It is a very common word – friendship. It is often used and we all understand its meaning. Still, it is important to reflect a little on the opportunities and challenges that are related to this important relationship.
There is a common understanding among those of us who have spent many years in The Salvation Army that people can come to our cafés, youth groups or meetings to make friends. I think the reality is more challenging than we would like to admit.
It is true that at all Salvation Army corps or centres you will meet mostly friendly people. Newcomers will be noticed and greeted but it often stops there. Being friendly is not the same as being a friend.
So the important question is: how are friendships made?
I think that most of us have noticed a similar pattern throughout our lives. We can meet a person and soon find that we get on well together. We discover that conversations flow and we can enjoy each other’s company. But from getting on well together there is a conscious step that must be taken towards friendship.
I remember putting that question to myself on a few occasions – do I want to be a friend to this person and will I allow this person to be a part of my life?
We need to recognize that we as individuals are different in this area. To some people it comes naturally to have an open door and open heart policy, while some guard their private sphere more consciously.
But apart from respecting each other’s personalities we also need to recognize the calling and challenge from God to “befriend those who have no friends” (as the Salvation Army Officer’s Covenant words it) and be a follower of Jesus in the way we build corps fellowship.
Last time I wrote for the Forum the theme was Thankful for family and now it is about friendship. If we connect the two we find both the opportunity and the challenge I mentioned at the beginning. In what way is your family a family that consciously makes friends with new people who need a friend?
In what way does the corps family talk about this issue? The special calling for local leadership is to encourage the art of building friendships. How can we together be a friend to those who have no friends, perhaps just because they are ‘difficult’ personalities? How do we make friends with people who have fled to Germany in order to make a new, peaceful start in their lives? How do we take the next step with people whom we are familiar with, when we take part in an activity in a corps or institution, but where friendships are not made?
We can get encouragement from Jesus. When he says to his disciples that he talks to them as friends (John 15:13-15), it is when he trusts them with going through difficult times together. The conclusion from Jesus (and I think our experience in life) is that friendship is built by doing both good and challenging things together over a period of time.
So my advice to us all is – let’s build friendships by taking on a challenge together. Attract people to Jesus, grow in Jesus together and serve others together and with Jesus.
This text has been published in the magazine Das Forum 11/2016