What You Can Do To Be Productive On A Snow Day

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We had a snow day this week. As I type this, actually two snow days. Who knows if there will be more?

If you’re wired like me, a snow day can be very disruptive to what you hoped would be a productive week. My weeks are full and if I don’t go into the office on a day I had planned to be in the office, everything I had planned on that day backs up to a future day. I feel so trapped and unproductive.

I’m not sure it has to be that way. I’ve discovered if I can give a few hours to work on a snowy day at home I will feel incredibly productive, and keep from feeling miserably behind when I can get back to work.

Here are some ideas to be productive on a snow day:

Special projects. What is a new project you’ve wanted to think about and haven’t had time? Spend some time putting a strategic plan together for implementation.

Life planning. Work on your life plan. Here’s my easy version. (There are better ones.)

Encouragement. Say a prayer — ask God to lay some names on your heart — send an encouraging note or email to them. Spend some time crafting a life-giving note.

Read. Find a challenging and instructive book. Take notes as you read.

Get ahead. Work on routine projects that you know you’ll eventually have to do. It’s a great time to catch up on the routine so you can be more effective on return.

Maintain. Keep up as much as possible. The computer makes us so much more connected. One good smart phone almost brings our office home. Returning emails and phone calls when possible help you go back to the office with less stress and feeling more on top of things.

Relax. Have some fun. Rest. Prepare for a more productive day in the future. Even build a snowman. (That’s the hardest one for some of us.)

What ideas do you have?

And, if you’re wired opposite of me — enjoy the couch — or whatever it is you do. No pressure from me.

4 Reasons Every Pastor Needs a Good Pastor Friend

men sitting on sofa at home and talking

Every pastor needs at least one good pastor friend.

I’m thankful to serve and have served in churches with a good number of staff members I consider not only co-laborers, but friends. It’s a blessing to do ministry with people you actually enjoy being with each week. But, I also have several good friends who are pastors in other churches. And, it’s like gold in my pocket for me.

Just like only a police officer can fully understand the work of another police officer; or only a nurse can fully understand the work of another nurse — only a pastor can fully understand the work of another pastor.

That’s not to say a pastor shouldn’t have friends who aren’t pastors. Absolutely. I have many.

But, every pastor needs at least one pastor friend.

A part of my online presence affords me the tremendous opportunity to interact with dozens of pastors every month. One thing I’ve observed in recent years is that many of the pastors I encounter aren’t really looking for advice on how to lead a church. They are looking for a friend.

Sadly, many pastors don’t have any friends — not the kind who know them well enough to speak into their life. Perhaps even sadder is that some don’t seem to want one until they really need one.

And, I don’t know all the reasons pastors avoid close friendships. (I know some and maybe that’s the subject of another post.) But, so many pastors — in large churches and small churches — feel isolated in ministry.

I know some large church pastors who don’t even socialize or know their church staff. I know some smaller church pastors who don’t have anyone else serving with them during the week and haven’t made friendships with other pastors.

It simply isn’t healthy. And, it’s probably not sustainable. Isolation almost always leads to something undesirable, whether ineffectiveness or total destruction.

Here are 7 reasons every pastor needs a good pastor friend:

Accountability – Here’s the fact. Many pastors could hide if we wanted. We have flexible schedules. And, that’s just one example of where we need accountability. We need people in our life — who know our life and the demands of ministry — and can hold us accountable to our calling and work and speak into the deepest places of our life and work. The pastor is usually not absent of people who can offer criticism, but every pastor needs a friend who can correct them in a healthy way when needed. “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” (Proverbs 27:6)

Protection – I did some professional counseling for a few years. (I wasn’t very good at it.) But, one helpful thing in counseling was the ability to glean from one another in, for example, potentially perceived ethical situations. Pastors encounter issues routinely that don’t need to be handled alone. (The push back of my zealot friends will be that we have prayer — Holy Spirit guidance. And, I say true, but even Jesus asked the disciples to pray with Him.) “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Companionship – Shall I quote the same verse again? “Two are better than one.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) Let me be clear that my wife is my closest companion. She should be. But, I need pastor friends who can just be my friend. They understand the uniqueness of my role. They laugh at the same things I laugh at — and some days all you can do is laugh, right? They understand the unique burden of being a pastor. And, on days when I simply don’t feel like being anyone’s pastor — they understand that too and are not offended by me saying it. I’m not trying to be cute with words — but I need a buddy in ministry. (And, I’m thankful I have several.)

