I’m currently reading The Good Spy The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird. Robert Ames was a CIA operative who was engrossed with the Arab world. He had a strong desire to help heal the rifts between Arabs and the West. Interestingly, he was also a good man. Ames was a family man, a devout Catholic, and appears to have been frank and honest in a field made up of lies and deceit.
Through his career he groomed and developed some of the most important relationships between the US and the Arab world in the 1960s and 1970s. What has struck me most about the book, however, is the recurring theme that Ames was not a great recruiter of “agents.” Instead, Ames is credited with cultivating friendships with the people from whom he wanted to receive information. Ames built real relationships with people and within those relationships he worked his trade.
As pastors, how often can it be said that we build real relationships with people whom others may consider “ministry projects?” Do you have lost friends? I’m not asking if you share the gospel with lost people or even if you know non-Christians. Do you have relationships with non-Christians that go deeper than “ministry project?”
Authenticity is a big catchword among emerging evangelicals, but Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck pointed out a few years ago that authenticity can’t be faked,
Authentic isn’t a look you put on in the morning, or a new and snappy way to bathe the sanctuary in “mystery” through the strategic arrangement of candles and projected images. Authentic is bearing one another’s burdens. Authentic is people coming to a funeral in their work clothes— Carhartts, hospital scrubs, etc.—on a Friday morning (Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We’re not Emergent, p. 135)
Pastors, we can’t fake our care and concern for the lives of others. We need authentic relationships—friendships, not “ministry projects.” Of course, there is a risk involved. Friendships require vulnerability and trust. Friends will let you down and break your heart. We can avoid being emotionally involved in projects, but we will lose sleep over friends.
There is also the risk that you will be judged because of the friends you choose. Just this week, I was accused of being “unfit for ministry” because of the guys I work out with at the gym. Jesus faced similar derision for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Apparently, Jesus thought that the benefit of spending time with non-believers far outweighed the risk. I do too, and so should you.
My friends at the gym use language I don’t like and often discuss themes that make me uncomfortable. But, they are my friends. Some of them eat in my home, they know my wife and kids, and they need Jesus. Because they are my friends, I have an opportunity to share Jesus—and they listen. I pray that someday they will do more than listen, but until then (and even if they do not), they will still be my friends.
Pastors, the gospel will best be shared through “authentic relationships.” Relationships do not get any more authentic than real friendships.