friendships. This will be easier for some than others.

The formula for growth that most Christian churches attempt to follow is connection, assimilation, and retention. Friendship is the often forgotten component that makes this formula work. Without it, the formula is just a Ponzi scheme where we constantly sign up new people to replace the folks who left via the back door. Eventually, retention becomes untenable without friendship.

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Posted on July 22, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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