Iron sharpening. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Biblical insight. Idea critiques. Brainstorming. Best practice sharing. Those and so many more. We can learn best from those who are attempting to do what we are attempting to do.

Pastor, you need a pastor friend. And, as much as I love connecting via Internet, certainly I am limited in my ability to “friend” everyone I encounter. You need one, two or three friends who you can get in a car or jump on a plane and actually spend some time with frequently.

And, to find one, for many pastors, it will take an intentional effort. It won’t happen just because you want it to happen. To make a friend you’ll have to be a friend. Take some positive steps. Ask a pastor to join you with coffee. Go through several pastors if you have to until you find the right one.

And, certainly, here’s a great place for prayer, ask God to guide you, help you discern, and give you the encouragement to seek out a friendship with another pastor.

I’m pulling from you.

8 Questions about Church Revitalization

Historic Church

I recently was interviewed by someone who is considering church revitalization for his next ministry assignment. My answers are not formalized — it was a casual conversation — but I figured someone else might have the same questions.

There were 8 questions — I was sure there would be 7 — but 8 was the number. :)

And, that’s just a little humor to get us started in the discussion of church revitalization. After experience in church planting and church revitalization, let me say neither should be attempted without some ability to laugh — at times — other than pray of course –that’s all you can do. And, so here’s another smiley face to brighten your day. :)

8 questions about church revitalization:

1. What motivated you to move into revitalization vs church planting?

It’s a calling. I wouldn’t attempt church planting or church revitalization — or any ministry for that matter — without a clear one. But, the need is huge. We have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches.

2. What questions did you specifically ask your current church before taking the position?

Here’s the bottom line: There’s not a question that will answer everything you want to know. You’ll have to take a risk. Just like in church planting and you don’t know if anyone will show up. In church revitalization, you’re going to find things out when you get there.

You are dealing with a very complex structure. The older the church the more complex. The search committee can tell you lots of things — all that they believe to be true — and still some of it won’t be true. It won’t be that they misled you, but that the culture hadn’t been fully tested until you arrived and tried to change some things that haven’t been tried previously. That’s part of the process.

But, a key I wanted to understand the best I could was my freedom to lead. Obviously, Jesus is the leader, but did they want to rely on my leadership as I yielded to God’s leadership? Was the church ready? Could I hire my staff — and release staff if needed? How are decisions made? I looked at the budget and bylaws and every policy I could find. (And, they found more after I arrived — but the policies you won’t know are the unwritten ones.)

3. If you could change anything about your transition into your current role as Senior Pastor of a historically established church what would it be and why?

I would have asked for some of the harder decisions to have already been done. Specifically dealing with structure and staffing.

4. How did you prepare your family for your role change?

It was just my wife and me. That’s a huge difference, but I read everything I could about the church. I asked lots of questions. I interviewed the staff. I asked for list of key leaders and interviewed them. Then I shared everything I was learning with my wife. We were very open and transparent throughout the process.

But, it’s important to know that while my wife is faster to move by faith — she has the gift of faith — she’s slower to let her heart change. She can know it’s what we are supposed to do, but her heart stays longer where we once lived. She hangs on to the past harder than I do. Navigating through that and giving her time to acclimate was huge.

5. What are the biggest mistakes to avoid in your first year as the Senior Pastor in an existing church that needs the work of revitalization?

