When you hear a man refer to a group of friends as his “church friends,” what you usually find is that they are the ones he likes to hang out with at church and perhaps not much more. Sure, they are people he can count on in a pinch, but they probably aren’t real friends. They aren’t the type of friends you can conspire with, or the sort you can be completely honest and open with, or the ones who would go to war with you and you with them.
That sort of friendship, especially among men, seems to be somewhat absent from our churches. Friends at church are Sunday-morning friends, the type suitable for polite conversation and gentle encouragement.
I bring this up not as a chastisement of men and who they choose to be friends with but rather to ponder whether you can have real friendships at church. Now of course you will say that people can have real friendships at church. In fact, many of you will say that you do have real friends there. Yet it seems to me that such friendships are far and few in between. Or, at the very least, there ought to be more of them. After all, church is place where we gather around a common confession of the faith, a place that we value and find strength and hope. Shouldn’t this be a fertile ground for powerful and lasting friendships?
Yet I think that friendships and the church are at odds with each other, at least as the church is understood and valued in our day. The church as an institution, a gathering of individuals bound by a bureaucracy and governed by tradition, would rather not deal with the essential rebellion that is found in friendship. Real friendships will only upset the status quo and challenge long-held adiaphoron of practice. We would rather have you be “church friends,” support one another, smile gently to each other, and not spend too much time conspiring together.
I think that if the church were made up of more friendships it would be a risky and dangerous place. It could easily go off the rails into one heresy or another. Yet it could also be a powerful force in this world, a place of unshakable allegiance between men willing to give it all for each other. And if that allegiance was rooted in the Good News of Jesus Christ, it would truly be a beautiful thing to behold—unafraid and daring.
I don’t know if the church can really be a place where men find true friendship, but I long for it. Perhaps we might even find ways to encourage it, but it won’t be easy, for a group of true friends is always threatening to those outside of it.