In the hustle and bustle of the world of church planting–where the responsibilities of finding through evangelism, forming through discipleship, and shepherding a congregation are numerous and demanding–it is easy for pastors to become isolated and overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. However, one aspect of a pastor’s life that should never be neglected is the cultivation of Christian friendships and brotherhood. In John 15:12-14, Jesus provides profound insight into the importance of friendship and brotherhood in the life of a Christian, and this wisdom holds especially true for the church planter today.
John 15:12-14 declares, “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” These verses offer a powerful perspective on the value and depth of Christian friendships and brotherhood.
The Call and Intimacy of God’s Love
Jesus begins this passage with a simple yet profound command: “Love each other as I have loved you.” This command carries immense weight for pastors and church planters alike, as they are called to be leaders and examples to their congregations. The love that Jesus speaks of is not a superficial or self-serving love but rather a sacrificial, selfless love that puts the needs of others before one’s own. The love of God is powerful and persuasive.
Church planters are often at the forefront of providing care, counseling, and support to their core team members and are forever giving help, hope, and healing to everyone else. They are often in desperate need of care from others for themselves. Yes, they, too, need the love and support of Christian friends and brothers who can understand their unique challenges and provide encouragement in times of difficulty. Developing these deep bonds of love within the Christian community is essential for pastors to thrive in their ministries. Furthermore, these relationships provide a tremendous amount of accountability and protect the church planter from sexual sins like adultery, pornography, and masturbation. The church planter would be wise to follow the wisdom of the scriptures in Proverbs 18:24, “One with many friends may be harmed, but there is a friend who stays closer than a brother.” Make no mistake: all Christians need good Christian friends, and the church planter is no different.
Christ’s Call to Community
In our passage we notice that Jesus takes the concept of love to an even higher level by stating, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). While this verse indeed points to the ultimate act of love, which Jesus demonstrated on the cross, it also emphasizes the sacrificial nature of Christian friendships.
Planters often find themselves in situations where they must sacrifice their time, comfort, and personal desires in order to serve their new flocks. In such moments, the presence of Christian friends who not only receive shepherding and leadership but also come alongside to support the planter in regular and tangible ways is essential for his spiritual health. This calls for what Jesus did: He laid down His life for those who would trust in Him for salvation. Christians must have a level of intimacy with God that flows from an emotional and spiritual depth which comes from walking with God in all of life. We must have authentic gospel-centered and gospel-driven relationships that are relational–not just transactional.
Prayer, fasting, confession, and living out the “one-anothers” require time, as well as the pursuit of relational and emotional depth with others in the faith. Sadly, many planters miss out on receiving and reciprocating real, regular, and deep spiritual relationships. The planter’s friendships are an integral part of his life. Regarding relationships, two primary categories often emerge: relational friendships and transactional friendships. Understanding the differences between the two can profoundly impact the quality and depth of our friendships.
Relational friendships are characterized by genuine care, emotional support, and a mutual desire for each other’s well-being. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.” Friendships in Christ’s church must be built on trust, empathy, and the willingness to invest time and effort into nurturing a true and intimate bond with peers and mentors.
In relational friendships, individuals prioritize connection, valuing others for who they are rather than what they can offer. The Apostle Paul says to the church of Philippi in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” Throughout the entire letter, the Apostle makes valuing friendships clear to the church at Philippi, where there were plenty of friends backbiting and bickering.
On the other hand, transactional friendships tend to be more utilitarian, driven by a specific purpose or benefit. While transactional friendships can be valuable for one party, they absolutely lack the depth and emotional intimacy found in gospel-centered friendships. Dr. Adrian Rogers once said in a sermon, “We’re to love people and use things, not love things and use people.” Transactional relationships often view people as disposable and unvalued. This is not the love and friendship Jesus modeled for His followers. No, Jesus says in our text, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Transactional relationships lack a Jesus-driven love.
The Impact of Friendship
The final verse in this passage holds the key to understanding the nature of Christian friendships and brotherhood among pastors. Jesus declares, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” Here, he establishes a profound connection between friendship and obedience to his commands.
For Planters, this connection is significant. The Planter’s obedience to Christ’s commands is not just a matter of theological adherence but a lived-out reality in their ministry. When pastors prioritize obedience to Christ, they deepen their friendship with Him and create a foundation for authentic Christian friendships with others in their local church and core teams.
Planters must lead by example in friendships and authentic brotherhood. Planters and their teams call the new flock to live out the gospel missionally and reach the lost by inviting them to a relationship through repentance and faith with Jesus. Planters must exemplify these teachings through their relationships with fellow believers. This includes demonstrating love, sacrificial service, and obedience in their interactions with other pastors and congregation members.
The Importance and Investment of Brotherhood
In the book of Proverbs 17:17, we find a relevant verse that highlights the value of brotherhood: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time.” Pastoral ministry is not without its challenges and adversities, and having Christian brothers who can stand with them in times of trouble is a priceless gift.
Christian brotherhood among pastors involves sharing not only in the joys and triumphs but also in the trials and tribulations of ministry. It means bearing one another’s burdens, praying for each other fervently, and providing a safe space for vulnerability and accountability.
Practical Steps for Pastors
In light of the wisdom found in John 15:12-14, here are some practical steps that pastors can take to value and develop Christian friendships and brotherhood:
1. Prioritize Fellowship
Pastors should intentionally set aside time for fellowship with other believers. This can include attending conferences, joining pastoral associations, or participating in small groups within their congregation.
2. Pray Together
Prayer is a powerful bond that unites believers. Pastors can regularly pray with their Christian friends and brothers, lifting one another up in prayer and seeking God’s gracious guidance together.
3. Pursue Accountability
Pastors should actively seek out mentors and accountability partners who can provide guidance, wisdom, and support in their ministry journey.
4. Practice Vulnerability
Authentic Christian friendships are built on trust and vulnerability. Planters must be willing to share their problems, pains, pressures, and joys with trusted friends and brothers in Christ.
In conclusion, John 15:12-14 underscores the profound importance of Christian friendships and brotherhood in the life of a church planter. As leaders and shepherds of their congregations, planters and pastors are called to embody Christ’s sacrificial love and to cultivate deep, meaningful relationships within their body of believers.
There is a brotherhood within the body of believers, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the common denominator. Friendship and fellowship are the legal tender among believers. – J. Vernon McGee
It is one of the severest tests of friendship to tell your friend his faults. So to love a man that you cannot bear to see a stain upon him, and to speak painful truth through loving words, that is friendship. – Henry Ward Beecher
Published February 7, 2024