Moving too fast to change major things.
Not bringing people along and establishing trust.
Not celebrating the past.
Standing still too long. (People need some quick wins.)

6. What leadership areas did you focus on first once you arrived in your new role?

Primarily staff structure, strategy verbiage, website, communication and vision-casting.

We also had 7 key initiatives: Prayer, Stewardship, Intergenerational ministry, College, Discipleship, First Impressions and Missions.

7. What books or resources would you recommend for a Senior Pastor who is moving into the work of revitalizing a local church?

For my people who can’t assume the unmentioned, let me say the Bible. Of course. And, honestly, that’s huge. People want and need sound, clear, Biblical teachings. That will revive a church.

Here are a few books I found helpful. And, there are probably many others.

Switch – Chip and Dan Heath
Steering through Chaos – Scott Wilson
Change Your Church for Good – Brad Powell

8. What one thing would you want to tell me about the work of revitalizing the local church that I have not already asked?

Be ready to embrace conflict, love people and love the vision of a healthy church. Each love will be tested.

What questions do you have? Any of these I should expand upon?

7 Reasons I Hate Email Criticism and Encourage You Not to Use It

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I have grown to hate email criticism.

Is hate too strong a word?

I don’t think so.

I hate email criticism.

I was talking to a young and new leader recently  he had received a scathing email from someone  it was one of his first. And it was a doozy. Hard hitting. No grace. No value recognized for anything the leader has accomplished. Just the blasting.

Please understand, I’m not opposed to criticism. And, I think critical thinking is NOT always criticism. I’ve posted about it before and talked about how we as leaders should process criticism.

I even read — and actually consider — anonymous criticism. I always feel there’s a reason someone remains anonymous. Granted, most of the time it’s because the person is a coward. (Did I just say that?) But, sometimes there are valid reasons for anonymity.

So, I’m not anti criticism.

I am, however, anti email criticism. Or, at least how I often see it being used these days.

Enough so that I use the word hate. (Sorry to those who “hate” that word.)

Here are 7 reasons I hate email criticism:

It’s impossible to communicate emotion properly. Criticism always has an emotion attached. Always. And, it can be so easily misconstrued what that emotion actually is when it’s written and not verbal. It can sting more than it should. It can emphasize — or de-emphasize more than it’s intended. Facial expression is ignored. It’s impossible to correctly display emotion in written form. I hate that.

It’s too easy to fire back a response. With little thought, the send button is too easy to find. Before a person thinks. Before they have time to pray. Before anyone can strategically plan out their response, email is too easily at a critics disposal.

It leaves people hanging in suspicion. Ever get an email criticism, you email them back a response, and then you wait? And, you wait. And, you wait. You may have answered their concern, they are fully satisfied, but you are still wondering if your email was even received. You don’t know. It creates fear and suspicion and it’s unfair. I hate that.

It’s easy to hide. Take a slam, hit the send button and run. It’s really that easy. A critic doesn’t even have to sign their name. A computer screen makes for one of the easiest hiding places on earth.

It’s never completely private. It’s too easy to forward an email. Or, the famous blind copy email. Ever the recipient of one of those? Email starts a paper trail for something where usually no trail is needed. It never goes away and can be brought back months and years later and be used against someone. That’s very non-grace-giving.

It invites misunderstanding. Email removes the person being able to sit and ask questions. Can you tell me what you meant by that statement? Impossible with email. So, what I hear you saying is… That’s one of the best tricks of a good listener. Impossible with email. Email easily pours and stirs muddy water.

It makes minor issues major issues. The issue may be small, but the fact that someone took the time to place it in writing often elevates it in a leader’s mind. Granted, that may be what the critic wants, but is that even fair? If we aren’t careful, emailed issues may become weightier than the attention they deserve. I’ve even know email bullies out there who use email to unfairly elevate their own personal agenda. I hate when that happens.

Those are just a few reasons.

But, here is my advice. If it’s going to cause suspicion — if it’s likely to be misunderstood — if people are involved in the criticism (which is pretty common in my experience), before you send the email think critically. Ask yourself if email really is the right method to offer the criticism.

If we all work together we may actually have better, healthier, and more helpful criticism.

(Now, please understand, there are times when email is the only way you can reach someone. I get that. But, maybe if that’s the case you should read THIS POST.)

Join Me at the World Leaders Conference

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I have been invited to blog at the World Leaders Conference next month and I am pumped for the opportunity.

Join me! 

This is unlike any other conference I have been a part of in the past. This conference attracts church leaders and business leaders — alike. And, it’s all about servant leadership. What a wonderful concept to combine the church with the business world for this powerful Biblical principle!

Here’s a brief description from the website:

Designed to provide participants with a uniquely personal experience in an intimate setting, the World LEADERS Conference (WLC) brings together top executives in business and ministry with prominent leadership experts from around the world. The two-day conference provides opportunities for interacting and networking with other business and church leaders, and focuses on the critical issues and trends that are shaping business and the church today.

The speaker list is incredible. The location — wow!  Best of all, the Kingdom-building opportunities are off the charts! I have heard some incredible behind-the-scene stories of transformations that have occurred as  a direct result of this conference.

Join me in Florida next month! I look forward to meeting you.

BONUS: If you’d like a 20% discount, use this code: wlcadvocate

6 Ways to Release Anger & Bitterness

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You’re going to hurt people and people are going to hurt you. As John Ortberg says living with people is like “dancing with porcupines.” So what will you do when you get hurt?

MY STUCK STORY

As soon as I read the email from my pastor, my heart skipped a beat: “Mark, come to my office first thing this morning.”
You know that feeling when you sense something isn’t right? I told my wife about the odd email, then I drove to the church.

As I walked into my mentor’s large office, he said, “Hey man, why don’t you close the door?” My heart was pounding. I shut the door and sat in the green wingback chair facing his desk. This man whom I’d worked alongside for twelve years began reading a prepared letter. Apparently, there would be no small talk. I didn’t know it, but he was about to make a shocking announcement and instantly end our friendship.

The man reading this prepared letter was not just my pastor; he was one of my best friends. We genuinely loved each other. That’s what made his announcement so gut wrenching.

Due to a philosophical difference, he announced that I needed to have my office cleaned out by Monday morning.

When he finished reading, he looked up and calmly asked, “Do you have any questions?” We sat without speaking, a moment of silence for the death of our friendship. Then I said the only words that seemed appropriate, “I hate that it’s ending this way.” He agreed.

I stood up and slowly walked out of his office. I already felt something hurting deep inside of me. My mind raced in a thousand different directions simultaneously.
Now what?

FAST-FORWARD TWO YEARS

“Mark, you keep looking back. You need to forgive and start moving forward.” My coach had heard my two-year-old sob story before. On this day, as we sat across from each other at Smokejack BBQ in Alpharetta, GA, I chided myself for yet again rehashing what should have been ancient history.
I took a deep breath and nodded my head in agreement, like you do when someone says something completely true but completely unhelpful. “Forgive and move forward?” I thought. “Sure. No problem. While I’m at it I’ll solve world hunger and negotiate world peace. I want to move forward but I don’t know how. That’s the problem. I’m stuck! What specifically can I do?” I thought. I was exhausted. Something had to change.

WHAT’S YOUR STUCK STORY?

Maybe you’ve experienced something much more painful. Your ex-spouse, a parent, a co-worker, or a close friend hurt you.

Your hurt may include a divorce, bankruptcy, a job loss, betrayal, abuse, or broken trust. The day you’re hurt is a bad day, but the unrelenting weight of a heavy grudge is even worse, isn’t it? When you want to forgive but don’t know how, you feel stuck.

In a nationwide Gallup poll, 94 percent of people said it was important to forgive, but 85 percent said they would need outside help in order to forgive. Apparently, many of us are stuck.

As a pastor who couldn’t forgive, I spent three searching for real steps to take toward forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply.

Here are 6 steps that helped me completely forgive and move forward:

Stop telling your story as a victim
Forgiveness isn’t found in speaking but in surrendering. (Isa. 53:7)

Assess your Injury
“General forgiveness does not heal specific hurts. It’s important to pinpoint what was taken from you.” -Andy Stanley

Value your offender
You do not condone what they did, but you recognize that they are more than what they did. (Luke 23:34)

Intercede for your offender
“The more I pray for an idiot the less idiotic they become.” –Daniel Hahn (Matt. 5:44)

Own your part
As long as you remain 100% focused on their guilt, you will remain 100% stuck.

Release their debt
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” -C.S. Lewis

What have you found is helpful in releasing anger and bitterness?

This is a guest post by Mark Riggins. Mark is the Community Life Pastor at ENCOUNTER | Bible Fellowship Church in Ventura, CA. His new book STUCK When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How is available now on Amazon. Sign-up HERE for a FREE 30-Day Online Forgiveness Devotional. You can follow Mark on his blog: www.markriggins.org.

7 Suggestions to Encourage Innovation on a Team

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Most leaders want to lead an innovative organization. We don’t necessarily have to be the first to do something new, but we don’t want to be years behind either. As conservative as we might be — as long as we remain true to our core values — we still want to be “cutting edge” to some degree. We certainly don’t want to be stuck in the last decade.

But, here’s the problem.

As leaders, we can’t force innovation. We can’t mandate innovative people. And, if our people haven’t been innovative in a while, then there may not be much innovation going on in our world.

Innovation, in its purest form, means change, and while change can be forced upon people, the best changes, the kind that make an organization excellent, come from the heart of a person. Great innovation comes from the gut. You cannot legislate those kinds of changes.

There are things leaders can do, however, to encourage team members to be more innovative.

Here are a 7 ideas to encourage innovation:

Get away from the office as a team. There is something about a change in surroundings that encourages a change in thought. Take a trip to another church — or if nothing else — around the city. Creative thoughts are fueled better outside your normal routine and environment. It’s a large investment, but we annually take our staff to visit with another church staff in a nearby city — far enough where must spend the night. Something huge comes from every time we do this.

Have a brainstorming session with open-ended questions. Ask questions such as, “What are we doing well?” “Where could we improve?” “What should we stop doing?” Bring someone in to guide this discussion if needed. Be sure to welcome diversity of thought. And, people know if they’re not welcome by the way you respond when they are shared.

Reward new ideas. If you recognize new thoughts and celebrate the success of innovation, people will want to be a part of it more. Make it a part of the DNA to elevate the value of innovation. Encourage thinking time. Don’t be afraid of “unproductive time” just to think. Teach the staff to discipline themselves to dream and plan. Make sure to build time to dream into your schedule as a leader. It helps if people know you do this — and if you actually share new ideas periodically — even often.

Have times together as a team that are simply fun. Something magical happens when you get people who work together out of their work zone and into their fun zone. They often still talk work — it’s what they share in common — but they share work in a more innovative and productive way. And, really in a more honest way. Take a day and go bowling. A college near us has a ropes course that we did together.

Remove obstacles to innovative thought. There are always communication barriers between team members and senior leadership. Discovering and eliminating them could be an innovation waterfall. One way is to get in the room, have a problem to be solved, and not always have the answers. In fact, have few answers. Let the answers emerge. Innovation will start to happen.

Invite new people to the table. It could be people on the team or people in the community, but new people equals new ideas. We’ve often brought staff spouses to the table to fuel our thoughts. And, it could be through a book you read together as a team. Discuss the author’s perspectives.

Set innovation timeline goals. If you want to eventually build a new website, for example, put a date on the calendar for when it MUST be completed. It’s amazing how creative we often become under deadline.

What are some ideas you have to encourage innovation?

7 Suggestions for Pastors and Pastor Spouses to Find True Friends

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People talk. People gossip. People love to share what they hear.

That’s true about what they hear from a pastor too.

If the pastor talks about his personal life, shares a concern — heaven forbid shares a sin or weakness — people talk.

I’ve personally been burned several times by trusting the wrong people with information. It’s wonderful to think that a pastor can be totally transparent with everyone, but honestly, especially in some churches, complete transparency will cause you to lose your ministry.

Every pastor knows this well. So, most pastors don’t talk.

And, the sadder fact, because of this dynamic, many pastors have very few true friends.

Frankly, it’s made many in the ministry among the most lonely of people I have ever known. I was in the business community for many years and I didn’t know business leaders as “closed” to people getting to know them as some pastors seem to be. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

Of course, Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And, that’s true. But, we would never tell our congregation they don’t need human friends. Most of our churches are built around a reality that everyone needs community.

Hopefully our spouse is our best friend. That should be our goal. But the truth is pastors need more.

We need other — same sex — friends who can walk with us through life. I need men in my life that understand the unique struggles and temptations of being a man. Pastors need community too, just as we would encourage our church to live life together with others.

I’m happy to report that I have some of those type friends in my life. I have some friends with whom I can share the hard stuff and they still love me. I have some friends with whom I can be myself. I’m thankful for friends that build into me as much as I build into them.

Every pastor needs them.

And, here’s the other side — so does the pastor’s spouse. They need friends just as much, but have the equal concerns and struggles to find them. Over the years, my wife has realized the hard way that some people were only her friend because of her position as my wife. They wanted information and access — more than they wanted friendship.

And, some who are not in ministry will read this post and think I’m over-reacting. They’ll say everyone deals with this at some level. They may be right. (Not about the over-reacting, but about the fact that everyone deals with it.) But, I know having been on both sides — in ministry and out of ministry — this issue is more real to me now than previously.

So, the hope of this post is to encourage those who don’t have any true friends and give you a few suggestions for finding some.

Here are 7 suggestions for a pastor or pastor’s spouse to find true friends:

Be willing to go outside the church – There may not be someone you can truly trust, who is willing to keep confidences, and willing to always be in your corner, inside the church. Much of this may depend on the size or even the structure of your church. I have a few of these friends in our church, and did in our last church, but both were fairly large. I found this harder when I was in a smaller church with a handful of strong families within the church. Some of my truest and best friends, however, then and now, are outside the church. This is also healthy because it means if we are called to leave the church we still have a close group of friends. My best friends have been friends through several church transitions.

Consider bonding with another pastor – I guarantee you — not too far from you is a pastor just as lonely or in need of a friend as you are feeling. (And, even if you’re not feeling it — you need it.) One of the great benefits of the online world — though it can equally be used for harm — is that you can make connections with other pastors. I have found that if I follow the Tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or check out the church website of another pastor that I can find out a lot about our similarities. I’m not talking about stalking. I’m talking about being intentional to build a relationship. Then I take a chance and reach out to another pastor. I actually have a few vital relationships that have begun this way. In fact, it has been valuable enough to Cheryl and me that we’ve been willing to invest in traveling to visit with friends who live in other cities that I first met through social media. Chances are good, however, for most pastors they won’t have to travel that far. Prior to moving where I am now, I had friends an hour away from me. That was a good half-day investment every couple months to stay in touch. I’m beginning to develop this where I am now.

Build the relationship slowly – I’ve seen too many times where a person wants an intimate, accountable, life-giving relationship that begins instantly. I’m sure that happens occasionally, but I don’t think it’s the normal way. Take some time to invest in the friendship. My guess is you’re looking for a longer-term relationship, so be willing to build it over a long-term. And, I usually have multiple meetings with several different guys before I find one where we connect enough to move to a deeper friendship. Again, it’s worth the investment of time.

Find common ground – Do you enjoy fishing, dining, travel, golf, or Nascar? Who are some people, whether pastors or laypeople who have similar interests to you? Take an afternoon to play a round of golf with them. Ask them to lunch. Hang out with them. I have one of my closest friends that I met this way. We simply started having lunch together. We’ve since traveled together as couples, but it started with a lunch invitation to a guy I saw who seemed to enjoy the subject of leadership as much as I did.

Look for someone healthy – This is critical. You won’t find someone perfect, but you need someone who is not looking for you to always be the minister. Those people do exist. There are people with healthy home lives and healthy personal lives who are striving to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually just like you are striving. Most of the time as pastors our attention is focused more on the one who need our attention because of a crisis or immediate need in their life. And, that’s what we do. But, who are some people around you who don’t need much from you right now? You’ll need this healthy relationship to nourish you when you don’t feel as healthy.

Be intentional – You don’t often find a friend unless you go looking for one. First you have to recognize the value in true friends, make it a matter of prayer and a goal for your life, but then you must begin to look for one. I’ve found I’m more likely to hit a target I am specifically aiming to hit. There is such a value in true friendship — even for pastors — that it is worth the investment.

Take a risk – You’ll eventually have to make yourself vulnerable and risk being hurt — perhaps again — to find true friends. I realize that is scary, especially if you’ve been hurt before, but finding true friendships is worth the risk. Be careful building these type friendships, but don’t allow fear to keep you from having them. Pastor, you know what I’m advocating is true. So, take another risk.

Pastor, be honest, do you have someone in your life you could call when you’re at your lowest point in ministry? Do you have someone investing in you on a regular basis? Are you lonely? If you were drowning or facing burnout, have you allowed other people — besides your spouse — into your closest, most protected world so they can recognize where you are currently and speak into the dark places of your life?

More importantly, is it worth the risk and investment to have true friends?

For those who have these types of relationships, what tips do you have for other pastors?

Let me close with a personal note to the lonely pastor. I understand your pain. I’ve been there. I’m praying for you as I write this post. Don’t struggle alone too long without reaching out to someone.

4 Characteristics of a True Friendship

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True friendship is rare.

I have had many friends in my life, but finding one that stands the tests of time — that’s hard.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

“For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Those kind of friends — are hard to find.

If you have ever gotten in a bind, had a major failure, or somehow lost your way, then you realized just how rare true friendship really is in our lives. The true friends show up at your doorstep ready to help.

To me, the difference in a true friend and one who calls themselves a friend, but is really an acquaintance is fairly easily identified.

Here are 4 characteristics of true friendship:

Unconditional love - A true friend loves at all times. Regardless of what you do, what happens, or where life takes you, a true friend loves at all times. On your worst day — when you aren’t even fun to be around — a true friend still takes you to lunch. (And likely pays.)

Unwavering support – True friends are in it for the long haul. Even when you’ve fallen — or agree with you completely — a true friend is in your corner. When you call — even when you’re in trouble — they come. True friendships may only be for a season. I have many of those. But, if we run into each other again we pick up where we left off. Trust is already established. The relationship is just as strong. True friendships are consistent.

Willingness to challenge – Love and support is not ignoring the words you need to here. A true friendship makes you better. The Bible says “iron sharpens iron”. True friends will correct you if needed. Proverbs 27:5 says, “Better an open rebuke than hidden love.” Friends won’t let you injure yourself or others if they can intervene. They won’t remain silent with what you need to hear — and it will be shared in the deepest of love.

Full of grace – True friendship weather the sometime difficulties of relationships, forgiving when needed, and loving each other even when it hurts. A true friendship isn’t one-sided. Both friends are willing to lay down their life for the other. Grace is freely and generously given.

I have a number of friendship I would consider true friendships. Of course, Cheryl and my boys make the list, but there are others. We’ve been through life together. I can’t imagine my life without them.

What makes a true friend in your opinion?